2
$\begingroup$

I have been researching recent air-to-air combat kills in some recent wars and in every case it seemed that the pilot who was in the back won. So I was wondering why they don't just design a missile capable of swiveling around and targeting a bogey behind the aircraft. I understand there are some physic issues with it but surely it wouldn't take long for physicists and engineers to come up with a solution

$\endgroup$
6
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ but surely it wouldn't take long for physicists and engineers to come up with a solution: it is a common misconceptions. Engineering is about finding trade-off: you can have many things, but you should sacrifice a lot more things. Really: real world is much more complex and we cannot have everything. $\endgroup$ Feb 9 at 11:17
  • $\begingroup$ Imagine the drag of that missile when it's 90° to the chasees current direction of travel. Holy drag & vibration, Batman!! $\endgroup$
    – FreeMan
    Feb 9 at 14:06
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ As an alternative, one could have one missile permanently mounted for reward firing with a missile specifically designed & shrouded for reverse flight. Of course, you're then wasting a launch rail, fuel, range, speed & maneuverability for something that might be used in <1% of encounters and only in a situation that you're explicitly trained to not allow to happen. (It does happen, of course, but you're not supposed to allow the bogey to get behind you.) $\endgroup$
    – FreeMan
    Feb 9 at 14:08
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I was under the impression that most newer missiles can attack targets all around the aircraft. The IRIS-T (developed 2001) can attack targets 360° around the airplane, at least when mounted on the Eurofighter Typhoon. (But I believe not when mounted on the F-16 because it lacks the necessary sensor integration.) That's a 20+ year old missile and it already has the feature you ask for. Same for the AIM-9X Block II (2010s). $\endgroup$ Feb 10 at 11:25
  • $\begingroup$ Well, you could have a missile inside a missile. The outer missile would be designed to fire backwards off the launch rail. The big fins would be in the front of the missile, and the little fins (if any) would be in the back. Once the outer missile has accelerated to zero airspeed, the inner missile fires out of it. The inner missile breaks out through the frangible nose cone of the outer missile, the folding fins unfold, and there you go. $\endgroup$ Feb 10 at 12:53

4 Answers 4

4
$\begingroup$

So I was wondering why they don't just design a missile capable of swiveling around and targeting a bogey behind the aircraft.

They did. The AIM-9X is able of doing precisely that.

The caveat is, you're looking at much lower kill probability (Pk). Studies indicate short-range IR-guided missiles to have a Pk as high as 74% when launched normally, at a visually acquired aircraft in front.

Doing a 180 turn exposes the missile to the same kill-chain failures that BVR (Beyond-Visual-Range) missiles normally face. Missile seekers have a narrow field of vision, and there's little time to search. Unless the missile happens to catch the target just right when it turns, it's going to fly past. This brings expected Pk to the same 10%-25% range as BVR missiles in challenging conditions. That's not enough when you're only carrying two short-range missiles.

Lock-on-after-launch capability was initially introduced for internal storage on stealth aircraft, and only later adapted for a possible backward engagement. It's necessary for any stealth aircraft, but most missiles aren't designed to do a full 180.

The AIM-9X is not the only one. As always, there's few military ideas imaginable that the Soviets haven't tried at some point. They have apparently decided it's not worth pursuing, but apparently they had at least a concept for a rear-firing missile. There were similar ideas in the US as well. We're rapidly entering speculation here however.

Out of related concepts, the Flanker comes with a rear-facing radar. The new Su-57 has both front- and rear-facing laser turrets to blind attacking IR-guided missiles. But no rear-facing missiles. Instead, the idea for it is to use the very risky Cobra Maneuver to trade places with the pursuer.

$\endgroup$
5
  • $\begingroup$ Your link says the Cobra maneuver is used for dogfights, which means no missiles. $\endgroup$ Feb 10 at 3:54
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @AnonymousPhysicist - "is used for dogfights" might actually be "has never been used in actual combat". $\endgroup$
    – WPNSGuy
    Feb 10 at 4:43
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @AnonymousPhysicist Short-range missiles are used in dogfights. $\endgroup$
    – Therac
    Feb 10 at 6:21
  • $\begingroup$ @AnonymousPhysicist In no way does “dogfight” imply guns only. $\endgroup$
    – Timbo
    Feb 10 at 11:53
  • $\begingroup$ "The AIM-9X is not the only one." – The German IRIS-T, for example, can attack targets behind the aircraft, at least when fired from an Eurofighter Typhoon. The missile can also be used on F/A-18, F-16, Gripen, and Tornado, but at least for the F-16, it cannot use its full potential, including 360° targeting, due to lack of sensor integration. $\endgroup$ Feb 10 at 23:29
2
$\begingroup$

That is a whole lot of machinery to design a swivel missile launcher rail. Things that can fail.

Then, a different missile to be launched at a starting speed of 'minus 500 mph" or so. Backwards.

If the enemy is behind you, you've already lost. In the time it takes you to rotate that launcher...his missile is already in the air, chasing your tailpipe.

Another thing you're probably missing is that air to air combat is rarely 1 v 1. There is almost always a wingman.

$\endgroup$
4
  • $\begingroup$ Swing-wing aircraft do have launcher rails that pivot, so it can be done. Probably not particularly efficiently, though. Of course, swing wing aircraft don't have the wings go through 180° of rotation. $\endgroup$
    – FreeMan
    Feb 9 at 14:05
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @FreeMan - Yes, but differently pivot. In a former life, I was a WPNS guy on F-111E. Much experience with the pivot pylons. Major PITA. I can only imagine the maintenance nightmare with a wingtip rotatable launcher. Is it possible to design and build? Sure. But since we've not seen one yet, no one has thought it worth the effort. $\endgroup$
    – WPNSGuy
    Feb 9 at 21:15
  • $\begingroup$ Oh, I agree 100% Anything is possible, but practical, economical, real-world feasible? Not so much $\endgroup$
    – FreeMan
    Feb 9 at 21:52
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I'm virtually certain that this concept has been brought up many times in the history of combat aircraft. And the senior members of the design team said "Yeah, we looked at that 20 years ago. It was a bad idea then, it is a bad idea now." $\endgroup$
    – WPNSGuy
    Feb 10 at 2:01
2
$\begingroup$

Typical missiles have fins in the back that are used for steering. If the missile is launched towards the rear of the aircraft, it will have a tail wind. Then the fins will be destabilizing instead of stabilizing. The missile will quickly become a bunch of missile parts.

It would be possible to design an air launched missile that did not have this problem. In practice, ground launched missiles work fine.

$\endgroup$
5
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Actually, many/most air to air missiles have the steering fins at the front. AIM-9 and AIM-120, for example. Not that it makes a real difference, though. $\endgroup$
    – WPNSGuy
    Feb 9 at 22:28
  • $\begingroup$ Which fins are static and which steer indeed doesn't matter. You're firing an arrow backwards, and the few moments it spends at "negative airspeed," while trying to reach designed airspeed, are enough to make it tumble, possibly into your own airplane. Recall the test pilot who lived to tell the tale of shooting himself down. $\endgroup$ Feb 9 at 23:01
  • $\begingroup$ @WPNSGuy Where are the fins at the front of this AIM-120? media.defense.gov/2003/Mar/28/2000031135/-1/-1/0/… $\endgroup$ Feb 10 at 3:50
  • $\begingroup$ Static fins at the rear are a very important part of the steering system. $\endgroup$ Feb 10 at 3:50
  • $\begingroup$ @AnonymousPhysicist - Frontish. On the -120, more to the middle. The fins at the rear are static, and do not steer/swivel. Maybe I should have said "towards the front", instead of "at the front" $\endgroup$
    – WPNSGuy
    Feb 10 at 4:16
1
$\begingroup$

The M2 Browning certainly does not have a problem firing forwards or backwards owing to its Mach 2.5+ muzzle velocity.

A rearward fired missile could theoretically be propelled away from the aircraft fast enough to gain net positive forward velocity.

Rocket augmented artillery shells are already in existence, potentially increasing the M2's already impressive 2000 yard effective firing range.

One might wonder if an updated version of the B-29 computer fire control system with upgraded shells and a ball turret could do against an upcoming Stinger missile.

$\endgroup$

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .