When simulating/practicing a dogfight/air-to-air engagement obviously real, live weapons aren't used. So therefore, how is it that these missions are "won"?

So my first question is: In a within visual range fight (assuming FOX 2/guns distances) how is the fight won? Is it determined by who can sit on the 6 o'clock of their opponent, or is there a system kind of like laser tag to determine if a gun shot (or missile simulation) lands on target.

And 2: How can you simulate/practice BVR engagements? Is there a way to effectively use a "virtual reality" missile that can simulate if the target is hit, and further to that, do Countermeasures have any relevance in these practice engagements?

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    $\begingroup$ I'd bet the winners of many of these engagements are decided at the bar later. $\endgroup$
    – GdD
    Commented Nov 2, 2020 at 16:27

2 Answers 2


Bear in mind that most of my maneuvering was done from a defensive position due to the aircraft I flew, and that my experience spanned a period 15-30 years ago. But, I have some perspective that may help answer the question.

First, as a comment mentioned, some are decided at the bar later. (with hands shooting down watches…) We also had a saying: “First person to the chalkboard wins”. This is in reference to the post-flight debrief practice of diagraming each engagement out on the board, and how whoever was doing the debrief may slant their interpretation of the fight to favor them.

The reality though is that despite egos and the competitive nature of practice fighting we never really tallied or recorded "wins" and losses. The objective was always to learn, practice, and improve. There is an honor system in place, and truthfulness is expected to prevail in the debrief. Just like when wrestling or playing other games as a child, you pretty much know when you have been bested. And if you try to BS or make excuses you will be called out and very quickly discredited. So the short answer is that your guess that it is determined by who can sit at their opponent's 6 O’Clock isn’t all that far off.

To get more specific regarding the details of your question, it also depends on the equipment on the aircraft, as well as the level of training being conducted. ACM (air combat maneuvering) can be as informal as a couple of squadron peers with no special gear scheduled for a local 1v1 proficiency flight, (and good naturedly arguing over who won later) or it could be a large scale coordinated exercise like Red Flag, or a Battlegroup at sea.

In the case of the former, BVR or even close in missile shots or guns would be called on the radio. The target aircraft will usually respond “chaff/flares” and continue to maneuver. If the shooter assesses a high probability of countermeasure success, they would respond “continue”. A successful bug-out or assessed simulated kill by the flight lead would result in a “terminate” or “knock-it-off” call, followed by resetting to predetermined positions and altitude blocks for the next engagement. Brief notes and fight diagrams will be drawn up on the pilot’s kneeboard during each reset to facilitate debriefing later. Any disputes can likely be settled by reviewing the HUD video.

If the aircraft is equipped with a CATM (captive air training missile) and/or chaff and flares it will make the training that much more realistic. The CATM will have all the electronics of a live missile, but no propellant or warhead. This will allow the offensive fighter to obtain a missile lock, triggering the defender’s RWR, (radar warning receiver) and give the defender a chance to break the missile lock by dispensing actual countermeasures. (and reinforce use of the correct button – because in a real fight you would want to pump out actual chaff/flares, not key the radio mic!)

In training there are often altitude restrictions on the use of flares, or they may be prohibited entirely depending on the fire danger in the training range area.

For large scale multi-aircraft exercises, the aircraft are usually fitted with an ACMI pod as described here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Air_combat_maneuvering_instrumentation

Results are live streamed back to the exercise commanders and staff. (Picture Flightaware combined with LiveATC, displayed on a wall sized screen, with a room full of professional pilots and controllers critiquing every move.) These exercise monitors will act as referees in real time, and call out kills as they occur. The “dead” aircraft will acknowledge, change their squawk to a prebriefed code so they can be identified by remaining participants, change altitude to a safe block, and transit to a designated area to hang out (in shame) until the end of the engagement.

The entire exercise is played back later on the big screen in a theater sized debrief room. It can be sped up or slowed down as needed. (As cheesy as the first TopGun movie is, you can see an example of the kind of displays that were in use at the time, and that as I remember were very similar to what was still being used in the early 2000s when I did my last Red Flag)

The debrief lead will provide commentary as it goes, and may pause to ask the pilots for their perspective. For example:

Debriefer – “Hammer15, you were in missile range here when you called the ‘Fox2’, but based on the opening speed of Nail30 we assessed this as a successful bug-out, do you concur?”

Hammer15 – “Yes, I was showing ___ knots, and the CATM broke lock shortly after that…”

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    $\begingroup$ What does "hands shooting down watches" mean? $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 3, 2020 at 12:59
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    $\begingroup$ @user3067860 Imagine somebody describing an engagement using their hands to demonstrate positions of two aircraft - most often an engagement they won, because who wants to talk about one they lost. You're probably going to use your primary hand for your own aircraft, and your off-hand for the opponent. Most people wear their watch on their off-hand, so it's your hand shooting down your watch. $\endgroup$
    – T.J.L.
    Commented Nov 3, 2020 at 14:55
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    $\begingroup$ Perhaps I could have described it better, but I was trying to convey the classic image of fighter pilots describing a dogfight using their hands. To see an example, go here and scroll down to the photo of the Colonel in his uniform: cbi-theater.com/life041243/life041243.html $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 3, 2020 at 15:51

Although my experience and knowledge in this field is from a computer science background and likely much less than other posters, I recently watched the Alpha Dogfight Trials, which I think you would find interesting as it is highly pertinent to your question. The basis on which an enemy simulated aircraft was determined to be shot down was based on the ability of a plane to keep a "firing cone" that protruded from the aircraft's main gun position and had a FOV of about 1.5 degrees.

I have no knowledge of how a BVR engagement would really be played out, so I will leave that part to others, but in regards to simulation the software and systems running on the missile/launch and control systems can be virtualized with their outputted telemetry and aerodynamic adjustment data fed into a simulated environment, and simulated data being fed to the sensors.


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