Okay let's clear the Phoenix missile myth once and for all
. Missile effectiveness depends many factors. Target range, target aspect angle, launching aircraft speed and altitude, target aircraft speed and altitude, and target's maneuverability. Don't forget ECM, and countermeasures like chaff and flares.
Since target aircraft rarely cooperate, Missile range is a very complex topic. Knowing that a missile has a 100 mile range doesn't do you much good. Accuracy depends on many factors, but you could conclude, that the closer you are to a target the better the chances are to hit, being that the missile has more energy to expend to intercept its target. Launching from higher airspeed and altitudes significantly increases the missile's effective range.
For example, a two ship group of incoming Su-34 long range attack aircraft are detected by a E-2 Hawkeye, which vectors a two ship CAP of F-14s to intercept. Let's assume that the Su-34 employed ECM all have been burnt through, and I'm that using an Su-34, representing a medium sized but still quite manouverable aircraft.
They are intercepted and the engagement aspect becomes head to head. Both sides are supersonic, teetering around mach 1.5 still in BVR. Once on station the RIOs began tracking the approaching aircraft in TWS mode. All two attack aircraft are at an altitude of 40,000 feet, with the Cats at relatively the same. At around 100 miles out 1 Phoenix is launched at each aircraft.
At this range the Phoenix would follow a ballistic path to intercept these aircraft. The Phoenixes climb to 100,000 feet during its peak altitude. Lead SU
-34 intent on launching its weapons on their target doesn't try to evade the Phoenix, and at a total of around 70 miles of flight time due to closure speed, destroys the lead Su-34.
The second ship wingman SU
-34 on the other hand, as soon as the Phoenix active seeker is detected, attempts to evade, pulls a high G 180 turn and drops chaff. The Phoenix having spent nearly all of its usable energy and all of its motor burn, is evaded.
Second surviving Su-34 turns back around and this time decides to out maneuver the F-14s. While not intended as a dogfight missile, the Phoenix missile has a great capacity against maneuvering targets more than any other AAM. At around 10 miles now, just barely out of BVR, the Su-34 pulls into a vertical dive attempting to break lock. One more Phoenix is launched. The Su-34 begins to pull out dive at 6Gs again attempting to evade. Still with high energy the Phoenix has a huge advantage and with nearly all of its airspeed, matches the 6Gs and with its very large 132lb blast-fragmentation warhead defeats the SU
-34. The Phoenix is capable of pulling 16Gs and still defeating it's target. Comparatively, the R-73 / AA
-11 Archer (Russia's equivalent to the AIM-9 Sidewider and argueably more deadly with its off-boresight capability), is capable of a maximum 12Gs.
You can conclude that inside, the 100+ mile "range", the Phoenix is a very deadly weapon. The missile has a very long burning solid-fueled motor when compared with other AAMs, meaning at fairly close range the Phoenix will have all or most of its maximum airspeed and available energy to expend on intercepting its target. The Phoenix does have a large minimum range however compared to the smaller AAMs like the AIM-9. Air combat, especially in dog fight, to effective and to be best employed is a careful balance of energy and airspeed disposal/conservation.
Okay now you're wondering is this factually correct? I bought a book, in D.C., around 1992, that many aircraft modellers and hobbists may recognize, "F-14A&B Tomcat in Detail and Scale" published back in 1982 by Tab Books, and Airlife Publishing Ltd. I just recently found it again and thought I'd share some examples of the Phoenix's effectiveness.I'm not sure if they are still published anymore, but the "Detail and Scale" series of publications were the first to focus its attention on the many physical details of aircraft, such as cockpit interiors, radar and avionics, armament, landing gear, wheel wells, and ejection seats. They were also known for their high technical accuracy, and its author Bert Kinzey being known for his reputation as knowledgeable in all aspects of military airpower who eventually landed a position in the Department of the Army as a "subject matter expert". I used this book to reference two similar live tests, of the AIM-54 program substituting the drone for the SU
-34. Each test information, in the book is courtesy of Hughes Aircraft (now Raytheon), the contractor for the AIM-54 Phoenix. The books production was assisted by Grumman, Hughes, and also the U.S. Navy. Needless to say a classic, with many techincal drawings, cockpit photos and layout diagrams, walk around photos, and topped of by a pilot's (Lt. Larry Muczynski) account of his downing of one of the 2 Su-22s during the Libiyan campaign (using AIM-9s).
The first Su-34 downing example that I used was being the long range capability development test against a supersonic strategic bomber, simulated by a BQM-34E with a blinking noise jammer. Second being a QF
-86 drone violently maneuvering in the vertical plane. I picked these tests to reference, something that we might see today if the AIM-54C was ever used by the US Navy in actual combat. Okay true, now these were only tests but clearly demonstrate the AIM-54s capability which still stands to be matched.
The AIM-54 has been steadily but surely been upgraded to today's modern standards, most notably the AIM-54C and AIM-54C+. In the AIM-54C the warhead was upgraded from an MK82 to a WDU-29/B warhead which offers a 20-25 percent increase in effectiveness. Another upgrade was an all new digital
WGU-11/B guidance and WCU-7/B control sections. One very important feature of the AIM-54C is its vastly improved ECCM capability, and DSU-28/B target detection device improves fusing accuracy in high-clutter environments and for small and low-altitude targets. The + version was sealed which eliminated the need for the F-14 to provide temperature compensation liquid during captive flight.
You can conclude anyway you want to about the AIM-54, as it's never been used by the U.S. in actual combat and it's effectiveness has yet to be seen. One thing is for sure though, I would not want to be on the opposite side of an engagement with an F-14
. They will be missed when retired, by their crews and the public.