“Raptor’s thrust vectoring not essential” Eurofighter pilot says in last chapter of the F-22 vs Typhoon saga

Is Thrust Vectoring really important in air-to-air combat? It depends…

A couple of weeks ago, an experienced Eurofighter Typhoon industry test pilot wrote to The Aviationist to respond to a Lockheed F-35 test pilot who, talking to Flight’s Dave Majumdar had claimed that all three variants of the Joint Strike Fighter will have better kinematic performance than any fourth-generation fighter plane with combat payload, including the Eurofighter Typhoon.

Now, the same Typhoon pilot has again chosen this blog (and I’m honored for this) to explain why thrust vectoring, considered one of the most important F-22 features, is not essential when you are involved in an air-to-air engagement WVR (Within Visual Range).

RAF Typhoons and U.S. Air Force F-22s are currently operating together in the U.S.: the joint mission started with a training exercise called Western Zephyr and will continue next week at the Red Flag 13-3 at Nellis Air Force Base.

Langley Typhoon
RAF Typhoon on the ramp at Langley. (Image credit: USAF)

As reported in an interesting Defensenews article, the agility of the American 5th generation fighter plane is among the things that impressed British pilots the most.

According to the piece, the commander of the RAF XI Sqn Wing Commander Rich Wells, said:

“Raptor has vector thrust: Typhoon doesn’t,” he said. “What the aircraft can do, it’s incredible. The Typhoon just doesn’t do that.”

Even if it is a matter of fact that the European top class fighter jet lacks thrust vectoring (TV) our source believes that this is not a big deal.

To be honest, the points he raises were already discussed in the article about the outcome of the dogfights between the U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptors and the German Air Force Eurofighter Typhoons during last year’s Red Flag – Alaska, when Americans said the F-22 performance was “overwhelming” while German said the costly stealth fighter was “salad” for the Eurofighter’s pilots lunch.

At that time we said that the F-22 tends to lose too much energy when using TV and unless the Raptor can manage to immediately get in the proper position to score a kill, the energy it loses makes it quite vulnerable.

Anyway, here’s what he wrote to us:

We have all been around long enough to recognize there is not a single sensor able to turn the night into day, nor a unique aerodynamic design feature capable of ensuring by itself air dominance if implemented.

The effectiveness of an air superiority fighter relies on the successful combination of a range of design elements including thrust-to-weight ratio, wing loading, avionics and weapons integration. Furthermore, : appropriate tactics and valuable aircrew training must be developed to exploit the full potential of the weapon system.

Typically, when time comes to decide how to achieve the required “nose pointing capability” for high thrust-to-weight ratio airplanes three solutions are on the table:

– extremely high short term sustained Angle of Attack values (characteristic of twin tailed airplanes);
– High Off-Bore-Sight Weapons, preferably supported by Helmet Cueing;
– Thrust Vectoring.

Thrust Vectoring is one of the design elements that can contribute to create a certain advantage during close air combat by generating impressive pitch and yaw rates, but only in a limited portion of the flight envelope at velocities well below “corner speed”.

However, Thrust Vectoring can also transform in a few seconds an energy fighter in a piece of metal literally falling off the sky, making it an easy prey for those who have been able to conserve their energy.

Moreover, Thrust Vector operation requires the pilot to “create the opportunity” for its usage, spending valuable time in manoeuvring the aircraft to achieve a suitable condition and managing the activation of the Thrust Vector Control.

If you are “defensive” and your aircraft has Thrust Vectoring, you can possibly outturn your enemy, but that most likely won’t prove to be a great idea: an energy fighter like the Typhoon will conveniently “use the vertical” to retain energy and aggressively reposition for a missile or gun shot. Also the subsequent acceleration will be extremely time (and fuel) consuming, giving your opponent the opportunity to tail chase you for ever, exploiting all its short range weapon array.

If you are “neutral”, when typically vertical, rolling and flat scissors would accompany the progressive energy decay, similarly performing machines would remain closely entangled, negating the opportunity for Thrust Vector activation.

If you are “offensive”, probably stuck in a never ending “rate fight”, Thrust Vector could provide the opportunity for a couple of shots in close sequence. Make sure nobody is coming to you from the “support structure”, otherwise that could be also your last move.

Talking of twin tailed aircraft, Angles of Attack in excess of 30-35 degrees are capable of creating drag conditions unsustainable no matter the engine/airframe matching, and developing energy decays intrusive of the tactical flying but also of the flight control system protections. Roll rates would also deteriorate at the higher values of AoA and target tracking ability would quickly decay.

Eurofighter has decided to develop for the Typhoon High Off-Bore-Sight Weapons, supported by Helmet Cueing, to retain energy and target tracking ability while manoeuvring WVR (Within Visual Range) at relatively high but sustainable Angles of Attack. For those who may require some additional AoA, the “Strakes” package is progressing well and soon it will be offered to Typhoon’s Customers. Nevertheless, Strakes is not purely about extreme AoA, but also suitable Roll Rates and manageble energy characteristics. Because in the European way of doing things, an all round balanced solution counts more than a single eye opening performance.

It is a fact that against Eastern produced fighters provided with Thrust Vectoring, throughout the years the Typhoon has showed an embarasing (for them) kill-to-loss ratio.

It is a fact that after some initial encounters between the Raptor and the Typhoon, the situation appears of absolute equity. Too early to say if it is the Helmet Cueing or the Thrust Vector, or how much tactics and training are a player in all this. For sure, we are facing two impressively capable machines.

The typical answer to any critics to the F-22 air dominance is: “since it is stealthy, you should not even consider the possibility of a close encounter with another jet.”

F-22 pilot
Close up image of the cockpit of an F-22 Raptor (Image credit: U.S. Air Force)

Even if this can be true, the risk of coming to close range is still high. At a distance of about 50 km the Typhoon IRST (Infra-Red Search and Track) system could be capable to find even a stealthy plane “especially if it is large and hot, like the F-22″ as a Eurofighter pilot once said.

Furthermore, Raptors are not always stealthy as one might believe: for instance, when they carry external store, rejoin with tankers or talk on the radio (secure or unsecure ones) they become more vulnerable to detection.

But this is another story, that we will discuss in the near future…

About David Cenciotti 4428 Articles
David Cenciotti is a freelance journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written four books.

14 Comments

  1. …didn’t on one joint exercise famous Raptor lose against Indian Mig-21 Bison :P …sorry guys but they lost against Eurofighter two times once against German pilots another time against British pilots, they stop the exercise immediatley and return Raptors next day home . Normally that British pilots must say only the goooood things about Raptor because they are good allies. It is nice and good fighter but for 356 million dollars something is wrong big time not to mention flight cost and maintenance. Chinese cheap copy’s will overrun it if something happens, like in WWII German had the technological advantage but they were overrun by number. USAF lost around 26000 airmen unfortunately in WWII. Sorry but F-15 is still most reliable fighter jet in American Air Force.

    • The final price released after all of the name calling was $158M. The $356M was an invention of the New York Times in their assassination piece to promote the F-35, which was suppose to cost only $40M, which is now somewhere between $95M and $112M for less than half of the performance.
      We lost big time.

      • The 356 million price is when you include the cost of the entire ATF program and then divide it by the amount of planes built. The 158 million is just the manufacturing costs. Just a clarification :)

    • The Navy prefers to rely on non stealth fighters and just jam everything else. So if one fails then the other will prevail. I am surprised to not see much online support for a definition for a fifth generation non-stealth fighter. Maybe a modernized version of the F15 active.

    • Geez, no fighter is invincible, especially in a dogfight. That the F-22 can even match the Typhoon in maneuvering performance at most speeds and altitudes is impressive, considering the fact that it is shaped for stealth. At slow speeds (which should be avoided if possible), the F-22 has the advantage with its thrust vectoring and high-alpha capability, and at very high speeds and altitudes it also has the advantage in both energy and turn rates, its engines and aerodynamics being optimized for this regime. And of course at BVR, the F-22 is unmatched, which is really its main design point. This seems rather great to me, and the fact that its pilots have lost a few times at ACM, especially against a fantastic dogfighter like the Typhoon flown by other well trained pilots, doesn’t concern me one bit. Each F-22 really costs $150 million, and at least based on capability alone it is worth the price. Whether the USAF will be able to take full advantage of its capabilities in practice is still a question (and whether they’ll need to is another), but the F-22 is obviously the dominant air superiority fighter right now (and it does some other things, too).

      • The F-22 was designed to be a very capable knife-fighter. With the obvious inclusion of thrust vectoring, just look at the plane. It has a lifting body design.

  2. Again with the fanboy ish obsession with wvr turning and burning….of course, these 4th gens only stand a chance if they get in close, which just doesn’t happen unless it’s a canned scenario like f22 v typhoon one mentioned.

    Hype!

  3. Well Indians recon they beat the Typhoon into pulp. So much for being a better then Eastern planes.

    To Flyin High. Soviets NEVER claimed that MiG-35 was superior to F-15. Get your story straight. But they did prove time and time again that Flanker beats it.

    • “Well Indians recon they beat the Typhoon into pulp. So much for being a better then Eastern planes.”

      They have beaten Tornadoes into pulp, but comment made by Indian pilots was then editet so as to make it seem that it were Typhoons which were beaten into pulp.

      • Those cocky Flanker pilots piss me off. Claiming a 9:1 kill ratio or something immensely stupid. One day these “tough guys” of the IAF will get blown out of the sky in real life, and will be shown their humility.

        In a short essay I wrote about the evolution of multirole combat aircraft, I wrote the Su-30’s as being successes so far due to their prowess in wargames (citing when the IAF uses their Flankers to dogfight), but wrote a footnote at the bottom:

        “Although perspicuous results of the war games in
        which the Indian Air Force utilized the aircraft are not available, as each
        combatant’s air force expresses very fervent rhetoric of supposed domination in
        the exercises, with the Indian aerial warfare branch indubitably being the most
        uninhibited with its perfervid claims”

  4. The way this is written it appears they almost claim that they decided to create HOBS missiles and HMS to counter TVC equipped planes. What a load of rubbish. HMS+HOBS missiles were introduced on MiG-29 and Su-27 since late 80s and Typhoon in early 90s and had nothing to do with TVC-equipped planes. Su-37 stunned the world in 1996/7 and HMS/HOBS missiles were already around.

    They also seem to be saying that TVC is only good if you set up its use correctly. You don’t say? TVC exists to maintain CONTROL in conditions when one deliberately stalls during maneuvering (risky and doesn’t mean one can keep control correctly) or pulls such AOA where aerodynamic controls are in an aerodynamic shadow and TVC maintains correct heading.

  5. Remember the pilot matters more. A quote from an F-15 pilot during desert storm: “Even if we switched planes we still would have won because the pilot matters more then the performance of the plane.”

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