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  • Writer's pictureAaron "Ribbon-Blue" Mendoza

DCS F/A-18C Hornet: The King of Stand-Off Attack

Updated: Mar 4

The Long Range Strategic Sting



It has been quite sometime since I last wrote about how I was "stung" by the F/A-18C Hornet in my article Confessions from a DCS Hornet Main. While I feel like I have successfully moved beyond being a dedicated Hornet pilot, my experiences flying the F-14B, M-2000C, MB-339 and OV-10A and flying with players using other aircraft, something about the Hornet's weapon capability has consistently been highlighted for me. The quantity and quality of stand-off munitions on the F/A-18C continue to be relatively unmatched, even by its long-time fourth generation peer, the F-16CM.


 

AGM-154: Modern Day Stand Off


Even in the arsenals of militaries in 2023, stand-off weaponry is the bread and butter for the opening phase of any possible large-scale conflict. With anti-aircraft systems becoming more and more potent, rolling in to deliver bombs directly onto well defended targets isn't the flak dodging thrill ride players are expecting. It only takes a few seconds for radar guided triple-A units or optically guided missiles to ruin the climax of a long flight into combat. The path of least resistance is also the path of highest survivability and mission success rate. The Hornet can carry up to eight units of two types of JSOW. The submunition AGM-154A JSOW and 500 pound penetrator AGM-154C JSOW.



It is well known that the submunition variant is performance hampered in different ways, like the altitude the weapon was set to disperse at, the direction and strength of wind and the damage model DCS uses to potray damage to ground units as a singular health bar rather than a more realistic way which models component damage. Because of this, the JSOW-C has seen higher proliferation in the average DCS world server instance. With its large warhead that detonates on impact or a delay, a direct hit is enough to destroy or cause significant damage to most targets they impact.


The ideal way to deploy these munitions is with pre-planned attacks using GPS coordinates of known hostiles. This way, the JSOWs can be launched from their maximum range as the Hornet flies fast and high, outside the range of counterattacks from surface-to-air missile systems. However, their flexibility in Target Of Opportunity (TOO) mode with a targeting pod like the ATFLIR or LITENING is what makes them popular. Unexpected targets can be identified from tens of nautical miles away, then be attacked from a safe distance.


AGM-62 Walleye: Cold War Approved Stand Off



The Cold War era is of much interest to Digital Combat Simulator in many aspects. From module making companies embracing access to aircraft from the early and mid-cold war to players looking for a more close range, risky experience that forgoes GPS weapons and long-range munitions. The AGM-62 Walleye is from an early generation of precision guided weapons, first developed and tested in 1963. This very large glide bomb used optical guidance via modified technology used in televisions at the time to let pilots acquire targets, lock the Walleye's seeker onto a structure, then release the bomb. The Walleye then guides itself to the target using massive guidance fins, letting pilots truly fire and forget it.


The version used by the F/A-18C is the AGM-62 ER/DL which can use a datalink pod to let pilots manually fly the weapon into the target. The Walleye's range is determined by the altitude, speed and launch angle of the aircraft carrying it, but in testing it could reach 24 nautical miles. In Cold War scenarios, the groundbreaking Walleye continues to be one of the few non-GPS, non-laser guided long-range attack options.


HARM/TALD: Enhanced Anti-Radar Operations



While the F-16CM is undoubtably the most capable suppression or destruction of enemy air defense (SEAD/DEAD) aircraft in the simulator, the F/A-18C does have a capability the Viper cannot replicate. The Hornet can carry the ADM-141 Tactical Air Launched Decoy (TALD) alongside the AGM-88 Highspeed Anti-Radiation Missile (HARM). Using target of opportunity and pre-briefed engagement modes with the AGM-88, the Hornet can launch on emitting early warning, search and track radars from a safe distance, but if these radars are protected by point defense systems or surface-to-air missile systems capable of missile interception, the chances of success decrease.


A working integrated air defense system (IADS) that is able to turn off radars, lure aircraft deeper into its ideal engagement range and catch them by surprise. Cycling radars on and off also greatly decrease the effectiveness of the HARM, sometimes making those missiles miss the target completely, depending on how soon the radars were shut off after a missile launch was detected. With TALDs, the Hornet can use the decoys to fool SAM radars into thinking the decoys are aircraft coming to destroy it. As radars power on and missiles begin to fly, the Hornet can now see the protected radars and attack them accordingly.


AGM-84 SLAM: Deep Strike Capability


The crown jewel of the Hornet's long-range strike capability are air launched cruise missiles. Very few aircraft in DCS World have these. Its two variants of AGM-84 Standoff Land Attack Missile (SLAM) have some of the longest weapon ranges that players can take advantage of. The SLAM utilizes GPS accurate coordinates to hit static targets, including hardened bunkers and shelters. Its high accuracy can be augmented with pilot controls during the terminal guidance phase with television seeker and datalink technology derived from the AGM-62 Walleye.



While the older AGM-84E SLAM can not avoid terrain and has to be launched at high altitude to reach its target, the improved AGM-84H SLAM-ER (Extended Range) is able to fly over terrain at low altitude and strike targets in excess of 150 nautical miles. Because SLAMs can fly such a long distance, it is possible for them to slip past air defenses on their own, but extensive mission planning must be done. These cruise missiles can be programmed to follow GPS waypoints with specific altitudes and steering points.


Though more complex strikes take a considerable amount of time to plan, when deployed correctly, SLAMs can even fly behind terrain, masking them from interception by land based systems. And in a pinch, so long as the Hornet is carrying a targeting pod, SLAMs can be used on unexpected medium and close range targets of opportunity that absolutely must be removed from the battlefield.


 

When you combine the aforementioned munitions with the fuel efficiency of the Hornet, its effective combat range is immense. Without needing to constantly exchange survivability to strike high value targets, even far off logistic points, command centers and airfields hundreds of miles away are within range. Just make sure to have a pen, paper and coffee on hand to type in all those coordinates...


 
About the Writer

Co-founder of Skyward Flight Media. After founding Electrosphere.info, the first English Ace Combat database, he has been involved in creating flight game-related websites, communities, and events since 2005. He explores past and present flight games and simulators with his extensive collection of game consoles and computers. Read Staff Profile.

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