DCS World: Dying for the "Perfect Shot"
Updated: Oct 24
"What is the best range to launch this missile at?" Now there's a frequently asked question that opens up a litany of opinions, data points, arguments, and video playlists. The quest to consistently launch the perfect missile in Digital Combat Simulator (DCS) is fraught with staunchly sticking to on-paper specifications and potential accidental exposure to danger.
As you can guess, this opinion was inspired by the untimely shootdowns of many friends, unknown players, and myself. They had held fire for a bit too long, got too close, or lost situational awareness while waiting for the optimal conditions to launch a missile. The results were the loss of their aircraft or being forced into a worst-case scenario defensive posture. The type of scenario where the threat is still alive and pursuing you doggedly.
The pursuit of the "perfect shot" is tied to the desire to be as victorious and deadly efficient as possible in a single sortie. The term "ace in a day" comes to mind. It can be summarized as one missile = one air-to-air victory. Leaving with six missiles means returning with six splashed aircraft to your name.
This is especially true with beyond visual range combat in this simulator. It is a mindset that demands ideal parameters at all times. You know the ones. Aviation documentary-style engagements that demonstrate the maximum potential of aircraft and their armaments. Scenarios like AIM-120s striking targets over 40 nautical miles away and F-14 Tomcats decimating six jets at once.
Confirming the flawless conditions and techniques are topics that generate endless discussions about on-paper specifications of missiles, aircraft, speeds, altitudes, ranges, target aspect, radar cross-sections, etc. The types of things sourced from Global Security, Wikipedia, r/DCS, Eagle Dynamics forums, DCS content creator videos, and other easy-to-access sources of information.
The subconscious assumption is that each target will fly in a way that allows for all the right conditions. The wild card in these calculations is the nature of combat itself. Nothing is guaranteed in battle, and adhering to the "perfect" parameters can be fatal.
The reality in Digital Combat Simulator is that even against low-skill level AI aircraft or minimally experienced players, you won't consistently land beyond visual range missile shots. Alternatively, even feared off-boresight missiles like the R-73 can be unsuccessful in their tailor-made within visual range dogfighting arena. There are many reasons for this, yes, even factoring in the known quirks and bugs with Eagle Dynamics' own missile API, but the overarching reason is this:
Remember that the best estimates for missile performance are primarily achieved in testing environments. Places where you won't be dealing with lethal external factors. Things like evading surface threats, contending with radar ground clutter, being surprised by a pop-up contact, electronic countermeasures, or other combat scenarios. Not to mention the target's own ability to defend and fight back.
A Hornet's near-perfect AIM-120 AMRAAM launch from 18 miles away doesn't mean much against a Flanker's R-77 if the Flanker used less than ideal launch parameters to fire first but is now seconds away from destroying the Hornet before it fires back. Knowing when to adhere to by-the-book missile launches and when to take less effective launches to position yourself for future success is something that has to be learned and practiced.
Ultimately, it is a change in mindset. Accepting that not every missile fired has to result in a guaranteed victory allows for more tactical flexibility. It also lessens the chances of failure against even the most advanced opponents who are willing to launch missiles earlier than what may be recommended as a part of their overall strategy.
For example, the posturing shot is one of the most frequently used tactics in beyond visual range combat. Launching a missile to try to force the opponent to go defensive early, potentially setting up the aircraft that fired first for a better follow-up shot. Furthermore, being willing to launch a second missile onto the same target when it appears as though the first may fail is a life-saving tactic depending on the scenario. If the target recommits back onto you while evading your first missile, is the gamble of hoping the first missile worth going head to head with an enemy that's much closer? Air-to-air missiles are indeed quite expensive, and in some way, a missed missile is a waste of money, but if the loss of a multi-million dollar aircraft is the result of trying to save a missile or two, what was the point?
This is the part where I could go into an entire explanation of beyond visual range combat concepts, but that's probably better left to DCS air combat experts like Growling Sidewinder. Someone who frequently flies, fights, and explains beyond visual range combat scenarios in detail.
Loosen up those expectations! Respect the specifications of the missiles you're carrying but begin thinking beyond the book. There's nothing wrong with returning successful and alive instead dying as an ace.
About the Writer
Aaron "Ribbon-Blue" Mendoza
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.