Multi-crew capable aircraft are some of the most interesting modules in the Digital Combat Simulator World. Operating a full-fidelity simulated airborne war machine with a trusted second human player is something that DCS can offer in a way few other combat-oriented flight simulators can. This is even more true in a historically iconic aircraft like the Grumman F-14 Tomcat as presented by Heatblur Simulations, which has been recreated in eye bleedingly high quality. But as expected in any multi-crew aircraft, the full extent of their capabilities rely on a competent human crew. In the F-14A/B, having a consistent human pilot and radar intercept officer for every sortie is a rarity. Fortunately, a computer companion has been available since this module's introduction in March 2019.
Jester, a computerized radar intercept officer (RIO) is effective enough to let human players fly the Tomcat without a human RIO. Some aspects of Jester are beneficial beyond the on-paper capabilities of the Tomcat, but even now, in 2022, he's not without his limitations and quirks. Some of these quirks can potentially place the aircraft in danger if the players don't figure out how to work with or around them.
Consider this a helpful tip article for your average DCS World F-14 Tomcat pilot to work better with Jester in certain aspects.
Jester Specific Keybinds
Jester's primary control function is the Jester Menu. This circular menu lets the pilot order their computer RIO to interact with dozens of sub-menus for almost every system available in the Tomcat's backseat.
It is projected over the center of the player's field of view while in flight. Speaking from the point of view of someone that uses head tracking like TrackIR or OpenTrack, this menu's ability to be controlled with head movements for quick selection is very handy. But there are times when moving one's head up, down, left, and right can be detrimental. Like while visually tracking a maneuvering bandit in a dogfight or opening the menu when not looking straight ahead towards the head tracker sensor.
Opening the menu while looking up at an angle or off to the side can result in awkward strained neck movements because of the menu's orientation. Whichever direction the player is looking when they open this menu is considered the "centered" position for the menu. For example, suppose the menu is opened while looking down to the left outside the cockpit while scanning for something on the ground. What would typically be a quick downward glance to select a menu option can turn into odd neck-craning movements to choose menu options. Opening the menu when already looking behind or directly above the aircraft could require large head movements to select options on the edges of the menu. To the point where keeping your eyes on the computer monitor while moving your head at awkward angles can be uncomfortable.
Jester does have a limited set of commands that can be bound to specific keybinds or buttons on physical controllers (joysticks, HOTAS, gamepads, etc). There are not enough commands to cover every possible Jester option, but what is available can be utilized in life-saving and frustration-negating ways when used correctly.
Take time to check out all possible keybinds in with Digital Combat Simulator open in Options -> Controls -> F-14 Pilot -> Jester AI, but the keybinds of interest to us in this article will be explained per subject.
Radar Orientation Reset
One of the first things people will think of is how difficult it can be to get him to re-center the radar from one cluster of contacts to a different area. This is something that occurs in various radar modes. Even when aggressively reorienting the F-14 onto new radar contacts, Jester will work his hardest to keep the radar on the initial set of contacts, slewing the radar as far as he can to maintain radar contact on the initial group. While this is all well and good assuming the initial group is the biggest threat, in situations where a new, more dangerous group of contacts appears, having to work against Jester to force him to break contact with the initial group is detrimental. Having to completely break radar contact with the first group by sometimes turning the aircraft so far away from the initial contact group Jester cannot physically keep the radar on them to acquire the new contacts is as dangerous as it sounds. It costs precious time and can allow bandits to close distance, negating the Tomcat's purpose-built beyond visual range advantage (BVR).
In a pinch or as a standard operation, using the keybinds as mentioned above to change Jester's radar mode between Range While Search (Jester AI -> Radar- RWS Mode) or Track While Scan (Jester AI -> Radar - TWS Mode) automatically forces Jester to re-center the aircraft's radar straight ahead of the aircraft. While it will take him a few seconds to complete the order, it's a faster and safer alternative in a pinch.
BVR Transition to WVR
Despite the Tomcat's famed ability to fire six AIM-54 Phoenixes at up to six different aircraft flying at altering altitudes and speeds, the chances of splashing every bandit every time would require the perfect conditions for each missile. Knowing how to transition from BVR to within visual range (WVR) combat is a skill that the F-14 pilot will need to know.
Assuming a long-range missile launch failed to hit its target or a close-range bandit has been detected, Jester's commands for Single Target Track (STT) mode can be the difference between landing a quick missile shot a few miles before the merge or better positioning one's self for the inevitable turning battle. This can be accomplished without interacting with Jester's menu when you may be seconds away from entering a dogfight.
Ordering Jester to STT lock the nearest confirmed bandit (Jester AI -> Radar - STT Lock Enemy Ahead) is the ideal solution, assuming all aircraft in front of the F-14 have been identified as friendly or hostile (IFF). If Jester may not be able to IFF a nearby air contact fast enough, commanding him to lock any aircraft ahead with STT (Jester AI -> Radar - STT Lock Ahead) is the fastest way to gain a firing solution. But with, this will forgo the IFF process, making it possible for him to lock a friendly.
Methods for confirming whether or not the STT locked aircraft include waiting for Jester to verbally IFF them, the pilot using the Tomcat's Television Camera System (TCS) to visually identify, using the pilot's own eyes to identify, communicating with allies, asking a nearby AWACS to declare the status of the locked aircraft or checking the F10 map, if able. Where quick STT lock commands are used, it is strongly recommended also to have Jester's break lock command readily available (Jester AI -> Radar - Break Lock).
Following Up on BVR Launches
As a side note, the same STT keybinds mentioned above can be used to follow up on successful or near-successful BVR launches. When AIM-54 Phoenix missiles reach their targets and their onboard missile seekers go fully active ("pitbull") and guide themselves to target, the enemy aircraft are usually forced to perform defensive maneuvers once their onboard radar warning receivers alert them of the AIM-54 closing in. If in a favorable position, the attacking F-14 can follow up for a second attack. When confirming that the Phoenix went active, using Jester's command to STT lock an enemy ahead (Jester AI -> Radar - STT Lock Enemy Ahead) will focus the Tomcat's weapon systems and TCS onto the defensive bandit.
The benefits of this is the immediate ability to monitor the bandit's movements. If the bandit is destroyed by the AIM-54, it can be confirmed via radar and the TCS system. If it successfully defends, the Tomcat can be positioned closer to the defensive bandit for a more favorable follow up attack and decide what type of missile should be launched to down the bandit. Using the Jester Menu to STT lock a specific numbered Track While Scan (TWS) target is the ideal way to follow up a BVR TWS attack, but in situations where missiles are being exchanged, Jester's quick STT lock keybinds can come in clutch.
Manually Switching Between Pulse and Pulse Doppler STT
Jester frequently loses radar missile lock when transitioning from Pulse Doppler STT (PD-STT) to Pulse STT (P-STT) when allowed to do so on his own. This well-known problem resulted in an update from Heatblur Simulations, letting players disable Jester's ability to transfer between these two modes through the aircraft's Special Options menu.
Without getting too deep into the details, for now, there are advantages and disadvantages to using either mode. PD-STT is best used for attacking a single target at long range but is vulnerable to Zero Doppler Notch. P-STT is more resistant to notching but is best used for short to medium range. For a deeper understanding, I recommend referring to the AN/AWG-9 section of the official manual and Avionics IV: Radar Management in Virtual Backseaters Volume I: F-14 Tomcat Radar Intercept Officer by Fly and Wire.
Rather than completely doing away with a function of the AN/AWG-9 radar, make use of Jester's toggle command (Jester AI ->Radar - Toggle PD-STT to P-STT) to take manual control. With the pilot having a better understanding of when and if to switch between these two modes, there is at least an option to access these modes when needed.
Inhuman Situational Awareness Quirks
This isn't necessarily something that can be controlled with keybinds, but it is noteworthy. Jester has the same level of inhuman situational awareness that many other computer-controlled enemy units do in Digital Combat Simulator. This is especially apparent during close-range dogfights and for calling out missile launches.
In a dynamic turning battle, Jester does not lose sight of any bandit merged with the F-14 Tomcat. Even in situations where the enemy is attacking from directly below, where it's physically impossible to see them. Jester will continue to guide the player's eyes and flight inputs towards the bandit with consistent position call-outs. This is true even in scenarios/missions that adhere to the most realistic restrictions possible.
This includes callouts for missiles launched from aircraft or surface-to-air threats. Jester's warnings about infrared homing missiles are especially life-saving. The assumption is that when Jester calls out a missile it will most likely be hostile. However, he can give false call-outs in certain situations. Because he does not always differentiate the type of missiles launched or if a nearby friendly aircraft fired a missile at a distant target. Occasionally Jester's sudden, panicked instructions to break away and evade are triggered by something that is no factor. Human pilots maintaining at least a basic situational awareness will easily avoid unneeded maneuvering and wasting countermeasures from a false launch alert.
For those interested in more information about what's possible with Jester in the air-to-ground attack role, see my previous article on using Jester AI in the Forward Air Controller (Airborne) role.
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.