Hardpoint: Countermeasures in Ace Combat
Updated: Sep 12, 2020
The advent of guided anti-aircraft weaponry has made the inclusion of countermeasures a vital addition to the anatomy of real-world combat aircraft. At any point in time, they can come under attack from surface-to-air missiles the size of telephone poles, beyond visual range missiles from enemy aircraft and even shoulder-fired missiles from individual soldiers lurking in the land below. The inclusion of countermeasures in the Ace Combat series came relatively late but is now an option for players to rely more on technology and less on their skills to evade incoming missiles.
Non-Player Character (NPC) aircraft were first seen deploying countermeasures in limited quantities in Ace Combat 5 (2004). In that game, a handful of named ace aircraft and B-2A Spirit stealth strategic bombers first deployed them. Ace Combat Zero (2006) continued this limited countermeasure usage in a higher profile by enabling two enemy Ace squadrons to utilize them against the player and their allies. Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation (2007) expanded usage to friendly and enemy strategic bombers throughout the single-player campaign and by the game's primary adversary squadron. The Strigon team is seen multiple times throughout Ace Combat 6's campaign increasing the frequency of the overall countermeasure usage seen in the game. On the Nintendo 3DS handheld game console, enemies in Ace Combat: Cross Rumble/Assault Horizon Legacy (2011) utilized flares as a part of the Action Maneuver System. During engagements initiated by Attack Maneuvers from the player, NPC aircraft can use Evasive Maneuvers to avoid missile fire with rapid maneuvers and a burst of countermeasures. Ace Combat: Assault Horizon (2011) saw a similar application of NPC countermeasures through use of its Dogfight Mode and at other points in time. Of note are the Angel Flare patterns employed by strategic bombers and aircraft labeled TGT_Lead which use flares to avoid missile fire as they follow scripted flight paths.
Player Controlled Countermeasures
Examining Ace Combat as a whole, the lack of countermeasures for so long and overall game design of the franchise has certainly defined the general play style of the franchise. Emphasis on fast, arcadey flight action, frequently performing high-speed, high-G load maneuvers will not cause the pilot to black out, the aircraft to lose bleed off a fatal amount of energy or damage the aircraft's airframe. This makes outmaneuvering missiles a viable tactic most of the time. Understanding how to manage speed, calculate the incoming weapon's trajectory, and maneuver accordingly has remained the most reliable way to stay alive in Ace Combat. Since the release of Air Combat (Arcade, 1993), players had to rely on their own flying skill and evasive maneuvers to dodge enemy missiles. Ace Combat 5 introduced the Electronic Counter Measure Pod (ECMP) special weapon, but restrictive factors made it an undesirable solution for those seeking aircraft countermeasures. Though the ECMP is able to extend its defense beyond a single aircraft, it was most frequently utilized by players as a substitute for the lack of dedicated countermeasure systems. But its low special weapons "ammunition" count combined with being required to give up special weapons capable of attacking enemies kept it a somewhat under used choice.
Ace Combat: Joint Assault (2010) featured an unusual type of player controlled countermeasure that acted as a special weapon. Sustainable Infrared Countermeasure Shells (IRCM) are visually similar to the High-Powered Microwave weapon from Ace Combat X: Skies of Deception (2006). When deployed it appears as purple balls of energy which disrupt missile guidance systems of allies and enemies alike, causing them to miss their target. Aircraft that collide with the IRCM receive damage making it the only defensive weapon or countermeasure in the Ace Combat series capable of damaging targets as well. The introduction of player controlled countermeasures would come 15 years after the first Ace Combat game console release. Ace Combat: Assault Horizon was the first game of the franchise to grant the player countermeasures they could control. This addition to their array of capabilities provided a desirable defensive option that would not require the substitution of special weapons able to destroy enemies. In all Attacker, Bomber, Fighter, and Multirole aircraft had access to these countermeasures. The countermeasures provided are effective in decoying or "spoofing" enemy missile fire before they could strike the player's aircraft. The countermeasures in Ace Combat: Assault Horizon have a reload/cool down time after a cloud of countermeasures was released. The number of flares and their reload times vary from aircraft to aircraft and differ even more between offline and online game modes. Player vs. Player combat in online game modes saw the most frequent use. This was especially true with missions that featured or players that used strategic bombers. Though absent in Ace Combat Infinity (2014), the release of Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown (2019) has reintroduced flares to the series.
In the Ace Combat series countermeasures are visually represented as flares launched from the rear of the aircraft. These flares are capable of misguiding all types of missiles seen in the games to assist with evasion. Within the real world, flares are only effective against infrared-guided missiles and do not decoy radar guided missiles. Flares are deployed from aircraft to fool incoming IR guided missiles as they burn a pyrotechnic composition made up of metals that burn at temperatures equal to or hotter than aircraft engines. The burn rates, temperatures, specifications of the material used in the creation and so much more are all guarded information. In the Ace Combat series, non-player controlled enemies and allies have deployed chaff sporadically in certain games. Chaff is primarily seen when decoying semi-active and guided missiles fired by the player or their allies. A dedicated chaff dispenser has not been provided to players for their use. Real world chaff is made up of materials like aluminum, other metals, and plastics. As the chaff is deployed by an aircraft, its material spreads through the air, creating a cloud which reflects radar in a way that creates a cloud of disruption on the radar. The chaff cloud attempts to confuse incoming radar-guided missile fire as the aircraft maneuvers to safety. With the Flare function being able to decoy all missile fire, the lack of a player controlled chaff dispenser is not a factor in gameplay. Real world detailed information on the exact type of countermeasures, their dispensers and which aircraft utilize these defensive tools is difficult to confirm for security reasons. Because of this, an exact list of countermeasure canisters and dispensers will not be provided for this article as accuracy cannot be confirmed.
No Pre-emptive Deployment Launching countermeasures before a missile is launched does not break missile lock or prevent the missile from being launched. The missile must airborne and pursuing the aircraft for flares to be effective. Optimal Position Deploying countermeasures against a missile that is in pursuit optomizes their effectiveness. Positioning the approaching missile towards the rear of the aircraft between its 4 o'clock to 8 o'clock is the ideal area to deploy countermeasures. Once the missile is in close proximity, launching countermeasures while maneuvering away sharply will prevent it from striking the aircraft. Using countermeasures against a missile as it approaches from the front of the aircraft somewhat increases the chances of it still impacting the aircraft. Unguided but Dangerous It is not recommended to proceed flying in a straight line after countermeasures have been launched. Though the guidance system has been confused the warhead of the missile is still armed. It will explode if it makes contact with the aircraft. An ample amount of movement (yaw, altitude change, rapid change in speed) is required. Single Aircraft Coverage Countermeasures are a personal defensive tool only capable of decoying missile fire away from the aircraft that is deploying it. Deploying flares near friendly aircraft will not protect them from missile fire. Restricted Usage With the volume of countermeasures available per aircraft being low in quantity, it is vital that the primary measure taken by players to avoid missile fire is to maneuver their aircraft with sufficient speed at angles an incoming missile cannot follow. Countermeasures are best utilized in emergency situations or to supplement an attack strategy that relies on luring an opponent into a trap.
About the Author
Aaron "Ribbon-Blue" Mendoza
The Director of Operations for Skyward Flight Media. A lifelong aviation enthusiast with a special interest in flight simulators and games. After founding Electrosphere.info, the first English Ace Combat database, he has been involved in creating aviation related websites, communities, and events since 2005. He continues to explore past and present flight sims with his extensive collection of game consoles and computers. | Twitter | Discord: RibbonBlue#8870