Hardpoint: Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses in Ace Combat
Updated: 2 days ago
An in-depth look at S.E.A.D strategies and weaponry inside of the Ace Combat Franchise.
The simplified, fast-paced nature of Ace Combat renders some real-world aerial combat maneuvers and tactics ineffective, but a number of them remain viable. Of these, Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD) is one of the most useful for even the newest of players. This article provides a basic understanding of SEAD tactics within Ace Combat, but also offers an understanding of SEAD that could be applied to other flight shooter games.
The destruction of an air defense network is just as important as the elimination of enemy jet fighters from the skies - though it is not as celebrated. Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses is a vital part of modern conventional warfare strategy. Combat aircraft are capable of deploying a startling array of weapons and sensors that can change the course of a battle within minutes, but it's all for naught if the airspace they operate within disrupts or denies their ability to deploy their payloads. Therefore, by limiting or disabling the ability to interfere with allied air power, a massive advantage can be gained over the opposing forces.
Having a general understanding of the capabilities of air defense units and weapons is the foundation of SEAD strategy and tactics. By focusing on the ability of the target to attack allied aircraft, not factoring in their ability to attack other friendly land or sea forces, does a clear understanding of SEAD begin to develop. It is the full extent of the target's air defense capability that defines its importance - that is to say, how lethal it is. In this case, its lethality is defined by:
Damage Output: If hit by this enemy, how much damage will one of its attacks cause to your aircraft?
Effective Range: How far away can this target attack you from?
Guidance System: Is the weapon(s) it carries capable of following your aircraft?
Interception Capability: Is it able to intercept guided weapons attacking it or coming near it?
In short: the more damage the target can cause from a longer distance with the ability to guide weapons at aircraft, the more of a threat it is. Its capacity to intercept or "shoot down" allied weaponry to prevent attacks against its forces is also a significant factor. Whether it is in pre-mission briefings or in combat, remembering these 4 points and applying them to enemies on the battlefield will maintain the awareness needed to conduct SEAD tactics.
SEAD Kill Chain
With an understanding of air defense unit capabilities, a Kill Chain focused on SEAD can be established. The units that present a higher threat have abilities that make them priority targets. The faster these units are removed, the easier allied aircraft will be able to conduct attacks against the opposing force. Of course, a SEAD Kill Chain is only as useful as it is applied. Taking the time to remain outside of the range of enemy attack, cycle through targets on the HUD with radar, then attack according to SEAD doctrine is a deliberate effort that can take effort to learn.
This article provides a list of enemies that have frequently appeared in various Ace Combat games. However, even if a list like this becomes outdated over time or does not contain uncommon air defense units, falling back on understanding the capabilities of the latest and greatest air defense technology is something that will never be outdated.
MANPADS [LEVEL 1] Man-portable air-defense systems (MANPADS), a small air defense system designed to be carried and fired from the shoulders of humans. While they are designed to attack low-flying aircraft, their guidance ability and very short range make them less threatening than a full-size SAM system.
AA GUN [LEVEL 2] The Anti Aircraft Gun (AA Gun) is an air defense system which relies on firing a hail of anti-aircraft cannon rounds to attack incoming aircraft. Though they have low per hit damage output, their high rate of fire makes up for it. Able to be deployed as a stationary system or on an armored vehicle to add mobility.
SAM [LEVEL 2] A Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) system is capable of firing guided missiles at aircraft beyond anti-aircraft gun range. It is able to be deployed as a stationary unit or on an armored vehicle to add mobility.
VLS/XSAM [LEVEL 3] The Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile (XSAM) system features a longer range than the standard SAM units that appear in Ace Combat. Naval warships carry Vertical Launch Systems (VLS) which provide the same capabilities as XSAMs. This extended range further pressures aircraft using SEAD tactics by encroaching on their ability to remain safe at standoff distances.
CIWS [LEVEL 4] The Close-In Weapons System (CIWS) is almost exclusively seen aboard naval warships. It is able to fire upon aircraft and intercept missiles fired at the platform the system is attached to. Its ability to knock guided missiles out of the sky makes it notably more difficult to perform SEAD. Though it does not have the same attack range as the SAM or XSAM, it's interception ability makes it a high-level threat.
AD TANK [LEVEL 5] With the release of Ace Combat 7 in 2019, it is the newest air defense units added to the series. Air Defense Tanks (AD Tanks) are able to launch surface-to-air missiles at aircraft while being able to intercept missiles launched by allies with its CIWS. This ability was once exclusively tied to naval warships through the use of multiple weapons systems on one warship. All of this capability is mounted to a mobile platform that is able to move with enemy ground forces to provide air defense coverage.
AIRCRAFT [LEVEL 5] It should go without saying that one of the most effective counters to a combat aircraft is another combat aircraft. With their ability to pursue allied aircraft where ever they go, fly well beyond any weapon's stationary engagement range and be able to deploy the same devastating weapons against allied forces, they are a top priority. This makes establishing air superiority where possible a high priority.
Weapons of Choice
Though air defense units can still effectively be destroyed with skilled aircraft maneuvering and application of Standard Missiles and Gun, the use of specific types of Special Weapons (Secondary Weapons) can significantly boost an aircraft's SEAD ability. Certain types of these weapons feature long-range engagement envelopes, unique flight profiles, and other benefits which prevent enemy interception capabilities. Aircraft Tuning or other modifications focused on Special Weapons can further bolster SEAD capability by increasing firepower, extending engagement range, increasing payload, and other factors.
Stand-off Weaponry The ideal weapons for SEAD are fire and forget air-to-ground missiles that feature long-range strike capabilities - also referred to as standoff weaponry. These weapons can hit targets outside of the weapons range of even the most dangerous air defense units, keeping the aircraft launching them safe from counterattacks. This article defines Standoff weapons within the realm of Ace Combat as, Land Attack Cruise Missiles (LACM), Long-ranged Air-to-Ground Missiles (LAGM), Long-ranged Air-to-Surface Missiles (LASM) and Standoff Dispensers (SOD).
Land Attack Cruise Missile (LACM)
Featuring the longest attack range available with the highest firepower and blast radius, the LACM is an ideal SEAD weapon for striking even the toughest of air defense networks. It is also very effective against as an anti-ship weapon.
Long-ranged Air-to-Ground Missile (LAGM)
A long ranged missile that features a blast radius that can destroy enemies around the target. Its flight profile takes it in a straight line directly at the target.
Long-ranged Air-to-Surface Missile (LASM)
Though it is designed to attack naval vessels, its long range and attack profile allow it to be used for SEAD effectively. Its flight profile enables it to fly above terrain then perform a final dive onto its target.
Stand-Off Dispenser (SOD)
A medium-range missile that deploys bomblets to attack multiple groups of enemies as it flies over them in a straight line. While it is better used for attacking clusters of targets, it's range and HUD indicated blast radius allows it to be effectively used in SEAD.
Guided Bomb Benefits Unguided weapons provide the advantage of being unable to be intercepted by AD Tanks or CIWS. The trade-off for this being the accuracy of unguided weaponry increases the closer they are fired at their target, but the closer to the target one gets, the better the target can counterattack. While launching "dumb bombs" from long distance is always an option, a balance can be found by deploying Guided Penetration Bombs (GPB) and Advanced Small Diameter Bombs (XSDB). These weapons add guidance systems to allow the bombs to guide themselves onto a target while still avoiding being targeted by interception systems. This allows the GPB and XSDB to strike interception systems like AD Tanks and CIWS directly at the cost of greatly reduced engagement ranges in comparison to standoff weaponry.
Reserve Special Weapons Make it a point to reserve special weapons that have been selected specifically to fulfill SEAD tactics. With the Standard Missiles and Gun available on all aircraft being more than capable to destroy a majority of enemy units encountered, using up SPWs on low threat enemies or structures is not advisable.
Target Quality Those with a solid understanding of SEAD will be able to prioritize target quality and in-turn better deploy their limited supply of special weapons. Using a majority of an SPW's payload on low-level threats is ill-advised. For example, consider an area that has a mixture of mid and high-level threats. By removing the high-level threats with SPWs from a stand-off distance, then relying on standard weapons to destroy mid-level threats, SPW payload can be reserved for other high-level threats.
Naval Warships These vehicles are especially difficult to approach in comparison to the standard air defense units described in this article. The reason for this being that these warships come equipped with combinations of weapons described above. Fleets of enemy warships are a particularly tough challenge because of the concentrated firepower multiple they can project as one group.
Aegis Combat System The Aegis command and control and weapons system is capable of attacking multiple air, land and sea targets while simultaneously intercepting incoming missile fire. This is done by coordinating multiple CIWS and VLS through the use of Aegis. Primarily known for being integrated into naval warships, Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown has introduced Aegis Ashore - a land-based variant of the system.
Attacking an Aegis can result in multiple missiles being lost to anti-missile fire from groups of CIWS while being attacked by multiple missiles fired from its surface-to-air missile launchers. Overwhelming the systems with a quantity of missile fire and closing range to attack with unguided weaponry are viable tactics against an ACS. Attacking from very low altitudes is the most effective tactic when encountering these systems, as it lessens the system's ability to detect and intercept guided missiles.
Underestimated Ground Vehicles Anything that is not a designated anti-aircraft unit is easy to overlook as it is assumed they cannot fight back. While it is mostly true that the machine gun fire from APCs, main battle tanks and other lightly armored vehicles is a low-level danger, they are still capable of causing damage. Furthermore, it is within the realm of possibility that a main battle tank can shoot down an aircraft with a single cannon shell from their main cannon. There are documented cases of this happening. When attacking these vehicles its best to not get too lax.
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