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  • Writer's pictureAaron "Ribbon-Blue" Mendoza

Nuclear Option: Meeting Medusa

Team Centric Powerhouse, Stand Off Support Master

As someone that deeply enjoys the concept and application of Electronic Warfare (EW) in flight simulators, the inclusion of what is traditionally a support role aircraft in Nuclear Option intrigued me. In a game where its developer, Shockfront Studios, is more than happy to let players wield tactical nuclear weapons in high volume, I wondered how a support aircraft would fair.

As far as the aircraft roster goes, it does help round out the staple roles of aircraft in modern air forces. The game already has a COIN aircraft, light attacker, air superiority fighter, attack helicopter and strike bomber; the Medusa now brings in a electronic warfare role. While electronic warfare is considered a support role, it is best to view the Medusa as less of a lumbering high command asset and more of a combat focused EW striker; like an EA-18G Growler. The Medusa can survive and thrive directly on the frontline.

Design, Flight Characteristics

While it may not be a direct connection, the concept of vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft in Nuclear Option can be traced back to March 2023. Images from lead developer B-25Mitch in the Nuclear Option development blog showed four concept images of a potential VTOL aircraft that could fulfill a close air support role. Inspirations included the idea of an A-10 Thunderbolt II that could lift off and land vertically.

The VTOL concept would not be mentioned again until September 28th, 2023, when the now recognizable design of the EW-25 Medusa would be introduced as a purpose built electronic warfare focused vertical and/or short takeoff and landing (VSTOL) aircraft. My jaw nearly hit the floor when I saw the finalized fuselage, as it resembled the Northrop Tacit Blue technology demonstrator.

The four-seat EW-25 Medusa is powered by two massive power plants that output thrust through four swiveling engine nozzles. Similar to the Hawker Siddley Harrier. Its large dorsal fin can also mount an airborne warning and control style radar dish.

The nose of the aircraft features a 120 Kw tactical laser which pulls from an onboard 800 kilojoule generator. The Medusa's self-protection electronic countermeasure (ECM) suite and standoff ECM pods also pull from this same generator. The generator recharges using ram air turbines. The faster the aircraft flies, the faster its power source recharges. This also means that when the aircraft is at high speed, it can use its energy reliant capabilities for longer, consistent periods of time.

With a maximum speed around mach 0.85, the Medusa is fast enough to transit the battlefield and use speed to maintain distance from incoming threats. While flying near maximum speed, it is easy to accidentally overspeed the airframe while diving from altitude to evade incoming missiles. While pulling out of a high speed dive, the canted vertical stabilizers are susceptible to snapping off of the airframe.

The aircraft is surprisingly maneuverable for its size. When left in automatic function mode, the thrust vectoring nozzles are used to increase vertical pitch performance, improving the aircraft's turn radius. It certainly is not an aircraft you would want to enter into a close range dogfight with, though it can carry infrared air-to-air missiles for sef protection. Its agility is best used to rapidly defend against missiles launched from long range.

VSTOL Benefits

The most curious part of the EW-25 Medusa design is its VSTOL capability. Its thrust vectoring nozzles can be controlled manually by players or kept in automatic function mode so they change pitch angle depending on throttle setting and airspeed. At specific airspeeds, the flight control system adjusts from flying like a fixed-wing aircraft to flying more like a rotary-wing aircraft.

While the Medusa is a high rank aircraft that can only be spawned from full sized airbases, its STOVL capability makes the aircraft capable of taking off in roughly 100 meters depending on total weight. Full runway takeoffs are optional. Its ability to land vertically or at very low speeds allows it to land at forward deployed highway airstrips to rearm and refuel. This lets it stay closer to the frontline for longer periods of time. A capability the Medusa's fellow high rank aircraft like the FS-12 Revoker air superiority fighter or the SFB-81 Darkreach strike bomber cannot match.

Nuclear Option EW-25 Medusa at highway airstrip.
EW-25 rearming and refueling at a highway airstrip.
Nuclear Option EW-25 Medusa STOVL takeoff.
EW-25 performing a VSTOL takeoff from the highway airstrip.

Electronic Warfare

The electronic countermeasure pods, or radar jammer pods, are the core of its capabilities. The aircraft is capable of carrying two to four pods, allowing it to disrupt the radars of two or four targets at a time. Power consumption with two pods allows for stable, long term use in suppressing two radar emitters. Four pods do allow for more radars to be suppressed, but the power usage is considerably heavier, meaning the timeframe for effective jammer coverage is shorter. The radar jammer is effective from any angle around the Medusa, not restricting the aircraft's ability to race-track orbit in an area for long periods to provide ECM coverage.

Nuclear Option EW-25 Medusa with jammer pods.
A Medusa with four jammer pods beneath its wings.

While the targeted radars are being jammed, they are unable to guide missiles onto allied aircraft and cannot detect incoming attacks to defend themselves. ECM coverage can also be activated while semi-active homing radar guided missiles are airborne, flying at a target. As long as the radar guiding them is jammed before the missile impacts its target, the missile will lose lock.

When used against radar stations and other large-scale surface-to-air missile (SAM) sites, the Medusa can temporarily open the airspace for high altitude combat operations. This allows allied aircraft to penetrate deeper into hostile airspace or gain altitude to deploy long-range munitions.

When EW is used against other human players, the disruption is visualized in-game as a sort of electronic fuzz that disrupts the user interface. While everything is blurred, it is still possible to find and lock onto targets with increased difficulty.

SEAD, DEAD Capabilities

The EW-25 Medusa has a limited, but specialized, set of offensive weapons at its disposal to perform suppression of enemy air defenses (SEAD) or destruction of enemy air defenses (DEAD).

Nuclear Option EW-25 Medusa ARAD-116.
ARAD-116 missiles.

The ARAD-116 is an anti-radiation missile that seeks active radars, with a maximum range of 120.0km. The missiles can be locked onto specific units or launched in a general direction, without lock, as they seek active radars on their own.

Nuclear Option EW-25 Medusa PAB-80LR.
PAB-80LR glide bombs.

The PAB-80LR is a glide bomb with an optical seeker with a range that varies depending on the speed and altitude it is launched from. With no infrared signature from a rocket motor and a small radar cross-section, the Medusa can carry up to six of these glide bombs to saturate a target area. Combined with radar jamming, these munitions can be especially effective against short range air defense systems or destroying all launchers and support vehicles in a SAM site. PAB-80LRs can be used against non-air defense units on the frontline as well.

Nuclear Option EW-25 Cruise Missile launch.
Cruise Missile launch.

A single non-nuclear equipped cruise missile with a blast fragmentation can be carried in the internal weapon bay. With a maximum range of 1500.0km, it flies at low altitude to remain hard to detect. It can be used to strike high priority targets far behind the frontline, but with only one available at a time, the correct conditions for its deployment must be set. Launching it straight into an undamaged air defense network is not ideal.

All weapons have an increased success rate when supported by electronic countermeasures from the radar jammer pods.

Radome: Increased Datalink Coverage

Nuclear Option EW-25 Medusa with radome.
Medusa with radome awaiting its escort fighter.

While the EW-25 with a radome is... quite a sight, its benefit in beyond visual range combat is considerable. Its increased detection range makes it easier for allied forces to spot hostile low flying aircraft and cruise missiles. Aircraft with beyond visual range missiles can also detect and lock onto hostile aircraft at longer ranges, engaging the aircraft with a range advantage.

An interesting danger in using the Radome against experienced human players is the threat of ARAD-116 missiles striking the Medusa. The radome effectively makes the EW-25 a flying radar station, opening it up to long-range anti-radiation missile attacks. Turning the radar off (there is a button for that!) when ARADs may be threatening the Medusa is a decent defensive measure.

Tactical Laser Point Defense

The nose mounted 120Kw laser grants the Medusa the ability to act as a limited point defense system against incoming missiles. Drawing from the aircraft's generator, at near full charge, the laser can destroy missiles at up to 15 km away. At first glance, using the laser against slow moving cruise missiles and tactical nuclear weapons seems to be the primary use of the laser. Defending friendly forces and infrastructure like air bases, factories and vehicle depots is highly important in the later stages of large-scale combat game modes.

Nuclear Option nose mounted laser.
Nose mounted laser intercepting missiles.

However, the laser can be used to intercept any enemy missile. If pressed into the action, the EW-25 can fly close range escort for other aircraft, using its laser to intercept air-to-air and surface-to-air missiles as they fly towards friendly aircraft. It is a juggling act to try and efficiently lock and fire the laser at multiple missiles. It uses a significant amount of energy to destroy missiles as well, making the risk of being overwhelmed by incoming missiles decently high. Relying on the laser as the primary means of defense against missiles is not recommended.

A pair of Nuclear Option EW-25 Medusa.
A pair of EW-25 returning to base.
The Experience

After dozens of sorties with the EW-25 Medusa, this aircraft has become my go-to aircraft whenever my friends and I play Nuclear Option. I often find myself supporting concerted efforts to break the enemy frontline, daring raids behind the frontline to strike SAM sites and escorting Darkreach strike bombers as they saturate enemy bases with cruise missiles or tactical nuclear weapons. For players looking to fulfill a support role during air combat and become a team centric asset, the Medusa certainly fits the position.

About the Writer

Co-founder of Skyward Flight Media. After founding, 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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