How do Fighter Jets Dodge Missiles?

Missile Aircraft Defensive Manouver
Missile Aircraft Defensive Manouver

One of the main aspects of Fighter Jets is their ability to dodge missiles. Newer Fighter Jets models have the latest technologies to do this. Keep reading to know more!

Missile evasion is a crucial aspect of modern air warfare, many believe it’s virtually impossible, but this is not the case for various reasons. The biggest reason is that the manoeuvrability of missiles is lower than fighter jets. They can’t turn faster than fighter jets. There are a series of manoeuvres that the pilot is trained to do to dodge missiles.

Modern fighter aircraft are equipped with advanced systems that will guarantee safety during flight and aid pilots in completing any mission. These systems are known as Missile approach warning systems (MAW), and various types ensure MAW will detect missiles under various circumstances.

The main problem with evading a missile is that missiles fly at a very high speed. For example, a missile can fly at 1.200-1.400 metres. So if the Fighter Jet target is at 20km, for example, the pilot would only have around 20 seconds to react to it.

How do fighter jets avoid missiles?

Pilots are trained to learn how to avoid and dodge missiles. There are a series of manoeuvres that pilots can apply to avoid a missile:

  1. Do a barrel roll: since the missile will not be able to follow the fighter doing a barrel roll, it’ll fly by and break locks during the process. 
  2. Turn the aircraft abruptly: the pilot forces the missile to follow him through the turn. If the turn is carefully timed, it can be beneficial to exhaust the power of the missile.
  3. Make a left or right turn at 90 degrees angle: this forces the missile to release energy and then try to fly towards the target. Because the missile has to fix its trajectory, it drains its power, and it may not be able to reach it.
  4. Jinking: in this manoeuvre, the fighter flies at a 30 or 60-degree angle relative to the missile’s trajectory while diving to the ground. As the missile starts following the aircraft, the fighter will change its trajectory abruptly upwards. Then, if the missile start following it, change the trajectory again to dive down. As there is a lag between fighter and missile, it will lead to higher exhaustion of power of the missile.
  5. Another tactic is to climb as fast as possible. The missile will then have to bleed a lot of its energy trying to follow the fighter jet. in turn, in the end, the missile will run out of fuel before reaching the target.
  6. Turn and turn: another strategy is to maintain the missile at 3 or 9 o’clock and start turning. If the pilot manages to keep the missiles at that position, the missile will start following the aircraft in a circle. After a while, the missile should exhaust all its fuel and not reach the aircraft.

Avoiding the missile isn’t the only option. For example, if the missile is radar-guided, hard turns can cause it to lose the target’s lock and go off, regardless of whether it’s guided by an aircraft or using its radar. 

Most modern missiles self-destruct when they lose the target’s lock, and pilots’ manoeuvres can reduce the effectiveness of the missile’s fuel.

Additionally, if fighters fly low or close to terrain, it could trigger the activation of the proximity fuse, thus, destroying the missile away from the target.

How do fighter jets dodge Surface-to-air missiles?

If the enemy launched the missile, there are several options to take:

  • Make a move against the missile, then turn quickly and pray that the guidance system isn’t able to maintain your speed and lose the lock. Or follow one of the manoeuvres detailed above.
  • If it’s a hot-spot missile, the pilot can deploy flares since they are extremely hot, and the missile will follow them in place of the aircraft. If it’s a missile guided by radar, the pilot should deploy chaff, which are small metal pieces that confuse the missile’s radar, causing it to lose lock.
  • Use electronic countermeasures. Modern planes employ ECMs that can disable the radars of missiles and electronic systems to prevent them from locking you in and following your plane.
  • In the 70s, pilots would accelerate to speed up their Blackbird SR-71 to Mach 3, which was much faster than the missile. So they could speed up and fly past the missile at full speed. This tactic was a huge success. In its service, not a single of these blackbirds Sr-71 was hit by missiles, and none has been destroyed by enemy fire.

Can a fighter jet shoot down a missile?

Not at all. Although surface-to-air missile systems can shoot down incoming missiles, they rely on various tracking systems equipped with them. Ships, too, are equipped with radar-guided gun pods capable of destroying incoming missiles. However, they are big, featuring massive sensors, and three times the ammunition capacity of modern fighters. These aren’t suitable to incorporate into any design for a fighter jet.
The missile inbound is much smaller than the sensor mounted inside the fighter jets. This makes it extremely difficult for the radar onboard to pinpoint the exact position of the missile.

Can a fighter jet outrun a missile?

To answer this question, we have to list the speed of fighter jets and missiles. 

So let’s first examine the speed of a couple of widely utilized Air-to Air missiles for the USAF :

  1. AIM-7 Sparrow – Mach 4
  2. AIM-120 AMRAAM – Mach 4
  3. AIM-9 Sidewinder – Mach 3

Surface-to-Air missiles:

  1. MIM-104 Patriot – Mach 5
  2. RIM-66 – Mach 3.5
  3. RIM-7 Sea Sparrow – Mach 4

Now the top speed of some fighter jets:

  1. SU-27 Flanker – Mach 2.35
  2. F-15E – Mach 2.5
  3. Mirage 2000 – Mach 2.2
  4. F-16 – Mach 2
  5. F-22 Raptor – Mach 1.8
  6. MiG-25R (Fastest fighter) – Mach 3.2

It is clear from this that it is extremely difficult or nearly impossible for fighters to outrun missiles. However, there are some Experimental aircraft that could accomplish the feat

  1. X-15 – Mach 6.72
  2. X-43 ( Unmanned) – Mach 9.8
  3. SR-71 Blackbird – Mach 3.5+

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