This scenario is based in wargame where Russia makes grap on Åland islands as a part of conflict in Baltic states.
F/A-18 E in Seinäjoki Airfair in 2017
This is fourth installment of what might be the grab of Åland islands scenario. Even though F/A-18 E/F/G that is offered to Finland as a replacement for F/A-18 C/D fleet is completely new plane than model C/D many think the E/F/G model of the plane only as a small evolutionary step up. This is not true. It is true the basic form was loaned from older sibling, and common model name had to be kept to pull a quick one over congress E model is totally new plane compared to legacy Hornets. Also the offer is not of F/A-18 Es from 1999 or so. These are three evolutionary steps removed from 2000 vintage fighters as Finland would be receiving Block III updated or Advanced Super Hornets.
Rhino is considerably more stealthy than Hornet and has extra weapon station in each wing, but the main attraction is IRST Block II and AN/APG-79 AESA radar. (Although THIS SITE list Finland as a user for AN/APG-79 radar as of 1/2019. This should not be true. I have not read in any other sources that Finland has bought new radars for F/A-18 C/D Hornets. They are still using the older AN/APG-73 system.) AN/APG-79 has 1100 Transreciever elements, so it is also in par with Gripen E’s Raven, Rafale’s RBE 2 and Eurofighter Typhoon’s CAPTOR E.
As with F-35 A I think, that IF quad launch rail will be taken into fold by USAF, it will be adapted from new Arsenal F-15’s to Rhinos and Lightning IIs as well. But if this doesn’t come to pass, then… Super hornet is also getting a new engine with approximately 20% of more power available than current engines. This does not really have any impact on current scenario, apart of extra speed for Rhinos. This is mostly needed because of comformal fuel tanks, that do not produce drag as much as jettisoneable tanks, but still hinder the Rhino in trans sonic flight. All RCS reduction measures have reduced the frontal Radar cross section of F/A-18 E to about 2m², so Rhino’s RCS is now in par or a bit better with other contenders apart from F-35 A.
Because F/A-18 Es are going for CAP mission in buildup for war times they are loaded in Air to air / air to sea configuration.
Each F/A-18 E carries following armaments:
- 2x Sidewinder in wing tip pylon
- 2x AMRAAM in outer wing pylon
- 2x HARPOON in mid wing pylon
- 4x AMRAAM in inner wing pylon (if there is quad missile pod, then 8)
- 2x AMRAAM missile in outer fuselage pylon
- IRST and fuel pod in centerline
So a bit over 1200 kg of AA missiles and about 1400kg of AS missiles, all together about 3600kg of ordnance. This is about 40% of maximum load of the craft. Load is not greatly hampering for the Rhinos although missiles will create parasitic drag. This is a bit of a problem, for Rhino anyway, as separation issues have necessitated turning the pylons out by a degree or so. This caused extra drag.
AN/APG-79 radar is extremely capable and has 1100 TR modules. As each and every module transmit in approximately same power, is every radars power highly dependent on number of transmitter/receiver modules available. As an AESA radar it has “low probability of intercept” meaning the wave forms and frequencies can be adapted and changed in fly, which makes it difficult for enemy to pick up the AN/APG-79 when it is transmitting. Also F/A-18 E’s AN/APG-79 radar is 9th generation radar, and Boeing claims it to be top tier even in this company.
Rhino’s secondary sensor is the Infra red search and track (IRST) In block II Rhinos it is mounted on fuel pod, but its should be integral in Advanced Super Hornet’s, or Block III planes. it will be mounted somewhere else in the plane. Although having bolt on IRST might be a good thing concerning reliability issues, it really doesn’t make great difference if the plane has it or has it bolted on. But obviously, if you have to jettison the center line fuel tank you also loose the IRST as well.
Russian Suhoi SU-35 fighters have the edge in speed and in altitude, but their IRBIS-E PESA radars might have trouble to pick up the F/A-18’s 1m² RCS in heavy EW environment. So Russians may need to rely on their OLS-35 system to pick the Rhinos up from background, this will be difficult in extreme ranges against surface. Russians’ big Saturn engines on the other hand give nice visible heat bloom against cold space and are thus quite early picked up by IRST system in the centerline fuel tank. Also AN/APG-79 will have no trouble of picking up the SU-35’s RCS of about 5 m² in distances around 150km.
AMRAAM D’s range is classified, but is thought to extend out to 160km. And has other enhancements, like GPS chip, to up its kill probability like two way datalink. And better kinematics. Twoway datalink and GPS chip let AMRAAMs and firing aircraft to plot more efficient path to target than standard AMRAAM C model. Sidewinder of course is the gold standard that every other short range is measured against. It is definitely not bad, but there are more evolved missiles out there like ASRAAM. ASRAAM is of course compatible with Sidewinder launch positions.
All Russian fighters are coming toward Finnish mainland from S to SW orientation, with other Russian fighters beyond border making moves so that DCA fighters to the east will not be able to help out in Archipelago sea. Finns try to maneuver into position to get launches toward transports, and thus spread their formation to more loose one. Russians on the other hand will try to screen their transports so that para drop can be successfully accomplished. The aerial battle will be over under 10 minutes. F/A-18 E’s extremely good sensors, missiles are more to par considering (AMRAAMs 160km at altitude vs 110 km for R-77-1). The self protection capabilities of Rhinos are top notch with towed decoys and AESA radar.
F/A-18’s are able to see the SU-35s at 11.21 pretty much as soon as they get airborne from Pirkkala AFB, at about 150 km, at that range and against ground clutter Suhois should not be able to pick up the four ship because rather good stealth characteristics of F/A-18 fighters and their EW system deteriorating IRBIS radar performance. IRBIS radar should be able to pick Super Hornets at or about 130 km. The Finns split into two pairs, with another heading due west and the other due south. Russians pick up the pair in south, and get to launch. Suhois fire a salvo of 5 missiles at the Finns. Finns turn away and do evasive maneuvers, and avoid the Amraamskis. The western pair continues to west and prepares to jump the SU-35s.
at 11:23 after southern pair has evaded the missiles they turn west and shoot three AMRAAMS each at the nearest four-ship of Suhois. Suhois fire another salvo of five at the same time. AS the Finns got a jump on SU-35s and SU-35 have to start maneuvering to avoid the AMRAAMS, R-77 loose guidance from the launching vehicle and are ineffective. Even though Suhois try to avoid the AMRAAMS six AMRAAMS are just about enough to waste 4 SU-35s. (with AMRAAMS kill probability of 62,5%, 1,5 missiles per plane takes their chances of survival to around 15% ) SU-35 drop into forests between Kaarina and Kemiönsaari.
The western pair of Super Hornets also get to shoot a bit. Lead of the pair shoots three missiles at the transports and one at the fighters, and the other shoots salvo of five at the four-ship of Suhois in vicinity of Kustavi. The leader takes control three of his missiles and one of the number two’s missiles. Suhois now get to fire at 100km, but again AMRAAMs give Finns the jump as they get to launch a bit earlier. Three of the fighters are destroyed immediately, and transports within minute of launch. One of the fighters is severely damaged and tries to limp away to Kaliningrad.
at 11:24 The SU-35 have a problem: Half of their number is lost, and westernmost four-ship has just now gotten into range to shoot at westernmost pair. Four-ship over Turku decides to launch salvo of six. Both Finnish pairs launch salvo of six at the nearest four-ships. Westernmost pair has no trouble with Suhois and they splash all four and avoid the R-77s with maneuvering and EW and decoys.
The other pair is not so lucky: R-77 get into their terminal guidance phase and with their extremely good maneuvering splash another of the pair. But as AMRAAMS are also in the terminal phase right now, all Suhois are killed and drop to fields between Turku and Lieto.
The transports are destroyed before they start dropping the paratroops, but Rhinos are seriously behind and don’t get to shoot at the troop transports at sea, and they all get to Åland mainland.