Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Book Review: Fighter Combat: Tactics and Maneuvering

Robert L. Shaw
Fighter Combat: Tactics and Maneuvering
Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1985
Category: Aviation History

Rating: 4-Stars

For years Shaw's book was part of the required curriculum at the U.S. Navy's "Top Gun" fighter weapons school.  What it offers is a rare insight into some of the tactics of a modern air force.  This includes basic fighter maneuvers (such as the high and low yo-yo, and scissors), but more importantly tactics for one-on-one, two-on-one, two-on-two, and multi-aircraft engagements.

The chapters dealing with two-on-two fighter engagements are probably the most valuable, and the most hard to come by from other resources.  A wingman is more than just another set of eyes, and in any truly professional air force the wingman does more than just staying glued to his lead's wing the entire engagement.  There are a variety of modern tactics that make maximum use of a wingman, including "double attack" and "loose deuce".  In essence, a professional air force must operate as a team.  That is what makes a pair of fighters far more deadly than two airplanes with one leading and one following.  Working together, two aircraft are many times more lethal than one - as this book makes clear.

There will be technocrats, of course, who will argue that in the modern missile age, the kind of tactics that Shaw describes are no longer necessary.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  A pilot is not a passenger, and the electronics - as amazing as they have become - do not do the work for you.  Energy management is essential in any air combat engagement, whether within visual range or beyond.  A pilot has to know how to bring his weapons to bear for maximum effect without giving his enemy the advantage.  Moreover, even in a missile age, during the large-scale air engagements of the 1991 Gulf War, over half of all air-to-air kills occurred within visual range.  A pilot is a tactician, not just a passenger or a radar operator.

This book is not a novel, and not a biography.  It was not intended for the casual reader.  Like a textbook, you have to be paying attention and taking notes as you read.  But for anyone who wants to understand what goes into fighter tactics - and not just what the movies portray - this book is an exceptional find.

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