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On radar performance in DCS full fidelity modules


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Disclaimer: this post is written as if it was a dry and boring scientific article. If you can't be bothered to read it all, I put a TLDR at the end. I suggest you look at the plots though.

 

A lot of discussion has gone into radar performance recently, whether that be because the Hornet A/A radar was made worse, the Viper has very long detection ranges, or your odd complaint about the Jeff's radar. The simplest arguments possible are "the antenna size is the most important factor in determining radar performance", and "radar X is more modern than radar Y, therefore it should perform better". Recently, someone on Reddit tested the performance of all a/a radars in the game, with the basic picture being that the pre 2.7 Hornet and Viper are grossly outperforming, the Jeff being a bit on the edge, and the FC3 modules under-performing (as one would expect from a non-FF module, really):

 

qw96wzj4x7t61.png

 

In this post I thought I would try to chip in the argument, by comparing the data provided in that graph as a function of radar year of introduction and reported antenna size. There are a few caveats here. First, I couldn't find the Jeff's KLJ-7 antenna size anywhere, so I estimated it to be identical to the Viper's, and the Mig 21's, for which I took the F-5E's. Assume some ~10% uncertainty on that data. Second, for the entry in service I took the date when the specific block of the aircraft we have in DCS was first delivered, rather than when the very first variant of the aircraft was delivered, with the exception of the Viper, where I chose the delivery of the first MSIP Block 50 as reported by Wikipedia. This puts the Mirage, Hornet and Viper all between the end of the 80s and the start of the 90s. I disregarded FC3 radar performance because we know it's borked anyway. Finally, I included the Hornet both pre and post 2.7, to estimate whether the change to its radar performance may have been too harsh or not.

 

I plotted detection range, as reported in the plot above, against both year of introduction and antenna size, with the goal of estimating which one is the most important factor in radar performance. I also only considered RWS radar modes, and divided the sample in a high-PRF sample (consisting of the F-14, F-18, Mirage and JF-17) and mid/low-PRF sample (consisting of the F-18, JF-17 in medium and interleaved modes, F-16, Mig-21 and F-5).

 

First, let's consider the case of high PRF radars. The data is as follows:

 

wR7dg6B.png

2SpEr5s.png

 

Antenna size correlates very strongly with performance, year of introduction does not. This strongly supports the argument that a more modern radar may have better e.g. ECCM, or trackfile-buliding algorithms, but these things are not represented very well in DCS, while raw range performance (which is what does matter in our simplified world) is mainly set by the size of the antenna. The JF-17 is somewhat an outlier in this picture, but it's not too far from the trend in the rest of the data. As a side note, this also shows why the premier air dominance platforms of their time like the Tomcat, Eagle, Flanker, F-22 et al, all carry huge radars.

 

Second, let's consider the medium and low PRF radars/modes:

 

[mFZ2ObQ.png

NaK0kSE.png

The same general picture applies here, with two caveats. First, the APG-68 is way, way better than every other radar. To some extent it makes sense given that's how the radar is designed in the first place, but I find it strongly suspicious that it could be *that* much better than anything else. Second, the APG-73 in medium PRF looks pretty mediocre both pre and post nerf.

 

Finally, let's remove the two radars that we know to be performing too well: the 2.5.6. era APG-73, and the APG-68, and check the data again:

 

jMC5SiZ.png

anBsCUo.png

This further strengthens how mediocre the medium-PRF APG-73 currently is. Additionally, there does seem to be some trend of improving performance over time, but it's kind of a circular argument. If you believe the Jeff is not over-performing, then you can justify its detection ranges by saying it's a more modern radar, and that will show up in the data. If instead you believe that age has nothing to do nothing to do with radar performance, declare the KLJ-7 to be over-performing like the APG-68 and pre 2.7 APG-73, and remove it from the sample, then the data will confirm your hypothesis. This basically means we don't have enough modern radars for comparison to really tell which scenario is correct. I feel like the only way to really tell in the intermediate future will be whenever we get the Typhoon.

 

TLDR: I compared the detection range data for all full fidelity modules in DCS. The main trends that appear are 1) the Viper's radar is grossly over-performing, 2) the Hornet's radar performance seems fine in high PRF, but seems to under-perform in low PRF, and always has, and 3) it's hard to tell whether the JF-17's radar is over-performing or not.

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So, at least for the APG-66 it was designed ENTIRELY to work only in MPRF. I had no HPRF capabilities which allowed the designers to use higher power amps and not have to make tradeoffs that designers of the APG-73 and other MPRF/HPRF radars did have to make. You can find a good article from the 80's describing these tradeoffs in radar design. "Medium PRF for the AN/APG-66 Radar" IEEE feb 1985. This IMO would account for the discrepancy between the MPRF detection between the two radars we see. 

 

From what I understand of the APG-68 the early versions were more or less refined versions of the APG-66, with the later versions starting with the APG-68V5 having a "bolt-on" HPRF capability and some additional long range modes and the later versions (v7/9) further refining that. We technically don't have those extra radar modes in DCS currentlly so the Viper radar might be an attempt to "blend" the performance of the two. But I its plausible that the 68 could outperform the 73 and other radars specifically in MPRF. 

 

Other radars like the KJL, honestly I have no idea since there isn't much data about them, antenna size just based on 3d scale drawings should be a bit smaller than the viper but not dramatically, and the viper antenna is kinda funny since its not actually circular, rather ellipsoid. I find the "high power" claims of the Jeff Radar to be a bit specious since The radar equation tells us, for example, that increasing the power of the transmitter by a given factor increases the
detection range by only about the fourth root of that factor. If we were to increase the power by, say, three times, the detection range would increase by only about 30 percent. And there are bunch of other issues rather than just giving a radar more "juice" you need your components to handle more "juice" and also you need to cool all the waste heat thats generated by more "juice". 
 

Here is a 50% probability of detection for a generic radar equation from a textbook. As you can see some terms matter more than others but the biggie is the antenna. There are also a bunch of caveats on the wavelength and most radars tend to operate in the same range.  The one note, and perhaps I'm wrong, I think there are limits to what you can do with signal processing in a real time environment like an operating radar. And really to my limited knowledge there isn't some magic algorithm thats gonna gonna magically double the range of your radar. Certainly you can use lower noise components in parts of the design, but I think its a bit foolish to assume there are quantum leaps there either, and really most of the radars in question are within a few years of each other in terms of both processing and low noise components. 

 

image.png

 

Pavg is the power, so we can see that scales at ^1/4

Ae is the effective antenna area (note its squared) so it is a dominant term

delta is the RCS, 

Tot, time on target

S/N SNRrequred to detect

Kts is noise energy of the set

Lambda wavelength 

and L losses


Edited by Harlikwin
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31 minutes ago, Harlikwin said:

So, at least for the APG-66 it was designed ENTIRELY to work only in MPRF. I had no HPRF capabilities which allowed the designers to use higher power amps and not have to make tradeoffs that designers of the APG-73 and other MPRF/HPRF radars did have to make. You can find a good article from the 80's describing these tradeoffs in radar design. "Medium PRF for the AN/APG-66 Radar" IEEE feb 1985. This IMO would account for the discrepancy between the MPRF detection between the two radars we see. 

 

From what I understand of the APG-68 the early versions were more or less refined versions of the APG-66, with the later versions starting with the APG-68V5 having a "bolt-on" HPRF capability and some additional long range modes and the later versions (v7/9) further refining that. We technically don't have those extra radar modes in DCS currentlly so the Viper radar might be an attempt to "blend" the performance of the two. But I its plausible that the 68 could outperform the 73 and other radars specifically in MPRF. 

 

Other radars like the KJL, honestly I have no idea since there isn't much data about them, antenna size just based on 3d scale drawings should be a bit smaller than the viper but not dramatically, and the viper antenna is kinda funny since its not actually circular, rather ellipsoid. I find the "high power" claims of the Jeff Radar to be a bit specious since The radar equation tells us, for example, that increasing the power of the transmitter by a given factor increases the
detection range by only about the fourth root of that factor. If we were to increase the power by, say, three times, the detection range would increase by only about 30 percent. And there are bunch of other issues rather than just giving a radar more "juice" you need your components to handle more "juice" and also you need to cool all the waste heat thats generated by more "juice". 
 

Here is a 50% probability of detection for a generic radar equation from a textbook. As you can see some terms matter more than others but the biggie is the antenna. There are also a bunch of caveats on the wavelength and most radars tend to operate in the same range.  The one note, and perhaps I'm wrong, I think there are limits to what you can do with signal processing in a real time environment like an operating radar. And really to my limited knowledge there isn't some magic algorithm thats gonna gonna magically double the range of your radar. Certainly you can use lower noise components in parts of the design, but I think its a bit foolish to assume there are quantum leaps there either, and really most of the radars in question are within a few years of each other in terms of both processing and low noise components. 

 

image.png

 

Pavg is the power, so we can see that scales at ^1/4

Ae is the effective antenna area (note its squared) so it is a dominant term

delta is the RCS, 

Tot, time on target

S/N SNRrequred to detect

Kts is noise energy of the set

Lambda wavelength 

and L losses

 

 

It's more about the sensitivity of sensors.  I'm not a radar expert, but has the sensitivity increased for radar returns.  Power is only one factor, it's also the ability to discern minor differences.

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2 minutes ago, jwflowersii said:

It's more about the sensitivity of sensors.  I'm not a radar expert, but has the sensitivity increased for radar returns.  Power is only one factor, it's also the ability to discern minor differences.

That's included in that equation in the S/N and T_s terms.

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40 minutes ago, jwflowersii said:

 

It's more about the sensitivity of sensors.  I'm not a radar expert, but has the sensitivity increased for radar returns.  Power is only one factor, it's also the ability to discern minor differences.

 

Yeah, reducing the noise figures in radars gets you more range than increasing power. Hence mentioning lower noise components like amplifiers etc. Processing can also help dig some stuff out of the noise as well. 

34 minutes ago, jwflowersii said:

What about sampling rates?

 

Thats the time on target in the equation. 

 


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12 minutes ago, Harlikwin said:

 

Yeah, reducing the noise figures in radars gets you more range than increasing power. Hence mentioning lower noise components like amplifiers etc. Processing can also help dig some stuff out of the noise as well. 

 

Thats the time on target in the equation. 

 

 


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The other thing I'll toss in here to muddy the waters further is that the date of introduction doesn't matter as much as people might think, radars are constantly upgraded during their lifetime, so the APG-73 we have is very much an updated 2000's version, with new modules and everything else. Presumably also true for the other radars. 

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The other thing I'll toss in here to muddy the waters further is that the date of introduction doesn't matter as much as people might think, radars are constantly upgraded during their lifetime, so the APG-73 we have is very much an updated 2000's version, with new modules and everything else. Presumably also true for the other radars. 
Good point, I was going to add that as well. The APG-73 version we have is the RUG2, which, while I am not familiar with the changes from the original 73, it should at least add newer components and firmware.

OP, very good work on the data gathering and the discussion.

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Another note on the F-16 MPRF, and why its MPRF is so good. Because it doesnt use HPRF, they can get away with quite high peak powers compated to HPRF radars while keeping average power low. For reference, the APG-66 operates at a 21.5 kW peak power, and the 68 is at 17.5 kW. This contrasts to the AGP-63 which is 13 kW, with the AWG-9 in the same range. APG-65 is around 5 kW (hard to find an exact number though), as is the N001. So thats part of the tradeoff of optimizing for MPRF.

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43 minutes ago, dundun92 said:

Another note on the F-16 MPRF, and why its MPRF is so good. Because it doesnt use HPRF, they can get away with quite high peak powers compated to HPRF radars while keeping average power low. For reference, the APG-66 operates at a 21.5 kW peak power, and the 68 is at 17.5 kW. This contrasts to the AGP-63 which is 13 kW, with the AWG-9 in the same range. APG-65 is around 5 kW (hard to find an exact number though), as is the N001. So thats part of the tradeoff of optimizing for MPRF.

 

Yeah thats what that IEEE paper basically explains in detail, and that HPRF isn't really a mode you want to use for a manouvering contact. So the Viper was built around MPRF which works more or less all aspect. This is kinda modeled in DCS, its just hard to say which radars do it "well" FC3 models the difference, the M2k does not for example. 

 

Also folks seem to think those ranges are 100% detection, well, as I posted, that radar equation can calculate what you'd expect for a 50% detection criteria... Closer of course will get better.

 

 


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Anyways after the last patch I have really difficulties to detect head-on Mig-21's and Mig-23's with the Hornet radar. at 20K I can only start to detect them reliably at somewhat more than 10 miles, whether I do RWS, TWS, HI/MED/Interleave, the contact is faint and the lock almost immediately broken. It is only when I am in boresight mode that I can get a stable lock. 

 

That is a serious degradation over the earlier versions. 

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1 hour ago, tflash said:

Anyways after the last patch I have really difficulties to detect head-on Mig-21's and Mig-23's with the Hornet radar. at 20K I can only start to detect them reliably at somewhat more than 10 miles, whether I do RWS, TWS, HI/MED/Interleave, the contact is faint and the lock almost immediately broken. It is only when I am in boresight mode that I can get a stable lock. 

 

That is a serious degradation over the earlier versions. 

 

you using MPRF or HPRF?

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Medium PRF hasn't really changed going into 2.7, so I doubt that's the case (assuming the change tflash mentioned is real, and not a weird placebo effect).

 

Also, I forgot to reply to this:

On 6/9/2021 at 7:35 PM, dundun92 said:

Another note on the F-16 MPRF, and why its MPRF is so good. Because it doesnt use HPRF, they can get away with quite high peak powers compated to HPRF radars while keeping average power low. For reference, the APG-66 operates at a 21.5 kW peak power, and the 68 is at 17.5 kW. This contrasts to the AGP-63 which is 13 kW, with the AWG-9 in the same range. APG-65 is around 5 kW (hard to find an exact number though), as is the N001. So thats part of the tradeoff of optimizing for MPRF.

Sure, but range scales as ~fourth root of power, so increasing power by a factor 4 should increase your range by ~35% if I did the math right. That is not nearly enough to account for the current performance of the APG-68 compared to the APG-73.

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12 minutes ago, TLTeo said:

 

 

Also, I forgot to reply to this:

Sure, but range scales as ~fourth root of power, so increasing power by a factor 4 should increase your range by ~35% if I did the math right. That is not nearly enough to account for the current performance of the APG-68 compared to the APG-73.

 

Yeah the current performance is likely the hprf modes ED hasn't done yet IMO, which according pilots sorta suck anyway. MPRF it should be like half of what it is like 40nm or so maaybe a bit better. 

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5 minutes ago, Harlikwin said:

 

Yeah the current performance is likely the hprf modes ED hasn't done yet IMO, which according pilots sorta suck anyway. MPRF it should be like half of what it is like 40nm or so maaybe a bit better. 

That would still make the -68 considerably better than the -73 and RDI though, which is every bit as suspicious.

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13 minutes ago, TLTeo said:

That would still make the -68 considerably better than the -73 and RDI though, which is every bit as suspicious.

 

Yeah, IDK, I also think the hornet has some long range modes that aren't working either to be fair. Its more complex than HPRF and MPRF with those. You can increase range by improving dwell time, which is how I suspect they operate, but they are then much more "focused/narrow". You are basically improving your "noise floor" that way.

 


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16 minutes ago, TLTeo said:

Alright I'm just confused now. We really, really need to start comparing apples to apples, which we clearly are not doing.

 

Its cuz we don't have all the modes of the radars. And its more complicated IRL... Details matter. 

 

Unlike the APG-66 which is MPRF only, the APG-68v5 added a dual mode transmitter that can do MPRF but also is capable of generating HPRF waveforms.

 

Basically for the viper ED needs to add the

LRS (long rage search) mode, 

VSR mode (velocity search and ranging) which is funky interleaved mode 

And the Coast mode (tracks through notch)

 

And then there are things like the ECCM modes, which well, I doubt we get.


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The Hornet is only missing VS for its AA radar, which is rarely used and I doubt we'll ever see it in DCS anyway. HPRF in RWS/TWS should also be a bit better than what it is right now, though, according to pilot feedback, so make what you will of that.

As for the 68(V)5, every open source I've found places its max detection range for a 5.0 m2 RCS target, at around 32-35 NM and that includes data I've found on the V9 (80-85 km max) and scaled down (because the V9 is advertised everywhere as offering a ~30-33% range increase over the V5). Also, I'm thinking guessing that VRS for the Viper will suffer the same fate as VS for the Hornet.

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14 hours ago, Harlikwin said:

 

you using MPRF or HPRF?

 

I tried both. By narrowing the scan I can detect better, but I continuously loose lock, in a way that makes TWS irrelevant. I resort to waiting till they are close enough and lock themin boresight ACM. 

13 hours ago, Harlikwin said:

 

Yeah the current performance is likely the hprf modes ED hasn't done yet IMO, which according pilots sorta suck anyway. MPRF it should be like half of what it is like 40nm or so maaybe a bit better. 

 

To be sure after the latest path I experience problems *below* 40 NM. Very strange. With the F-16 no problems of course, but it's the Hornet I'm worried about, I like that is more realistically modelled, but my feeling is something is not OK, TWS really became useless for me (single player, againt AI). 

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To be sure after the latest path I experience problems *below* 40 NM. Very strange. With the F-16 no problems of course, but it's the Hornet I'm worried about, I like that is more realistically modelled, but my feeling is something is not OK, TWS really became useless for me (single player, againt AI). 
Try increasing the ageout setting in the DATA sublevel and save it with SET, in the RWS page. For the AMRRAM, it defaults to 4, increase it and it might help with maintaining targets.

The ageout setting is only supposed to control how long the bricks stay on the RDR ATTK page, but in DCS, it also controls how long the trackfile is maintained after the last detection. Which is shouldn't, as the logic is different for that IRL and is based on whether or not the target was detected on the same sweep of the next cycle.

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3 hours ago, Harker said:

The Hornet is only missing VS for its AA radar, which is rarely used and I doubt we'll ever see it in DCS anyway. HPRF in RWS/TWS should also be a bit better than what it is right now, though, according to pilot feedback, so make what you will of that.

As for the 68(V)5, every open source I've found places its max detection range for a 5.0 m2 RCS target, at around 32-35 NM and that includes data I've found on the V9 (80-85 km max) and scaled down (because the V9 is advertised everywhere as offering a ~30-33% range increase over the V5). Also, I'm thinking guessing that VRS for the Viper will suffer the same fate as VS for the Hornet.

 

Hm... not sure of that. 

 

As for the 68v5. I mean those numbers don't seem terribly wrong, but I also have docs on the APG-66 that put it there too and then the 68 is 33% better than the 66. So its like ish, since it doesn't specify which mode or anything like that for the numbers. The 66 at least has few modes so you can guess. The 68 its harder.

 

And then of course you have the magic KJL-7.... Which IMO should more or less be like a 68v5. 

 


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30 minutes ago, Harker said:

Try increasing the ageout setting in the DATA sublevel and save it with SET, in the RWS page. For the AMRRAM, it defaults to 4, increase it and it might help with maintaining targets.

The ageout setting is only supposed to control how long the bricks stay on the RDR ATTK page, but in DCS, it also controls how long the trackfile is maintained after the last detection. Which is shouldn't, as the logic is different for that IRL and is based on whether or not the target was detected on the same sweep of the next cycle.

 

Interesting! I'll try that! 

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