eli5 how can jet pilots hit targets at insanely high speeds


Do they have lock on systems or what

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Typically air-to-air missiles do have some form of tracking technology, which may be based on radar imaging, or infrared guidance. The pilot releases the missile which then has an onboard computer that locates and locks in to a target. The systems are very, very complex, but the short answer is that yes, they all do have systems in place to facilitate tracking targets.

Most (modern) air-to-air combat is done with missiles, which have built-in guidance and control systems, yes. They don’t need to “hit” targets themselves; if they’re using a radar-guided missile, they just have to be roughly pointing at the target to “paint” it with their radar system and the missile will do the rest. If the missile is an infrared or “heat-seeking” missile, then it will do its own guidance and the pilot doesn’t even have to do anything after firing.

Yes. If you’ve seen Top Gun, it works like this. There is either a ground team or another plane that tags or “paints* a target with a Laser sight, which then communicates with the missile or other plane. Unless the target is being continuously painted, it doesn’t make the missile automatically seek it, but rather identifies it to make it easier for the second and to lock on. Especially useful when it needs to be precise.

There’s two general types of air-to-ground weapons systems, guided and unguided.

The guided system is relatively easy for the pilot – your weapons operator or someone on the ground is “painting” the target with some sort of guidance coordinates and the missile/bomb will steer into it.

Just pull the trigger and gtfo, you don’t even need to see the target or slow down, and they won’t know what hit them.

Then you have unguided weapons for “close air support”. These are your Su-25 rocket pods and A-10 Gatling cannons, weapons that you put on a much lower and slower plane to get right in the face of a ground target and blast the fuck out of it.

This is much more dangerous for the aircraft and crew since you’re getting down low where manpads and AA guns can get you, but you can also do a lot more damage for a lot less money that way – and visually confirm that you’re shooting at a tank and not a dummy IR flare.

It’s worth mentioning that most of our media has been wrong about how aerial combat works since jets and guided missiles came into being – the vast majority of aerial engagements happen so far away from the enemy that the pilots only ever “see” each other on RADAR.

It’s also worth mentioning that speed is relative – when you are driving on the highway you’re moving at speeds several times what humans evolved to do, but you can still navigate traffic, because the traffic is *also* moving that fast. What matters to your ability to navigate traffic (or any high-speed situation) is partly how fast your surrounding actors are also moving. Fighter jets are firing at fast-moving targets, but in the vast majority of instances they are at least that fast as well, and they impart that starting velocity onto every weapon they fire.

But to get back to the main point: Yes, modern fighter jets use a variety of guided missiles to engage in combat. The unguided weapons they use are either imprecise (ex: a bomb doesn’t have to be particularly accurate to hit its intended target) or has a lot of ammo and/or computer assistance in aiming (ex: machine guns where still used can have an aiming assistant that calculates relative velocity, angle of attack, etc; of other airplanes and then “locks” on with an estimated lead to make the bullets arrive at the place the plane will be given their travel time, gravity, etc; in the era before computer assistance you’d have tracer ammo [bullets that glowed and showed the path of the shots] so you could see how far you were missing in what direction and update your aim accordingly).