War Thunder

An Fairly In-Depth Analysis of War Thunder’s New Air to Air Missile Dynamics (with gifs for show) and Some Thoughts on Afterburners

warthunder 4 - An Fairly In-Depth Analysis of War Thunder's New Air to Air Missile Dynamics (with gifs for show) and Some Thoughts on Afterburners

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When the dev server dropped today I was very curious to find out just how in depth and interactive they made the missile guidance systems. Some of you may remember the post I made a few days ago detailing just what could be modeled and how it could be modeled, so I set out to find out if I was correct or not. What the maximum lock on ranges were, what the maximum engagement ranges of these missiles were, and what limitations they actually have. Were the missiles affected by the energy state of the firing aircraft? Would altitude and altitude advantage play a role in range? Are IRCM and the sun pre-programmed decoys or do the missiles actually look for heat? These are my findings. Spoiler alert: I was pretty much right about everything.

Note: After doing a lot of these tests with both the F-100 and MiG-19 I found that their missiles are pretty much identical performance wise in game (as they pretty much should be, as the Russian missile is just a reverse engineered copy of the AIM-9B) and they also have similar heat signatures.

Lock Range

The first thing I wanted to test was just how far away you could be and still attain a lock on an aircraft. I started out by simply flying around in the test mission and attempting to lock onto the single enemy jet that orbits the airfield. In this post I made earlier the farthest I was able to attain a lock was at 3.3 km. Any farther and it wouldn't lockup. Alright. But that's a MiG-15. If they modeled these correctly, the lock range should decrease if the infrared signature is weaker (cooler) and increase if it's stronger (hotter). Which means if I try to lock something like a prop it should be harder, and something in full afterburner, easier.

I then loaded up a test drive against a bunch of enemy AI He-111's. This was the result. Despite that there was even multiple contacts within the reticle and I couldn't get a lock until I was extremely close. It was basically pointless to even bother trying to lock onto them. This supported my hypothesis, but I wanted to see if the opposite was true: lock distance was farther against a hotter target.

I joined into a custom battle being hosted by u/mikegoesboom of all people and some very nice players were kind enough to help me do these tests. I had a friendly neighborhood F-100 start pulling away from me in full AB. I continued to lock him up until I was no longer able to. I ended up being able to keep him locked up until almost 4.5 kilometers away. a 1.5 kilometers increase over the MiG-15 in the test flight. While we were screwing around, he said that he was able to lock onto me out to almost 5 kilometers. I of course can't confirm that, but it's possible that each individual plane has a thermal signature of different magnitude.

This confirmed my hypothesis, but it raised another question. Is this deviation in lock range something hard coded (as the tier of the plane increases, the larger the heat signature) or was it actually based on how hot the engine was? Because once again, a legitimate tactic against IR missiles in real life is to reduce your throttle to lower your thermal signature.

I had him do a similar test where he would again fly away from me, but then shut down his engine and coast to see if I would lose the lock. Given the previous test we know that I should be able to acquire a lock out to at least 4.3 kilometers, but after he shut down I was not able to acquire him. I then started to close on him while he continued to coast with his engine at idle, and it was only once he throttled back up that I was able to re-acquire the lock, even at a much closer distance. He had been coasting for awhile at that point and his engine was probably really cooling off, but it's still interesting to see that the actual heat generated from the engine is what's allowing the missile to lock on, rather than it being an on off switch.

I then had him fire a missile at me from a good distance out, to which I then throttled down to zero to see if the missile would lose track after the launch. I had him fire, I throttled down to zero, moved a little bit to the left to make sure it wasn't going to fly into me just by inertia, and it flies right by at the lower left of the screen. Pretty neat stuff. As you can see it definitely had enough energy to get to me but didn't know where I was.

People were reporting that they were able to get locks on targets even while going head on with them, but only at extremely close ranges. I was able to confirm this when someone launched a missile at me (I got the missile warning). This also makes sense as eventually the extreme heat of the engine will be able to be seen even by these early seekers. It's certainly not practical, but another interesting tidbit that goes to show the maximum lock on range is affected by two variables: the heat generated by the target, and your aspect relative to the target. The greatest lock range being directly behind the target, and rapidly decreasing as the target aspect rotates from the 6 to 12 vector to the 12 to 6 vector. It's still possible to get locks on targets traveling from 3 to 9 or 9 to 3 for instance, but you have to be at such a close range to acquire the lock that it's pretty much impossible to even fire the missile (let alone it being able to track). I'll take this moment to also mention that there's a G-limit for launching the missiles. If you're pulling too hard of a turn and try to fire a missile at an enemy, a message will pop up telling you that you're pulling too hard to fire the missile and it won't let you.

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One other detail is that weather didn't seem to affect the lock on range at all… I didn't have a chance to try it while inside of cloud cover, but I put the test flight on the incessant rain weather mode and I was still locking onto the target dummies at the exact same ranges.

Closing Thoughts

It's hardly scientific, but I also found that the farther your aspect differed from your target, the lock range also was lower. This also makes sense as the missile would have less of a view of the engine's thermal signature. So if you want to have maximum lock range, you'll want to match the aspect of your target. Ground clutter does not appear to be modeled as the lock on ranges were pretty much the same whether the target was up high, down low, or I was looking up or looking down. The time it took to lock on was also the same.

I also wanted to check and see if just reducing power from maximum power to mil power would also decrease the lock range but I ran out of time. I have the sneaking suspicion that it would indeed degrade it from the reduced thermal signature.


Honestly, I'm really surprised and a little impressed. Gaijin could have totally half assed this but this is some really decent seeker dynamics here that pretty closely matches how these missiles actually operated.

Maximum Range

Now with a rough estimate of how far we can acquire a target, I wanted to see how far we could reach out and touch someone. If things are modeled correctly, I should be able to hit a target from farther away the faster I am going when I launch the missile. The range of missiles should also be greater the higher in altitude we are.

Here's firing at the target 3 kilometers out while traveling way slower than it.

And here's firing at the same target 3 kilometers out while traveling way faster than it.

Note: I flew around with the sabre a few times to make sure it was traveling a uniform speed during the tests

I hit the target both times obviously, but there's two things to note: watch how much faster the missile is going in the second clip compared to the first one, and the rocket motor is burning out and still able to hit the target. This would confirm to me that the missiles are indeed getting kinetic energy transferred to them from the firing aircraft. This wasn't much of a surprise as War Thunder already does this with bombs and rockets, but I wanted to make sure. I think that the missile has a little too much of its own energy, but hey, it's way more than I expected and it confirms that they're performing like real missiles do.

Also here's a bonus clip of the missile getting oh so close. One other thing to note here was how much trouble the missile was having at maintaining a lock. I was probably at the absolute maximum lock range for that target and aspect.

Now the other detail was that the range of the missiles should be longer the higher your are in altitude, as the air is thinner and that does lots of good things for rockets. In this clip, I am able to lock onto and launch at an enemy from around 4 kilometers out. I am traveling at roughly 1150 KPH TAS at the time of launch and I am probably a good kilometer higher in altitude. The target is traveling at a bit slower speed than I am (probably about 1050 KPH TAS). Even with all of these things, the missile doesn't even come within 1 kilometer of the guy.

Going back to high altitude, I had my guy fire at me from the same range while we were both traveling at the same speeds. He was 4 kilometers out at the time of launch, I was traveling at roughly 1050 KPH TAS, and he was closing on me so he had to of been going faster at the time of launch. The missile hits me no problem and still had plenty of energy left that it probably could have hit from even farther away. He also was coaltitude rather than having an altitude advantage like I did in the first clip. It's very safe to say that missiles do indeed perform better at higher altitudes.

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Closing Thoughts

This was a pleasure to see. I was really afraid that the propulsion of the missiles were going to be pretty much on rails and concrete, but they actually look to be very dynamic in their range and it will allow a smart player to better understand how they might defeat these missiles.


I did some testing regarding fuel consumption and thermal limits of the afterburners. Unlike the missile dynamics, these are probably more subject to change, but I still think it's interesting and worth sharing.

The fuel consumption isn't surprising. At sea level on afterburner the F-100 and MiG-19 use more than twice the amount of fuel as normal. The F-100 having a 54 minute maximum load and only being able to last roughly 16 minutes, and the MiG-19 having 22 minutes and only being able to last roughly 8 minutes. Obviously if you fly above sea level you will use less fuel.

The thing that was interesting though was that both of these aircraft eventually started to overheat while on afterburner (the F-100 after roughly 8 minutes and the MiG-19 after roughly 4), and they didn't overheat while at their dry (100%) throttle setting. This doesn't really make sense from a realism standpoint, but it might be a point of balance. For those that don't know, the most limiting factor of a turbojet engine is the thermal limits in the combustion chamber. There's plenty of unused oxygen that could be used to burn more fuel to create more thrust, but it would get so hot it would damage the engine. This is why the afterburner is effective because it lets you (inefficiently) combine more fuel and oxygen downstream from the combustion chamber to create more thrust with almost no effect internally. Operationally this has no effect on the combustion chamber and for the most part doesn't increase the overall temperature of the engine. Like I said, this is probably a balance related thing. It's also entirely possible these engines had thermal limits in their exhaust housings and that's their way of modeling it.

I didn't really touch the Javelin, but it seems to get "fuel starvation" every few moments while at high speed in afterburner. Probably a bug, but possibly a way to model compressor stalls or something similar?

I'll take a moment here to also mention just how atrocious the presentation of these things are. This is what these things should look like. While on mil power these older jets had a subtle smokey trail behind them. When afterburner was engaged, there was no gradual increase in power like it sounds like in game. It was a sudden bang, and the afterburner started burning away all of that unburnt gas and oil, making the smoke trail disappear. And don't even get me started on the supersonic vapor.

Come on Gaijin. It's the little things that will make this so much better.

All in all, I think Gaijin actually did a half decent job with most of this. We have yet to see how Tier VI will actually play out and what meta will form, but the ground work has been decently (and I stress decently) laid for a still skill based game. We will see what changes they make to the flight models and what things change in the coming weeks and hopefully they keep surprising us.

Thanks again for reading.

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