An F-5 against an F/A-18 is not a fair fight. The Hornet has a spectacular radar with extremely capable ACM modes. At “Fight’s On,” a pilot has just to flick on his VACQ, select AMRAAM, put lift-vector on and pull until he gets a SHOOT cue. “Kill…Knock it off.”
The Super Hornet (Boeing F/A-18E/F)has an even more capable ACM suite when the JHMCS is paired with the amazing AIM-9X. The ability to slew the AIM-9’s seeker head to the pilot’s line of sight at ridiculous off-boresight angles is an inescapably lethal combination. By comparison, the F-5 has no radar missile. The Saints use only an IR seeker head and a restrictive envelope from the 1970s limited to a few degrees off boresight.
And the dreaded guns.
There is no known countermeasure that can distract 30mm rounds. To build a fighter plane without a gun is as foolhardy as sending an infantry soldier into battle without a knife. The only time he will miss it is when he desperately needs it. The Navy version of the Vietnam-era F-4 didn’t have a gun, and it was sorely lacking. Ignoring the wisdom that “past is prologue,” the Navy variant of the F-35 again will not have an internal gun.
In any event, because of this advantage in armament and capability, the majority of engagements end quickly with a decisive victory for the Hornet, especially after the first or second engagement once the rust and jitters have been shaken off. But with a few real-world limitations put on a Hornet to limit his first-shot kill ability, the fight becomes far more balanced.
Scenarios in which the fighter is placed in a defensive perch, or is limited to an off-target weapons load, force the Hornet pilot to consider follow-on engaged maneuvering. The longer an F/A-18 is tied up in a dogfight with an F-5, the higher the chances that he will lose sight or commit a BFM error, and when either of those occur, the advantage tilts rapidly in favor of the Bandit.
The real-world corollary is the off target strike-fighter, momentarily blind to the Air-to-Air picture after the drop, caught unawares by a Mig-21. Suddenly defensive, turning for his life and scrambling to take advantage of his superior platform, with every second that he delays in splashing the MiG, or bugging out, his risks increase exponentially.
There was a huge amount of satisfaction derived from providing the students with valuable, challenging, realistic training. But as fun as the engagements themselves were, they were always tainted. Either the Blue fighter was sufficiently skilled that the engagements were clinical and perfunctory, or the students made enough errors to lose, and that wasn’t the goal. The supreme pleasure was in fighting in-house.