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So, we have our MEU vs. dragon scenario set up. Harriers launch and zoom overhead as the Marines on the ground hop off their LCACs onto the island and spread out in search of the beast, anti-materiel weapons at the ready. In the meanwhile, the dragon hears the roar of jets in the distance and takes to the skies to roast the intruders into his territory, climbing as high as he can with the sun at his six to try to launch a surprise attack.

However, this takes the dragon out of the clutter, making him more visible on the Harriers' radar. "Smash 51, bogey 2 o'clock, raygun" "Smash 51, roger. Shouldn't be anyone but us up here...wait. Bogey's spades, no squawk at all -- how much do you want to bet that's the hostile?" "Smash 51, Redhawk. Cleared hot, weapons free." "Smash 51, roger. Fences in, he's outlaw alright."

In the meantime, the dragon has seen the jets and began to dive for them, aiming in front of them to try to meet their expected flightpath and burn them out of the sky. "Smash 51, lost lock. IR's not picking him up, and we've put ourselves too close for a Slammer." "We'll have to go guns here..."

As the dragon and Smash 51's Harrier pair race closer to each other -- what tactical options should each side employ in order to maximize their chances of success?

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  • $\begingroup$ "the Marines on the ground hop off their LCACs" Definitely not. They drive off in their AAVs, after having located the dragon with their RQ-21 Blackjack or RQ-7 Shadow UAVs. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Apr 18 '18 at 3:21
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Your scenario is pitting one or more modern combat aircraft against a single large target with the approximate flight capability of a Cessna 172. The Harriers have a vast advantage in weapons range, detection range, speed, climb rate, and flight ceiling. The dragon has the advantage in turn radius and maneuverability.

Provided that the Harrier pilots are minimally competent, they should be more than able to stay out of claw or flame range. While they might need to fly relatively low to help separate the dragon from ground clutter, they should have at least one pair flying top cover to prevent "dive-out-of-the-sun" type tactics like you describe -- they have no reason to give up the high ground. Once they've identified the target, they can make attack passes at will, staying well out of range and wearing down the dragon until one of their missiles connects. Proximity warheads means that a direct hit isn't needed; even a close miss will cause injury and disorienting concussion.

If the cannons come into play, they'd be used more for "strafing" type passes, letting off a short burst and then breaking off before coming into the dragon's range. The dragon can putter along below their stall speed, so they aren't "chasing" it, just making attack runs against an effectively-stationary target. This probably goes poorly for the dragon in short order, but it's much more dangerous for the Harrier pilots as well, so I think they'd try for a missile kill first.

The dragon's tactical options are very limited. It may be able to outmaneuver incoming missiles, but it has effectively no ability to force an engagement at a range it can fight at. It's best option is probably to stay "on-the-deck" as much as possible, even flying below tree level when it can. It wants to try and lure the jets down to where it can ambush them from cover as they zip past, but even that is a high-risk maneuver. But if it lingers on the ground for too long, it risks attacks from air-to-ground Maverick missiles, instead.

All-in-all, I don't see this going well for the dragon.

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First, fire your pilots. One plane should have checked out the contact, not all of them. ID it as your hostile, that plane pulls away and the others fire their Slammers.

Second, they should have known Sidewinders wouldn't lock on. Why are they carrying them at all?

Third, given how badly they have messed up they should try to break away and come back with the Slammers.

Finally, if they can't break off there's still a chance. You said the dragon wanted to burn the planes--that means a fire-based breath weapon. The Sidewinders will track when he's attacking--and go right down his throat. The plane that was being attacked will certainly get fire damage but it might survive anyway--it's an airplane, it's moving fast. I would expect the pilot to at least be able to punch out afterwards, I doubt the dragon can actually burn through the canopy in the time it will have.

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  • $\begingroup$ Would you rather I redid the prelude? I can if you wish $\endgroup$ – Shalvenay Nov 19 '16 at 0:55
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Harriers are presumably going to be much faster than a dragon who flies by flapping his wings, but not able to turn so quickly. So they want to fight a climbing and diving battle, and take advantage of having long-ranged weapons.

So re-opening the range to use AIM-120 missiles, or just using AIM-9 Sidewinders should work fine. The GAU-12 25mm cannon should also work, provided you stay at least 300 yards away from the dragon at all times, just to make sure he doesn't get an attack. Since these are Harriers, using VIFFing (Vectoring thrust In Forward Flight) will be an effective dodge tactic - once.

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Let's face it, the dragon could instantly destroy the harriers, but the planes would not. Point for dragon.

Bullets could be fine, as long as they could pierce the armor of the dragon (please, lets assume the armor of the dragon is so thick that .50 cal or .75 cal bullets could not penetrate it). Point for dragon.

Let's just assume that the dragon is not that stupid, and would get defensive, he would minimize exposure his belly while flying, making sure that the only exposed part from the fighters would be his head and tail. Point for dragon.

Based on OP's question, I would assume that the plane's number would be more than 2, so sheer numbers would make it really hard for the dragon to decide who to lock on and destroy. Point for Harriers.

While the planes are that plenty, I would also assume that the dragon would not be a dumb animal. He could use his flames as disruption for the flight paths of the planes should they get close to shoot their guns. Flames would still burn for some seconds in the sky, maybe a minute or so, which would mean that heat seekers would not lock on to this animal. and smoke coming of from the dragon's breath is a very very good point of ambush. Point for dragon.

Sure, hitting his eyes could also be a thing, but it would mean you have to go head on with the beast, well, either you are dead along with the dragon, of the dragon decided to blast flames to you while moving his head.

Since there's no point in fighting something that would really dominate the sky, and facing the dragon head on is practically suicide. There's only 1 thing the fighters could do to kill the dragon.

The planes should make the dragon chase them to the highest point a dragon could fly, then with the speed and mobility of the harriers, surround the dragon so that it would stay on that altitude, then pierce it's wings with bullets. Yep, we all know that the wings of a dragon is made of leather, well, as science and fiction would suggest. and at that altitude, not even Godzilla would survive the fall.

Harriers / Humans win.

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