Falklands War: Did Mirages and Harriers Dogfight?

In reading accounts of the 1982 Falkland Islands/Malvinas War, I haven’t read anything about the air war. I know that the Argentine AF had several fighter planes-US built Phantoms, French Mirage jets, and some ground attack turboprop Pucaras.
The British RNAF used the (subsonic) Harrier jets.
My question: given that thge Mirage jets were supersonic, was the Harrier a match for a Miarge in a dogfight?
From all accounts, the Argentine pilots were very good and audacious, however, they were operating at tye limit of theirrange-I think they had about 20 minutes endurance over the islands.
As I understand, the Harrier is quite a good plane…but it is slow and uses considerable fule in takeoff/landing.
When Harrier pilots confronted Argentine Mirage jest, who usually won?

According to Wikipedia, Sea Harriers shot down:

9 IAI Daggers (Mirage V equivalent)
7 A-4 Skyhawks (plus one write-off on landing)
1 Mirage III
…and 3 other aircraft

No Sea Harriers were lost in air-to-air combat, although 6 were lost to ground fire and accidents. The same page claims 28% of Argentinian air losses were caused by Sea Harriers.

The general view was that the Dagger was faster, but the Sea Harrier more manoeuverable. I remember at about the time there was much press fuss about the Sea Harriers’ viffing ability (vectoring in forward flight). They’d end up with a fighter on their tail, angle their V/STOL engine nozzles to brake suddenly, the Dagger would overshoot and the Sea Harrier would have a clear Sidewinder or cannon shot.

From this article:


It looks like encounters between Sea Harriers and Mirages were not all that common, the Mirages being mostly used for decoy purposes. From the one encounter that resulted in casualties, it looks like the Harriers had the best of it, shooting down one Mirage with an AAM.

Just as an aside, it’s not the RNAF, it’s the Fleet Air Arm.

This site supports the numbers; ten ‘Mirages/Daggers’ (presumably 9 Daggers and one Mirage III) shot down by Sea Harriers without loss. All kills scored with Sidewinders.

Generally, dogfighting is done at subsonic speeds. Missiles can be launched at…um…let’s just say faster than mach 1…but those are usually longer range missiles. Up close with the heat seekers or guns, slower speeds are the norm…or at least were when I was in service.
ETA: Sidewinders are AIM-9 heat seeking missiles.

Scroll down to “A Harrier War”

Some highlights.

  • AAF priority was to sink surface vessels, and as such they were heavily outfitted with anti-ship weapons and fuel leaving them at a severe disadvantage in an air-to-air scenario.
  • Distance to the Falkands from the Mainland and lack of adequate AAF air refueling tankers and inability of the Mirage III and V to refuel in flight.
  • Ability of the Harrier to outmaneuver AAF aircraft, especially at low altitudes.

…and probably the most important aspect…Whatever happens, we have got: The AIM 9L, and they have not.

Not in the above article, but I also recall reading somewhere that Harrier pilots would also use the hover ability to ‘pop up and down’ in order to release sidewinders.

RN Harriers almost certainly did not use VTO to get into the air, since that would have seriously comprimised their endurance once aloft. And, there was no need, because they were flying off a British aircraft carrier. I can’t contradict stories of using vectored thrust to “pop up” to fire missiles, but I also can’t see any competent pilot doing that; at effectively zero speed, they would have been at a very serious disadvantage should their salvo not destroy an in-bound aircraft.

I don’t have any cites for you, so sorry, but I have seen an interview with a Harrier pilot who flew in the Falklands who said that the Argentian fighters were faster than the Harriers (and though I’m not absolutely sure now I think he say that they did fight supersonic planes). He basically said the Harriers proved superior in aerial combat against faster Argentinian planes because they were more manevourable.

I’ve always been of the understanding that dogfighting is done at subsonic speeds, primarily with machine-guns (ie, how it was done in WWI, WWII, and to a decent extent, Korea). Modern jet aircraft no longer use machine-guns as their primary weapons, and it’s also my understanding that even if they do have an onboard gun, they don’t carry enough ammunition for more than a few seconds of sustained fire.

IIRC, the F-16 carries about 600 rounds for the gun. You don’t do sustained fire, pretty much ever. Short bursts, 1-2 seconds…firing at a spot the target might be when the bullets get there. On the upside, it only takes 1 or 2 hits with a 20mm cannon to kill another airplane. Air-to-air, the weapon of choice is missiles—and a dogfight is usually jockeying for position to lock the missile on the target. The gun is a secondary option.

I’ve been in the backseat of an F-16B when the gun was fired. We did several passes dropping practice bombs, then finished with a few strafing runs at ground targets. The range control would score each pass, and for the gun tell us how many shots were fired and how many hit.

IIRC, one of the harrier tactics was, when chased by an argentine jet, to use the thrusters to either leapfrog behind the guy (not hitting zero, but I imagine going from 500mph to say, 250mph for a short burst). Then they finished the job with an air-to-air missile.

Or, while engaged in a dogfight and circling with someone on their tail, they vectored the thrust to push themselves toward the center of the arc, thus also doing a leapfrog maneuver. The faster Mirage would pass underneath them and then they had a clear shot.

Also, I recall once reading the rationale behind the F16 design program. After studying dogfights and shoot-downs in Vietnam, the design team realized that:
-rarely did the pilot see what hit him
-most dogfights happened at subsonic speed, since supersonic ate fuel like crazy and limited maneuverability

Hence the F16 is half the size of similar raft (F14, F18) with a huge bubble cockpit for higher visibility, and was designed for lightness and quick maneuverability.
Then the weapons guys got ahold of the design and laoded it down anyway with gun hardware, electronics and other detrius that made it heavy and less maneuverable…

So speed doesn’t count for much unless you can outrun the missiles. Extremely maneuverable, however, is always nice.

md2000: that’s what I meant by viffing (using the vectored thrust to give an extra advantage in manoeuverability).