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When the 5th generation fighter pursues Maverick's F14, its targeting system gets confused by the terrain, so it couldn't get a missile lock. After Maverick performs his cobra maneuver and gets behind the 5th gen fighter, Maverick is able to get a missile lock on the fighter, and he fires a missile.

So how is it that Maverick's F14 could get a missile lock? Was it "because it's a movie" or is something different about the F14's targeting system or was it because he was close enough to the enemy fighter?

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  • IIRC, it was because Maverick flew so close to the terrain that he other pilot's plane couldn't get a lock. Once Maverick pulled his move, they were high enough above the terrain so that Maverick was able to get a lock without any interference from the terrain. Sep 13, 2022 at 17:20
  • @JohnnyBones: While your answer is essentially correct, an F-14 is not known to perform a full cobra maneuver as depicted in the movie. It can do a partial/mini cobra maneuver.
    – Rahul
    Sep 13, 2022 at 21:55
  • If this is a realism question, I’d say it’s not realistic for a modern jet fighter to have too much trouble with terrain. “Look down/shoot down” radar has been a thing for many decades now. Sep 15, 2022 at 2:06
  • Notice this article says look down/shoot down technology became common in the 70s and 80s: en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moving_target_indication Also see: en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Look-down/shoot-down Sep 15, 2022 at 14:07

2 Answers 2

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So the Su-57 in this scenario is using in-bay weaponry that consists of only R-77s as far as we know, these are active radar guided air-to-air missiles that require a lock through the airplane's radar to be launched (and even for IR missiles, they would need datalink information from the radar to know where to look in case of a lock-on after launch).

Maverick manages to confuse the radar by flying low and erratically through the mountainous river, this is somewhat realistic, even modern radars can have some trouble in gaining accurate locks in such situations and ranges, and even if it did, the active radar homing seeker would have trouble with a "cold" bandit, which is why in those scenarios IR seekers would perform better.

Now for the question, Maverick's F-14 doesn't have it's radar online (since at that point in the movie Rooster hasn't figured out how to turn his RIO equipment on yet), but he doesn't need it, because he has AIM-9s. These are IR missiles, and since they are suspended weaponry, the sensor is outside and can lock directly from the pylons.

In short, the Su-57 needed a solid radar lock to launch it's missiles, the F-14 didn't.

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Based solely on your question, the answer is that Maverick flew so close to the terrain that the other pilot's plane couldn't get a lock. Once Maverick pulled his move, they were high enough above the terrain so that Maverick was able to get a lock without any interference from the terrain.

This doesn't take into account the realism of why the 5th Gen plane was unable to lock onto Maverick. As mentioned in the comments, Look Down/Shoot Down technology has been available long before 5th Gen fighter planes were created. However, strictly "in universe" Maverick mentions that his altitude will confuse the 5th Gen's lock capability without mentioning anything about its ability to still be able to fire at a target.

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  • Maverick is only momentarily higher than the other plane. By the time he gets a missile lock, he's directly behind the enemy, and there's enough of terrain surrounding the minimal aircraft cross-section.
    – John David
    Sep 20, 2022 at 5:37

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