Getting into DCS World isn’t easy. The tactics, knowledge, and skill to fly the combat flight simulator’s aircraft take commitment and practice to learn. Getting into multiplayer servers might require you to understand military jargon and communication protocol. But before any of that even matters, you still need a module to get started in the game. Picking the right aircraft can be a surprisingly difficult process which this DCS World buyer’s guide might be helpful with.
DCS World’s E-Shop and Steam page are both full modules, maps and campaigns, making it difficult to find the simulator’s best modern aircraft. We’ve broken up the fixed-wing jet aircraft into their eras and mission sets to help narrow down the aircraft.
We’ve left out the modules made for Flaming Cliffs 3 and the trainer jets as the former aren’t simulated to the same degree as these modules and the latter were never meant to compete with actual fighter jets.
The modules that easily have the most value-for-money are DCS World’s simulations of modern multirole fighters. Aircraft like the F-16C, F/A-18C, JF-17 and Mirage 2000C fit this bill. These modules, taking after their real-life counterparts, are capable of doing a bit of everything even if they don’t specialise in it.
The Fighting Falcon or Viper has been used for everything from Air-to-Air combat, Close Air Support, Precision Attack and Suppression of Enemy Air Defence (SEAD). DCS World recognises this by letting it carry pretty much any weapon that you need it to.
It can carry targeting pods for precision-guided weapons, guided and unguided bombs and anti-radar HARMs for attacking ground targets. It can take air-to-air missiles for dogfighting and beyond-visual-range combat. Basically, it’s flexible enough to let you try everything DCS has to offer.
The cockpit is one of the most advanced in the simulator, full of displays to sift through. It makes the aircraft as much an exercise in operating electronics as much as it is an exercise in pilot skill. For some, it might be the appeal of the fighter but for those who want a more traditional experience, the added complexity may be a dealbreaker.
The Hornet’s similar to the Viper in that it can do everything the Viper can. It’s got the came capacity for running just about every mission type under the sun thanks to its real-world versatility. It’s got an almost identical array of weapons to attach and the ability to have targeting pods. It’s an older module, letting it have more advanced systems than the Viper, too.
What sets it apart from the F-16, though, is its nature as a carrier-borne aircraft. Unlike its Air Force counterpart, the F/A-18 can participate in carrier takeoffs and landings. You get to experience getting shot off the deck on a steam catapult and attempt extremely difficult carrier landings.
Like the F-16, the Hornet is one of DCS’ most modern fighters. There’ll be a lot of digging through MFDs and getting settings done just right.
This Pakistani jet isn’t the most well-known aircraft in the world but that didn’t stop Deka Ironwork Simulations from making this incredible module. It can do most missions that the two planes above can, just with different weapons with many of the same general methods. There is a lot of fishing around MFDs to properly use its weapons but thanks to its origin as a Pakistani jet, many of the quirks and exact methods are different from its American counterparts.
This jet is roughly analogous to the Viper in terms of mission sets and the fact that it cannot conduct carrier operations.
This multirole delta-wing fighter isn’t as modern as the other fighters in this category. It doesn’t have a targeting pod and doesn’t have a cockpit as awash with MFDs as the others. However, it is highly capable both in an air-to-air role and air-to-ground.
One notable aspect that stopped it from being included in the section below is the Mirage’s two 30mm cannons. These weapons grant it a uniquely powerful method of engaging ground targets outside of precision explosives.
Not all of the late Cold War’s fighters got to be modernised with the advanced technology the multirole fighters had. The MiG 29 Fulcrum and F-14 Tomcat are two such examples. These aircraft can use “dumb” bombs for ground attack but aren’t as flexible as their modern counterparts.
This Russian-made jet was meant to hold its own against the F-15C Eagle and F-14 Tomcat. It goes fast, sees far with its radar and can use a bunch of different missiles to shoot down enemy aircraft.
One of the MiG-29’s unique features is the presence of an Infrared Search and Track system. It’s one of the few aircraft in DCS that uses it which might be appealing to you, if you know how to use it.
When it comes to air-to-ground, there’s not much to see. The aircraft provides the pilot with some guidance with using weapons such as HUD modes that help aim the bombs and some options for how to release them but nothing like the aircraft above.
The Tomcat might be one of the most famous combat aircraft ever made. Featured heavily in Top Gun, this Navy fighter was designed from the outset to fight aircraft. It goes fast, turns well and carries a lot of missiles, including the then state-of-the-art AIM-54 Phoenix.
This module is particularly interesting for two reasons. Like the Hornet, the Tomcat is capable of operating off a carrier with the help of a steam catapult and arresting wires. These are the only two aircraft to allow this kind of operation.
The other reason is the presence of a second seat. A Radar Intercept Officer (RIO) sits in the back and is responsible for managing the systems needed to use the Tomcat’s longer-reaching weapons. This translates into the possibility of having a second player in the back and the possibility of using computer-controlled crewmates. Referencing Top Gun, the RIO goes by Jester and the pilot goes by Iceman. The Tomcat is the only fighter to allow this degree of cooperation and the only one to have AI crewmates.
Flying these jets generally entails a tiny selection of air to air missiles, early and finicky radars and a more traditional cockpit than more modern jets. While the two jets in this category aren’t top of the line fighters, air combat between the two isn’t as technical as BVR between the modern fighters.
Something of a living fossil in the modern age, the MiG-21bis is older than the MiG-29 and has the avionics to match. Its instruments are primitive in comparison and it looks barely out of the Korean War. This aircraft is capable of the same missions as the MiG-29 with the exception that its hardware is older.
It can be an interesting module if you want to experience air combat from an older age but the MiG-21bis doesn’t have anything fancy. Except nukes. It comes with simulated nukes, if you want to mess around with those.
F-5E Tiger II
The F-5E was never the fastest jet of its time nor was it the most heavily armed. Still, it’s a capable fighter that can mount heat-seeking missiles and some early laser-guided bombs. As a module, it lets players experience an older style of air combat and conduct a wide range of missions.
Before pilots focused on Beyond Visual Range combat, they flew by the seat of their pants, struggling to shoot their foes down with guns or took their chances with unreliable missiles. This early era of jet combat exists in DCS thanks to the modules focused on older aircraft like the F-86 Sabre and MiG-15.
It’s worth noting that these aircraft don’t have the same variety in mission sets as their more advanced counterparts. By virtue of everything being simpler, these modules offer you less. Still if you want to explore this era of air combat, the highly detailed cockpits and flight models will be more than enough.
The Sabre is relatively simple, armed with guns and a pair of bombs for ground attack. Like the other modules, it has a well-rendered, fully interactive cockpit and realistic flight.
The MiG-15bis is roughly analogous to the F-86. It’s got about the same features, with combat being based around its guns and the module featuring a great simulation of the aircraft.
The Farmer is like a MiG-15bis except that it’s supersonic, has an enhanced ground-attack capability thanks to its rockets and air-to-air missiles.
If flying against another aircraft and pushing the envelope isn’t quite what you want, a dedicated Air-to-Ground aircraft might suit you better. DCS World has plenty of ground targets to blow up from tanks to buildings. Just like in real life, there are aircraft specialised in dropping warheads on foreheads.
This is the one with the famous gun. You know, the one that the plane was built around. There’s no denying that the A-10 is really good at destroying ground targets, something that this DCS module replicates in great detail.
It carries just about every ground attack weapon imaginable and has the systems on board to use them effectively. It’s also got a particularly in-depth simulation of managing its stores, which adds a level of realism absent in the other modules.
It also comes with an interactive Forward Air Controller on the radio. It’s not part of the aircraft but FACs are an important part of the A-10’s Close Air Support role as they are responsible for identifying targets for the planes and directing them onto the target if necessary.
The Harrier is most famous for being able to take off and land vertically, a feature most definitely included in the DCS module. It’s got a unique control scheme that allows it to hover like a helicopter shortly after flying like a conventional jet. There’s no other aircraft capable of this in DCS.
While it is capable of using some air-to-air missiles, it’s mostly focused on being able to blow up ground targets. It’s got a good array of bombs, both of the guided and unguided variety, air-to-ground missiles and rocket pods to help with this.
This variant of the Harrier has a number of features intended to help it operate at night which are included in the module, yet another unique feature this module has.
As far as planes go, the Viggen is up there as one of the stranger aircraft. Most aircraft aim to fly high and fast or low and slow. The Viggen, on the other hand, is designed to go low and fast. With a unique mixture of autopilot and ground-following radar, it is designed to fly as little as 10 meters above the ground.
It’s the only jet in DCS that flies like that and the only jet that uses its unique arsenal of Swedish weapons which handle differently than conventional weapons. It’s also able to hold its own in air-to-air combat thanks to its speed.
Each aircraft has its own quirks and characteristics that make them unique. If you don’t know what you want to do but just want to experience DCS, the Hornet will get you through most content. If you want to go in for guns on air targets but use a jet, the Sabre or MiG-15bis will probably suit you best. If you want to blow up ground targets, the A-10 is the one for you. If you can’t decide, go for the coolest looking one and hope for the best.
There are also free weekends that let you try out all the modules if you would like a demo.
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