USAF Pilot Critiques Red Flag Action
Nov 5, 2008
David A. Fulghum and Graham Warwick
Indian pilots flying Su-30MKIs are extremely professional, but they're still learning how to best fight with their new aircraft.
That opinion comes from an unidentified, senior F-15 pilot taped while briefing senior retired U.S. Air Force officers about the most recent Red Flag exercise. The video was made available online at YouTube.com.
The French pilots flying the new Dassault Rafale appeared to be there to collect electronic intelligence on the Indian aircraft, contends the USAF pilot, who wears an Air Force Weapons School graduate patch.
The French were originally going to bring the older Mirage 2000-5 until they discovered the Indians were bringing their new Su-30MKIs, the pilot says. They then switched and brought their Rafales with more sophisticated electronic surveillance equipment.
Once at Red Flag, "90 percent of the time they followed the Indians so when they took a shot or got shot" they would take a quick shot of their own and then leave," he said. "They never came to any merges," which starts the dogfighting portion of any air-to-air combat. He asserts that French pilots followed the same procedure during Desert Storm and Peace Keeping exercises. When U.S. aircrews were flying operations, the French would fly local sorties while "sucking up all the trons" to see how U.S. electronics, like radars, worked, according to the pilot.
He praised the Indians as extremely professional and said they had no training rule violations. However, they "killed a lot of friendlies" because they were tied to a Russian-made data link system that didn't allow them to see the picture of the battlefield available to everyone else. The lack of combat identification of the other aircraft caused confusion.
But the U.S. apparently isn't ignorant of the Su-30MKI's radar either.
The Su-30 electronically scanned radar is not as accurate as the U.S.-built active electronically scanned radar carried by the F-22 and some F-15s. Also, "it paints less, sees less" and is not as discriminating.
He praised the F-22 as the next great dogfighter. But he faulted the fact that it carries too few missiles and contends that the on-board cannon could be a life-saver, particularly against aircraft like the MiG-21 Bison flown by the Indians. It has a small radar cross section, as well as an Israeli-made F-16 radar and jammer. The latter makes them "almost invisible to legacy F-15C and F-16 radars" until the aerial merge or until it fires one of its Archer, active radar missiles, the U.S. pilot says.
Against the much larger RCS Su-30MKI, the F-16s and F-15s won consistently during the first three days of air-to-air combat, he continues. However, that was the result of trying to immediately go into a post-stall, thrust-vectored turn when attacked. The turn then creates massive drag and the aircraft starts sinking and losing altitude. "It starts dropping so fast you don't have to go vertical [first]. The low-speed tail slide allowed the U.S. aircraft to dive from above and "get one chance to come down to shoot," the pilot says. "You go to guns and drill his brains out." The Su-30 is jamming your missiles so...you go to guns and drill his brains out."
U.S. pilots conclude that the Su-30MKI is "not [an F-22] Raptor," he further says. "That was good for us to find out." But when the Indian pilots really learn to fight their new aircraft - "they were too anxious to go to the post-stall maneuver," he says-- the USAF pilot predicts that they would regularly defeat the F-16C Block 50 and the F-15C with conventional radar.
A final weakness in the Su-30MKI was its engine's vulnerability to foreign object damage which required them to space takeoffs a minute apart and slowed mission launches.