Warplanes: France and Algeria


February17, 2007: Algeria has been trying to upgrade its Air Force - the upgrade centering on purchases of modern fighters from Russia. What sort of threat might an upgraded Algerian Air Force pose to France, which is just across the Mediterranean Sea? The answer comers in comparing the primary aircraft each nation would use.

The Algerian Air Force upgrades are focused around the purchase of at least 68 aircraft ( 28 Su-30s and 40 MiG-29s). This is, in essence, an effort to replace Algeria's older high-low mix of various MiGs (the MiG-25 and MiG-23 on the high end, the MiG-21 on the low end) with a new high-low mix (the Su-30s on the high end, the MiG-29s on the low end).

The MiG-29 has been flying in the shadow of the Su-27 family of aircraft. To a degree, this is understandable. The Fulcrum has shorter range (700 kilometer combat radius as compared to 1,500 for the Su-27) and carries fewer weapons (only six hardpoints for ordnance compared to 12 for the Su-30). That said, the Fulcrum is faster (2,4425 kilometers per hour compared to 2,125 for the Flanker) and a bit cheaper. Algeria has acquired a number of MiG-29s. As many as 40 were acquired from Belarus in the late 1990s, and the deal with Russia could involve as many as seventy upgraded Fulcrums (the MiG-29SMT).

The Su-30s in Algeria are two-seat aircraft roughly comparable to the F-15E. The Su-30 has been exported to a number of countries, including Venezuela, India, China, and Malaysia. It is arguably the best fighter that the Russians have been exporting, and one of the best in the world.

The French Air Force primarily relies on two fighters of its own. The Mirage 2000 is a multi-role fighter, with a range of 1,600 kilometers and a top speed of Mach 2.2. It has nine hardpoints for about 6.5 tons of bombs, missiles, and other ordnance. France has 161 Mirage 2000Cs in service, supplemented by 86 two-seat Mirage 2000Ds optimized for attack missions.

France would also be relying upon the Rafale. The Rafale is a fifth-generation fighter with a reduced radar signature (not stealthy), a top speed of 2,130 kilometers per hour, and fourteen hardpoints that can carry 8.5 tons of bombs, missiles, and other weapons. France has order 120 Rafales so far for both the French Navy and Air Force, with plans to purchase as many as 292 overall.

One look at the quantities involved really answers the question as to whether or not the Algerian build-up is a threat to France. The short answer is that it isn't. The Algerians would be outnumbered, and facing fighters at least as good as their new MiG-29s and Su-30s, if not better in some respects. This is before the French advantages in areas like airborne early-warning aircraft (France uses variations of the E-3 and E-2) and aerial refueling come into play. In short, a modern Franco-Algerian war is one that Algeria would lose in the air, even though they would be fighting the French. - Harold C. Hutchison (haroldc.hutchison@gmail.com)


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