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Never Bring A Knife To A Gun Fight
by James Dunnigan
November 17, 2009

Russia is very confident that their Su-27/30 aircraft is the best dog-fighting (close range) combat aircraft on the planet. The Su-27 (and the improved version, the Su-30) was designed for maximum maneuverability. There have been several mock battles between Su-27/30 and American (F-15, mainly) aircraft, and the Russian planes always did well during close range battles that depended on maximum maneuverability. But the U.S. has, over the last few decades, shifted their aerial combat tactics from close range, to long range, tactics. Give the American advantages in stealth, electronic warfare and missile quality, this is believed to give U.S. aircraft an edge.

Five years ago, U.S. Air Force F-15s and Indian Air Force Su-30s got together and held some combat exercises. The mock battles were a draw. The radars of the F-15 and Su-30 enabled each aircraft to detect each other at about the same time. For purposes of the exercise, it was assumed that the American AMRAAM and Indian (Russian made) AA-10 missiles had similar hit characteristics. The American pilots had little to say about their experiences at the exercise, apparently having been ordered to keep quiet. The Indians, however, began to speculate that the Americans were deliberately holding back. One very important element left out of these simulated battles was the use of electronic countermeasures. The Indians feel that the Americans were just trying to get some experience with the Su-30, which is also the most advanced aircraft in the Chinese air force.

The Indian Su-30 has better electronics than the Chinese or Russian models. The Indians insisted on installing Western fire control and computer equipment. The Russian radars are known to have good range and raw power, but poor fire control equipment (forcing the Russian pilots to work harder to get the same results than a pilot using Western fire control gear.) Another unknown was the actual combat performance of the AA-10 or AA-12 (again, a Soviet response to the AMRAAM.) The AMRAAM has been used in combat, and has a lot more actual use than the AA-10 or AA-12. Still, a 1:1 exchange rate is not what the U.S. Air Force is looking for, having long been accustomed to 1:5 or 1:10 or more kill ratios. Others see the results of the exercise as another portion of the air force effort to get more money to build more F-22s. Along these lines, the air force also pointed out the superior dog fighting capability of the highly maneuverable Su-30, which is equipped with a look and shoot helmet for the pilot and highly maneuverable heat-seeking missiles.


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