Warplanes: India versus Americans

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December 8, 2005: There have been several joint training exercises held recently between the U.S. Air Force and the Indian Air Force. The Indians have used their new, Russian designed, Su-30s (an improved model of the Su-27, which is the Russian answer to the U.S. F-15). The Indians have gone up against American F-15s and F-16s. The Indian pilots have been quite successful in these mock dogfights, and very eager to let everyone know about it.

What isn't usually included in these battle descriptions is the fact that the ground rules deliberately prevented the American pilots from winning every engagement. These days, American pilots use close in dog fighting (with heat seeking Sidewinder missiles) as a fall back tactic. The main air-to-air weapon of the U.S. Air Force is now the long range (over 50 kilometers) AMRAAM missile, and superior radar equipment. This is nothing new, the United States has been working on this tactic for nearly half a century, and in the last decade, they have finally gotten missiles, radars, tactics and pilots able to make it work consistently. For a long time, pilots were not enthusiastic about BVR (Beyond Visual Range) engagements, and the early missiles (the AIM-7 Sparrow) were not all that accurate. But after decades of trying, they finally have a winning combination with the AMRAAM and a new generation of radars and electronic gear. So when American fighter pilots go train with foreign air forces, they have to take their BVR tactics off the table, since under those conditions, the "enemy" force would not have much of a chance.

But there's also the security aspect. Other air forces also have BVR missiles (usually Russian), and the American pilots don't want to give away the electronic tricks and tactics they would use to defeat the Russian missiles, and ensure that AMRAAM would succeed. So the American pilots have to fall back on the older dog fighting tactics, which many foreign fighter pilots are good at (since they don't train much, if at all, with BVR missiles.) For the Indian Air Force, such training exercises are good because it allows them to train against F-16s (which their long time foe, Pakistan, has). For the American pilots, they get to operate against Su-30s (which China has.) For all concerned, it's a chance to fight against pilots from a different culture, who may use different, and sometimes superior, tactics and methods.

 


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