Warplanes: Indian Su-30s In Action

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November 12,2008: U.S. pilots have had several encounters with the Indian Su-30 MKI fighters and the overall (and unofficial) reaction is a big yawn. The Indians are quite proud of their Su-30 MKIs, as they are the top of the Su-30 line. Outfitted with more powerful engines, and Western electronics, the 38 ton aircraft is a maintenance nightmare, and, well, delicate. The Su-30 MKI is a highly developed Su-27, a 33 ton aircraft designed in response to new  U.S. fighters. Chief among these was the F-15, a 31 ton, 1970s design that proved very successful. None have ever been shot down, and few aircraft it has fought have survived.

The Russians went in several directions with the Su-27/30. The main departure from the F-15 was to make the Russian design more maneuverable. This puzzled many U.S. observers, because air warfare was seen going in the direction of AWACS, jamming and long range missile engagements. Building a better dogfighter went against this trend.

In any event, the Indians, apparently at the urging of the Russians, refused to conduct joint (with the U.S. and other NATO nations) training exercises under highly realistic conditions (little jamming or AWACS use). The U.S. Air Force was not reluctant to go along with this, because many technical secrets would be revealed to the Indians (and vice versa) if the training combats were as realistic as they could be.

The eight Indian Su-30 fighters, that recently participated in U.S. Air Force "Red Flag" exercises in the United States (Nevada), were specifically ordered not to use their Russian made NO11M radar. This was expected, as the Indians are obliged to keep the technical details of this equipment secret, lest a potential enemy get a head start on figuring out how to deal with it. Allowing this radar to emit its regular signals would give counter-measures people a head start in figuring out how to deceive it. NO11M is a modern radar, which first entered service in 1993. India, and the Russians, don't want the NO11M broadcasting at a place like Nellis Air Force Base, the Nevada location of the Red Flag exercises. That's because Nellis has plenty of equipment to pick up every nuance of the NO11M broadcasting in combat mode.

 In the fifteen years the NO11M has been in service, the U.S. has probably recorded it in action, but not to the extent that this could be done at Nellis. Then again, maybe American spies got all the data they needed right from the factory. No one is talking, and the Indians, at the behest of their Russians suppliers, are not taking any chances.

Indian pilots were also not allowed to drop chaff or flares, or use some of the other electronic communications their Su-30s are equipped with. The Americans admired the skill of the Indian pilots, who were handpicked for these "Red Flag exercises, but disappointed that more realistic training (as is the case between NATO pilots) was not possible. But U.S. and NATO pilots saw enough to make them realize that the Su-30, even the MKI model, was hardly a super-fighter. F-15s and F-16s could handle it in a real war, and the F-22 would probably really clean up.

 


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