November 26, 2008: Eight Indian Su-30 fighters recently participated in U.S. Air Force "Red Flag" exercises in the United States (Nevada). There, they fought mock battles with U.S. F-15, F-15 and F-22 fighters, as well as some French Rafales. There were some interesting differences between how the three nations operated.
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. The Indians were not allowed to use some of their Russian avionics, to assure the Russians that NATO would not obtain secret information on how top line Russian gear operates.
U.S. and NATO pilots found that the Su-30, even the advanced Indian 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. There were several reasons for this. One was the antiquated Russian data link system that prevented pilots from getting as complete a view of the battlefield as American and French pilots had. This resulted in Su-30s shooting down friendly aircraft, as well as being more vulnerable to U.S. jets. The fancy maneuvers the Su-30 was capable of making also proved to backfire at times. Being able to quickly halt the aircraft in mid air, and move in a different direction, also meant you lost altitude, and Western fighters were often able to take advantage of this, rather than the other way around. The Su-30s also required more maintenance per flight hour, and were more susceptible to things getting sucked into the engines, and causing the sortie to be aborted.
The French Rafales seemed more interested in collecting electronic information on Indian and U.S. fighters, than in actually fighting. Older pilots remembered French fighters doing the same thing over Kuwait back in 1991.
It was also noted that cannon was not useless. While long range missiles, or even short range heat seekers, could be neutralized by countermeasures. This often enabled aircraft to get within cannon range (a few hundred meters). Indian pilots pointed out that their updated MiG-21s had these countermeasures, and were still very small aircraft (for both radar and eyeballs) and could get close enough for a conventional dogfight with cannon. Currently, F-22 pilots don't see much opportunity to ever get close enough to use their 20mm cannon. What really bugs F-22 pilots is that they don't get much real action at all, and serving with F-22 squadrons is not as popular as you would think it is.