Friday, June 10, 2005

USAF vs. Sukhoi's Best

The United States is currently building two fifth generation fighters: the F-22 Raptor and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The features (some of which are undoubtedly classified) are a hot topic of discussion because it appears that the F-15 (our current front-line fighter) might not be able to best the latest our possible opponents have to offer.

Cope India
It appears that in the 2004 Cope India exercises, the Indian Air Force (IAF) taught the USAF that it can't afford to rest on its laurels. According to Global Security's Cope India page, the American and Indian air forces conducted
Dissimilar Air Combat Training, otherwise known as DACT [which] is simulated combat flying between two different types of aircraft.
The DACT included our fourth generation fighters (specifically F-15C Eagles), which didn't perform as well as one might hope against IAF fighters. The specific IAF aircraft participating, according to Global Security, were the Mirage 2000, MiG-21, MiG-27 and SU-30. Of those, the Sukhoi fighter is the one keeping American pundits up at night.
According to the captain coordinating the exercise (quoted in this article),
The U.S. Air Force has never flown with or against the SU-30 Flanker before.
For further discussion of these exercises, see these posts from Lawyers, Guns & Money here and here

Flanker Family of Fighters
Some background information on Sukhoi's fighters is in order. The Flanker family of fighters has numerous variations (enough to be quite confusing, see here for a dated and not necessarily authoritative account of all the variants of the Flanker), but can be divided into three main categories:
Flanker (Su-27, Su-30)
This fighter was first flown in 1977 and designated the T-10. The Super Flanker and Berkut are updated versions of the same basic design. Currently, Russia, China, India, and other assorted countries including Ethiopia fly the Su-27.
Super Flanker (Su-37)
The key improvement over the Flanker is "The aircraft's 3-D thrust vectoring engine nozzles allow for increased maneuverability in combat" according to Wikipedia's entry on the Su-37.
Berkut (Su-47)
The Berkut is new enough that not much is known about it. It is not currently in service in any country.

From David Shambaugh's Modernizing China's Military comes some good news on this front:
Chinese pilots, including those flying the Su-27, receive less than 100 hours of air time per year, rarely practice with live ammunition or in close combat, and almost never fly in bad weather conditions. (265)
It seems this isn't a crisis just yet, but it is clearly an issue worth watching. Expect continuing discussion of this and related issues here at MeiZhongTai.