F-16 outperformed by Russian aircraft!

Daily Times, November 29 2005
Tuesday, November 29, 2005
F-16 outperformed by Russian aircraft
By Khalid Hasan

WASHINGTON: Pakistan may like to think twice about acquiring F-16s following reports that in the recently concluded joint US-Indian air force exercises, the much-vaunted aircraft did not come out the winner in its “encounters” with Indian Sukhoi-30 MKIs.

The exercises had mixed teams of Indian and American pilots on both sides, according to a report on Monday in the Christian Science Monitor, and observers say that in a surprising number of encounters - particularly between the American F-16s and the Indian Sukhoi-30 MKIs - the Indian pilots came out the winners. “Since the cold war, there has been the general assumption that India is a third-world country with Soviet technology, and wherever the Soviet-supported equipment went, it didn’t perform well,” says Jasjit Singh, director of the Centre for Air Power Studies in New Delhi. “That myth has been blown out by the results” of these air exercises.

The Monitor report filed from New Delhi says, “But there are some signs that America’s premier fighter jet, the F-16 Fighting Falcon, is losing ground to the growing sophistication of Russian-made fighter planes, and that the US should be more wary about presuming global air superiority - the linchpin of its military might. ‘The Sukhoi is a ... better plane than the F-16,’ says Vinod Patney, a retired Indian Air Force marshal, and former vice chief of air staff. ‘But we’re not talking about a single aircraft. We’re talking about the overall infrastructure, the command and control systems, the radar on the ground and in the air, the technical crew on the ground, and how do you maximise that infrastructure. This is where the learning curve takes place.’”

While Indian bloggers are generally ecstatic about the performance of the Indian pilots against the American aircraft, an American pilot who participated in the exercise expressed disgust over triumphant Indian comments, pointing out that the point of the exercise was to learn and “for two weeks of training, both sides got more out of their training than they probably would in two months”.

The Monitor report quotes military experts who say that the joint exercises occurred at a time when America’s fighter jet prowess is slipping. Since the US victories in the first Gulf War, a war dependent largely on air power, the Russians and French have improved the aviation electronics or avionics and weapons capabilities of their Sukhoi and Mirage 2000 fighter aircraft. These improvements have given countries like India, which use the Sukhois and Mirages, a rough parity with US fighter planes like the F-16 and F-15C. China, too, now has 400 late-model Sukhois.

The report notes that “while the Indian Air Force designed the exercises to India’s advantage - forcing pilots to fight ‘within visual range’ rather than using America’s highly advanced ‘beyond visual range’ sensing equipment - both observers and participants admit that Indian aircraft and personnel performed much better than expected”. The Su-30 MKI “is an amazing jet that has a lot of manoeuvrability,” Capt Martin Mentch told an Air Force publication, AFPN. Manoeuvrability is key for missions of visual air combat. If it turns out the US Air Force did, in fact, “get their clocks cleaned,” it will have been the second time. In Cope India 2004, an air combat exercise that took place near the Indian city of Gwalior, US F-15s were eliminated in multiple exercises against Indian late-model MiG-21 Fishbeds as fighter escorts and MiG-27 Floggers. In the 2005 exercises in Kalaikundi air base near Calcutta, Americans were “most impressed” by the MiG-21 Bisons and the Su-30 MKIs.

Maj Mark A. Snowden, the 3rd Wing’s chief of air-to-air tactics and a participant in Cope India 2004, admitted that the US Air Force underestimated the Indians. “The outcome of the (2004) exercise boils down to (the fact that) they ran tactics that were more advanced than we expected,” he told Aviation Week last year. “They had done some training with the French that we knew about, but we did not expect them to be a very well-trained air force. That was silly.”

One USAF controller working aboard an AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System) plane told reporters at Kalaikundi Air Base that he was impressed by the speed in which Indian pilots responded to target assignments given to them by AWACS. The AWACS, while operated by Americans, was acting as a neutral party, feeding target assignments to both Indian and American pilots during the exercise. In most cases, the Indians responded to target assignments faster than the American pilots did – “a surprising fact, given that this was the first time Indian pilots had used the American AWACS capability”.

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