Unless you are a real military nerd, you probably have never heard of the Su-30 family of warplanes (the number of variants in this family of fighters can get confusing, but they are all pretty similar). But if an American fighter plane is ever shot down by a hostile jet in the near future, it will probably be a Su variant that does it.
This is not just the opinion of an armchair general. It is also based on the results of the US Air Forces own studies according to this quote from Aviation Week and Space Technology…
THE SCENARIO in which the Su-30 “always” beats the F-15 involves the Sukhoi taking a shot with a BVR missile (like the AA-12 Adder) and then “turning into the clutter notch of the F-15’s radar,” the Air Force official said. Getting into the clutter notch where the Doppler radar is ineffective involves making a descending, right-angle turn to drop below the approaching F-15 while reducing the Su-30’s relative forward speed close to zero. This is a 20-year-old air combat tactic, but the Russian fighter’s maneuverability, ability to dump speed quickly and then rapidly regain acceleration allow it to execute the tactic with great effectiveness, observers said.
If the maneuver is flown correctly, the Su-30 is invisible to the F-15’s Doppler radar–which depends on movement of its targets–until the U.S. fighter gets to within range of the AA-11 Archer infrared missile. The AA-11 has a high-off-boresight capability and is used in combination with a helmet-mounted sight and a modern high-speed processor that rapidly spits out the target solution.
Positioned below the F-15, the Su-30 then uses its passive infrared sensor to frame the U.S. fighter against the sky with no background clutter. The Russian fighter then takes its second shot, this time with the IR missile, and accelerates out of danger.
“It works in the simulator every time,” the Air Force official said. However, he did point out that U.S. pilots are flying both aircraft in the tests. Few countries maintain a pilot corps with the air-to-air combat skills needed to fly these scenarios, said an aerospace industry official involved in stealth fighter programs.
Computer simulations are not the only thing that leads people to believe that Su-30’s could shoot down current American war planes. Recent exercises against the India’s Air Forces have lead to the same conclusion. From an article in Inside the Air Force…
i>Although service officials have been reluctant to detail how the Indians performed against the six F-15Cs from the 3rd Wing that participated in Cope India, Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-CA) said in a Feb. 26 House Appropriations defense subcommittee hearing that U.S. F-15Cs were defeated more than 90 percent of the time in direct combat exercises against the IAF.
Officials from the 3rd Wing at Elmendorf did not provide specifics about how their aircraft fared, but said the experience is causing the service to reevaluate the way it trains its pilots for air-to-air operations.
“What happened to us was it looks like our red air training might not be as good because the adversaries are better than we thought,” Snodgrass said. “And in the case of the Indian Air Force both their training and some of their equipment was better than we anticipated.”
“Red air” refers to the way the Air Force simulates enemy capability in air combat training. Because the service has assumed for years that its fighters are more capable than enemy aircraft, the U.S. pilots that simulate the enemy, known as “red” forces, in air combat training are required to operate under rules that constrain their combat capability.
“We have always believed that our technology was superior to everyone else’s technology, that we would fight a somewhat inferior adversary, so we have had to supply a simulated adversary from our own resources; we call that ‘red air,’” Snodgrass said.
The key to the Su-30 family’s success has been Mikhail Simonov’s focus on super maneuverability. To learn about this concept you should read this interview with Mr. Simonov. Since he is in charge of the Su program, you can’t expect him to be objective. But given the success of his planes, it is worth reading. In the interview Simonov explains such things as how super maneuverability can make a plan invisible to radar for a short space of time and how super maneuverability helps with getting into firing position.
Why is it worth learning about the Su-30 family of fighters?
This quote from Global Security says it all….
i>On 30 July 2007 the Jerusalem Post reported that Iran was negotiating with Russia to buy 250 Sukhoi Su-30 “Flanker” fighter-bombers. Israeli defense officials were investigating the potential Iran-Russia deal, in which Iran would pay $1 billion a dozen squadrons’ worth of the jets. Iran would also buy 20 Ilyushin Il-78 Midas tankers that could extend the fighters’ range as part of the deal. The move was seen as a response to the new American plans to sell billions of dollars’ worth of weapons to potential Iranian adversaries in the Middle East – Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel. This report came soon after other deals to sell advanced Su-27 and Su-30 combat fighters to Indonesia, Malaysia and Venezuela.
And of course, India (which puts Israeli electronics in their Su -30s), China (which makes them under licenses), Algeria, and a number of states that use to be part of the former Soviet Union also fly these planes. The fact that an increasing number of countries are flying the Su-30s is one of the main reasons that US Air force feels that the F-22 is so critical to future America air superiority. I imagine that some time in the future we will find out if the F-22 has any greater success against the Su-30 family then the F-15 has had. After all, the developers of the Su-30 are not sitting on their hands.
If you are the type of person who prefers visual information to the written word, watch the u-tube clip below of a Venezuelan Su-30 going through its paces. Without doing at least some reading on the SU-30 family, I don’t think that you will recognize the maneuvers that you are seeing (especially since the camera zooms in so much that it is hard to keep your sense of perspective). But it should still give you some idea of why the Su-30 family are the most maneuverable fighter planes in the world.
Edit: Old clip was taken down by whoever put it up. Below are two new clips.
The Cobra maneuver from far enough back that can see what it looks like.
and a longer clip showing all the same maneuvers as the old clip except that that camera is zoomed in so much it is harder to understand what the plane is doing.