When Typhoon and Su-30MKi Had a Dog Fight, Both Were Surprised

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RAF Typhoon and IAF Su-30MKi during Indradhanush, RAF pic

In this era of cross-border training ops and military exercises, men and machines of deep contrasts pit against each other in real war like scenarios. They act as a platform for friendly nations to exchange strategies and tactics (less volatile ones) so as to develop a mutual ‘Military’ understanding.

One such exercise is the famed IndraDhanush. An India-UK bilateral ‘war-game’ focuses on developing military exchange between the two nation’s air forces. These games put the machines and the people behind these machines in a series of missions to develop co-operation in between. We, however are interested in one such IndraDhanush exercise which saw face-offs of two birds, over the English skies, and that too a classic 1-on-1 fight.

IAF SU-30MkI with RAF Typhoon and F3Tornado, during Indradhanush-2007, credits to respective owners

SU-30MKi v/s Eurofighter Typhoon

2007 IndraDhanush Exercise. Indian Air Force is fielding its sharpest teeth in its arsenal against UK’s best, the Eurofighter Typhoon. The skies over UK witnessed a rare moment as it was the first time SU-30MKI was flying over European skies (with consent from the host, J). Aviation spotters and geeks were in for a treat.

The exercise occurred over RAF base of Waddington. The fighter-games staretd off with a series of 1-on-1 sorties, and concluded with a complex 6-vs-6 aerial combat game. For which the Indians fielded their 4 Su-30MkIs flown in from Lohegaon AFB (No.30 ‘Rhino’ Sqdr.). The British showcased a variety of fighters comprising of 4 F3 Tornadoes, 2 Typhoons and 2 GR9 Sea Harriers of the Royal Navy.

After the much anticipated, 1 v/s 1 sortie or the ‘Dogfight’ concluded, Indian Ministry of Defence released a press note on the historical clash over the skies (It was the first time SU-30MkI was involved in an aerial battle against the Typhoon). Before getting into the details of the press note, let us go through both bird’s salient features.

IAF SU-30MkI

IAF SU-30Mki taking off from RAF base of Coningsby. Pic: Royal Air Force

Heavy, long range, twin-engined, multi-role, air-superiority fighter. Mainstay of IAF’s fighter arsenal. One of the most agile and manoeuvrable fighters flying, thanks to its customised canards and full TVC (Thrust Vector Controlling). Equipped with a Russian 30mm GSh-30-1 gun.

RAF Eurofighter Typhoon

A RAF Typhoon clicked during Indradhanush, pic:RAF

Medium range, twin-engined, multi-role, air-superiority fighter. Forms a big part of Royal Air Force’s attack fighter arsenal. Rated the second best air-superiority fighter by an UK based study (DERA). Highly agile, and also sports canards like Su-30, but lacks the capability of TVC. Equipped with Mauser BK-27. And both fighters are classed as Gen 4++.

So let’s get down to the scenario.

During the 2007 Exercise, RAF pilots were very much impressed, but not surprised, as they said that they had anticipated Su-30’s ability in exceptional maneuvering. The IAF pilots too were also impressed by Typhoon’s agility. The press release from the MoD read,

The operational part of the ‘Exercise Indradhanush-2007’ began with a series of 1 vs 1 air combat sorties… The RAF pilots were candid in their admission of the Su-30 MKI’s observed superior manoeuvring in the air, just as they had studied, prepared and anticipated. The IAF pilots on their part were also visibly impressed by the Typhoon’s agility in the air.”

A key point to be noted is that India fielded relatively young –to-middle aviators in the exercise. On the other hand RAF had some very experienced pilots, some of them being seasoned performance evaluators.

       “While it does not imply to say that the 1 vs 1 air combat sorties were meant for backslapping each other, it may be understood that in today’s aerial combat scenarios of ‘beyond visual range’ (BVR) capabilities of air platforms, it is highly unlikely that any of the modern-day fighters will ever get into a situation that warrants extreme close air combat, as in the situation simulated in the 1 vs 1 sorties. With a ‘kill’ criterion of front-gun ranges being mostly under 1000 meters and a visual tracking envelope behind the target for only up to a 60-degree cone mostly for most fighter aircraft of the world, the unlikely scenario gets more exemplified.

       “But the irony also lies in the fact that while there is a number of counter and counter-counter measures to make the modern missiles with claims of inescapable parameters redundant by using ‘chaff’ and other active/passive measures, a ‘gun kill’ is invariably a most certain kill. The pilots invariably begin honing their tracking and combat skills under such close combat situations.”

Whoever was behind this press note knows a thing or two about aerial combat. The above note describes some valid points regarding modern aerial combat.

Artist’s impression of Typhoon firing METEOR

In a BVR scenario, Typhoons has the upper hand. Its Euroradar CAPTOR has higher detection range than its Russian counterpart IRBIS-E. Its reduced RCS compared to Su-30 will paint a small picture in the Su-30’s radar. Sum up the MBDA Meteor BVRAAM missile, which has a higher range than the Russian R-77/AA-12 missile. Su-30MkI can do some evasive actions with its higher speed (4779kmph against 4248kmph).

The supercruise ability of EF2000 engine is purely coincidence as the makers never put forward it as a design ‘goal’. In CAS (Close Air Support) and HVA (High Value Asset) protection roles, fighters would be in subsonic speeds and only for killer groups does supercruise comes into play.

MKi’s Russian version SU-30SM dropping flares

However even in the age of ultra modern ‘seeker’ missiles, counter measures like ‘chaff, flares and jammer suites’ and hands of a mighty good pilot could mean bye-bye to the BVR combat scenarios.

Even in shorter missile ranges, both the fighters could survive against each other in a battle. Su-30’s R-11 short range AA missiles, and, canards and TVC would allow for better evasive maneuvers while the avionics and short range ASRAAM AA-11 would save the day for Typhoon.

The interesting one is the dogfight. If caught in a close quarter aerial battle, both fighters are at the mercy of respective handlers. It depends upon who has the wit and strategy to be a step ahead of his/her enemy, and that would seal the deal for them. However, scrutinizing both aircrafts for their agility, SU-30MKi definitely is an inch ahead of its European counterpart. With its 3D thrust vectoring and canards and a sturdy airframe, it could be a deadly battle for the Typhoon, but all in the hands of a mighty good pilot. It comes down to the pilot’s skill set in countering his/her enemy’s moves and staying right behind the enemy’s trails and getting that decisive “kill shot”, firing the cannons onboard. The gun shot is the only thing the enemy can’t anticipate and if done right, would confirm the kill.

When pitting a fighter against each other it would be foolish to compare just the technical parameters and not work out a combat situation and the roles they are assigned to. The most important pint to be taken into account while doing it should be-“the machine is only good as its pilot”.

Conflicting claims have arisen about the ‘winners’ of the Indradhanush dogfight. Official results are still kept under wraps but if sources are to be believed , Indians shook the British.

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