Flying a myth: The Su-30MKI

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Flying a myth: The Su-30MKI
Flying a myth: The Su-30MKI

Disclaimer: This article doesn’t contain or discusses the capabilities of Indian Air Force Dassault Rafale or Pakistan Air Force J-10C nor JF-17 Thunder Block-3.

In the history of aerial warfare, there have always been two sides, the blue side and the red side. Both these sides fight each other to gain aerial superiority, in order to gain an upper hand in any ongoing conflict. It is not necessary that both sides are equally strong. While one may have quantitative edge, the other might have qualitative and training edge. A professional air force is that which perceives the threat and train accordingly, while learning from its mistakes. While going through the history of rivalry in the arena of air combat, one rivalry which started in 1947 and is still going on strong is the one between the Pakistan Air force and the Indian Air force. It takes guts and lots of character, with a small arsenal and meager resources, to stand tall in front of the world’s fifth largest air force.

PAF vs IAF BVR Capabilities

The main threat which comes from the Su-30MKI in BVR combat is in the form of R-77 Adder missiles. The missile uses a multi-function doppler-monopulse active radar seeker. The radar features two modes of operation, over short distances, the missile will launch in an active “fire and forget” mode. Over longer distances the missile is controlled by an inertial auto pilot with occasional encoded data link updates from the launch aircraft’s radar on changes in spatial position or G of the target. As the missile comes within 20 km (12.42 mi) of its target, the missile switches to its active radar mode. The host radar system maintains computed target information in case the target breaks the missile’s lock-on. If the seeker is jammed, it switches automatically to a passive mode and homes on the source of jamming. Fired against high-altitude non-maneuvering targets approaching head-on, the R-77RVV-AE has a range of 100 km (62 mi), with the seeker locking on at around 15 km (9.3 mi), and a maximum speed of Mach 4 (3,045 mph (4,900 km/h)). At short range, it can engage targets maneuvering at up to 12g. The basic version of this missile is said to have a maximum range of 90 km (55 mi). The missile can also be used from internal carriages where the control fins and surfaces will fold flat until it is catapulted clear of the aircraft for motor ignition.

Here would come a factor that which missile is better, the IAF R-77 or the PAF AIM-120C. The R-77’s main advantage over the AIM-120C is in range and maneuverability. Russians have many weapon systems which are superior in many categories, speed, lethality, durability, rough usage etc. But problem is US weapon systems are combat proven. Russian weapons are not combat proven like the US weapon systems, and AIM-120 has more combat kills then Russian AAM missiles. The superior speed, range or multi- seeker capability does not make R-77 a better weapon, as the main factor making BVR missiles is the electronics, in which US has a superior infrastructure

Other problems stem from either very little actual combat information or in the cases of the AIM-120 being many different variants and the latest versions have their test ranges undisclosed to maintain a bit of secrecy.

The draw-backs of R-77 are basically its design where the lattice control surfaces provide higher maneuverability for short periods without stalling and up to 12g but more lift = more drag therefore at higher Mach number around 3+ the R-77 will tend to lose more energy due to heavier structure and drag. Though it would have a lot more initial maneuverability compared to an AIM but at longer ranges it will bleed more, therefore the heavier weight for compensation. AIM has a lofted profile which gives the seeker better performance because it attacks a target from top thus giving it more RCS to lock on to whereas R-77 lacks that. The nose cone heating problem with the R-77 is either a reality or a fad no one knows. Though the design bureau claims that 3 years of research on the bearing support for the lattice structure which reduces the flow separation at high AOA it is more maneuverable by providing more lift and low drag. If the lift is high and a heavier body at high Mach number excessive g turns would bleed not only energy due to higher drag also create excessive heat but then it cannot be known for sure if the nose cone experiences problems because its aerodynamically smoother part of the missile section and should allow for proper flow separation around it. It has to be understood that R-77 is a very recent missile comparatively and can still have some glitches but in all represent best what Russia can offer recently.

After AIM-120C, PAF fields the SD-10 (PL-12) medium range missiles to counter the Su-30MKI. The new PL-12 active guided air-launched anti-aircraft missile uses the radar and data link from the R-77, combined with a Chinese missile motor. Resulting combination has a greater range than the Russian missile, and a fire-and-forget active guidance (from R-77) capability comparable to the modern AIM-120C.

The PL-12 is outwardly very similar to the US-designed AIM-120 AMRAAM. The two share a comparable aerodynamic configuration, although the PL-12 is a little longer, wider and heavier than the AMRAAM.

The PL-12 has four engagement modes. To take the greatest advantage of its maximum range it will use a mix of command guidance (via a datalink) plus its own inertial guidance before entering the active radar terminal guidance phase. The missile can also be launched to a pre-selected point, using its strap-down inertial system, before switching on its own seeker for a terminal search. Over short ranges the missile can be launched in a ‘fire-and-forget’ mode using its own active seeker from the outset. Finally, the PL-12 has a ‘home-on-jam’ mode that allows it to passively track and engage an emitting target, without ever using its own active radar or radar from the launch aircraft. This capability is the foundation on which the capability of anti-radiation missile is developed. The seeker is connected to a digital flight control system that uses signal processing techniques to track a target. The missile’s warhead is linked to a laser proximity fuse.

The PL-12 is claimed to have an operational ceiling of at least 21 km, with a maximum effective range of 100 km and a minimum engagement range of 1,000 m. The missile has a 38+ g maneuvering limit and, according to CATIC, it has been tested for a 100-hour captive ‘live flight’ life.

Countering the Su-30MKI

Countering the Su-30MKI needs a positive and aggressive approach by the opposing pilots. No doubt that the MKI has unmatched flight characteristics, but it is not invincible.

Being aggressive is a pre requisite to be a PAF pilot. Whenever a pilot flies in an aerial engagement, he wins half the fight if his approach is positive and aggressive, no matter how superior the opponent is. If the pilot flies in half-heartedly, hoping for a miracle, he is most likely to be shot down. Coming back to counter the Su-30MKI, first we have to list down its main advantages over PAF fighters.

  • First look/First shoot advantage due to the powerful combination of NIIP NO11M Bars Radar and the R-77 BVR Missile.
  • Better kill prospects in short range combat due to R-73/Python-5 coupled with HMS.
  • Better dog fighter due to super maneuverability due to Thrust Vector Control capability.

PAF interceptors constantly trains to counter the Su-30MKI, as it is their belief that if they can counter the MKI, then they can counter any aircraft which the IAF will field against them.

Primary PAF fighters optimized to take on against the MKI are:

  1. F-16C Block-52+
  2. F-16 EMLU
  3. JF-17 Thunder
  4. F-7PG

F-16 is the natural choice to take on against the Flanker, because it has the perfect weapons and avionics’ suite. F-16A Block-15 is also in the process of receiving similar capabilities as the aircraft are currently in process of receiving MLU-III upgrades. The AN/APG-68 V9 Radar can pick the Su-30MKI at a range of 120 km under a dense hostile environment. However, while flying as an air defense fighter, the Su-30MKI would be easily picked up by the Pakistani land based and aerial based radars and live picture of the battlefield can be relayed to the F-16s via Link-16 datalink systems. Thus, the Su-30’s first look advantage can be nullified if PAF utilizes its AEW&C system. The primary BVR weapon for the F-16s is the AIM-120C5 AMRAAM.

JF-17 Thunder ranks after F-16 as an interceptor in PAF. JF-17 was tailored to meet the requirements of the PAF. It possess’ the capabilities of engaging in offensive aerial combat missions as well can defend itself against the top of the line fighters by IAF. It can manage up to 40 targets, monitor up to 10 of them and simultaneously fire on two BVR targets. The detection range for Su-30MKI is 110 km (100 km in look-down mode). Armed with SD-10 BVR missiles, it can engage the Su-30MKI tactfully.

F-7PG is the current mainstay of PAF. Though highly inferior as compared to the Su-30MKI, these fighters account for their small RCS, and high maneuverability to counter the MKI. Armed with a combination of SD-10 and AIM-9L Sidewinders, the F-7PG can engage targets effectively from the range of 60 km, can simultaneously track 8 targets and engage one target a single time. But using fire and forget missiles, it can rapidly engage 4 aircraft within 6 seconds gaining advantage in air combat. The F-7s strictly follow the ‘In-Close, Stay-Close, and Kill-Close strategy’, which is their only chance to defeat the new generation of all-aspect, high-off-boresight missiles such as the R-73, Python 5, and MICA-IR. Obviously one has to survive the transit from beyond visual range (BVR), to within visual range (WVR), to inside of minimum range (This can only be possible using full support from AWACS). Once there the F-7s 30mm twin barreled gun system is capable of all-aspect, high crossing angle kills at ranges inside of 1500 feet.

Utilizing the information regarding the Su-30MKI and keeping its capability in mind, we will now simulate the Su-30MKI against PAF fighters in a simulated aerial engagement.

Wargaming of Pakistan Air Force against Su-30MKI

Both PAF and IAF possess technology for reliable, accurate, and effective BVR combat. Missile and radar electronics are robust and lethal. The real problem comes with tactics, command and control, and positive identification.

Mindset before entering in the arena

Let’s take a look at the mechanics of a BVR engagement. All PAF pilots need to follow a six-point formula before challenging a Su-30MKI in the air.

  • Know how to use your radar effectively to detect and track targets.
  • Know your enemy and their capability.
  • Know your weapon envelopes and those of your opponents.
  • Use all the tools at your disposal AWACS, RWR etc.
  • Always assume the bandit carries several rounds of his best weapons.
  • BE AGGRESSIVE!

The standard formation employed by PAF pilots is ‘Fingertip’. Distances will range from 50’ minimum to 200’ max wingtip clearance. Each flight position has specific assigned in-route and combat duties & responsibilities. Flight lead can change these as deemed necessary/when required, but the following are the standard:

  • Lookout: #1 Front Quarter, #2 Left, #3 Right, #4 Rear.
  • Radar: #1 primary for initial engagement looks, #3 backup.
  • Radar Scans: #1 normal, #2 low, #3 normal, #4 high.
  • Radio/AWACS: #2.
  • Navigation: #3 backup lead, be aware of navigation status, plans and issues at all times.
  • TWS/RWR: #3.
  • Escape Routes: #4 is primary, #2 backup.

The basic idea when flying a BVR fight is to maximize our distance from the target aircraft (locked) when the missile goes automatons while minimizing the enemy’s distance from our aircraft, along with keeping our range from the enemy aircraft where a drag maneuver can be successfully done at its maximum. We use the term “drag” for the turn and run scenario, and it can work very well in a multi-plane engagement as the bandit tends to go “fangs out” when he sees this.

The first part of a BVR engagement involves detection. Once detected, the pilot will resolve the targets ID. With a positive ID he will employ weapons in such a manner as to kill without getting killed. The main goal is to utilize the BVR capabilities of the aircraft to kill the enemy before entering the classic “furball” once inside the visual arena.

Since the main objectives of BVR combat is to kill the opponent in such a way that the bad guy does not even know what hit him. PAF have this capability, but it takes training and discipline to make it work. There are things to consider during each phase of the process. Success will depend on the ability to understand some basics about geometry, radar, and missile capability. For ease of explanation, we will look at three phases of a successful BVR air-to-air engagement.

Detection

One of the really huge problems with BVR combat is how to identify friend from foe. Shooting down friendly aircraft is something to be avoided at all costs. There are many layers of complexity involved in making sure one must kill the bad guy — and not his wingman. Tactics and procedures help to minimize the threat, and electronics back up the tactics. The use of IFF (Identification Friend or Foe) is used to ID targets. Also, geographical coordinates and flight patterns can be used to distinguish good from bad. IFF is nothing more than a transponder that is interrogated and replies with a specific code. If the code is correct, it’s a friendly. If not, lock and load. Most of the time there will be very descriptive Rules of Engagement (ROE). The ROE will drive the type of engagements. There has historically been very little true actual hostile BVR air-to-air at all. Most of this has taken place as small engagements with few aircraft. That won’t change in the near future.

Depending on the mission, there are many ways to detect a potential target. It could be as simple as a dot on the scope, or as complicated as a data linked target on the situation displays MFDs provided by ground or airborne assets hundreds of miles away. Utilizing the radar to find and track a target routinely is only done with a lot of practice. A pilot has to be extremely proficient in the expert use of the radar and all its capabilities. Proper employment of the radar will yield a picture of the enemy threat. Targeting is done by the individual flight, based on threat assessment or by AWACS or ground controlled radar.

First and foremost is how the pilot go about employing a weapon to kill this target without getting killed. There are a lot of unknowns in air combat. Many times, a pilot must give his best guess using experience and the assets available to make decisions about how it’s going. No matter how it’s done, at some point he will have to use his radar to get some info on the potential target. Doing this may alert the enemy and it may not, but it’s a chance he must take. Radar warning gear will tell the pilot if he is being probed or locked. The bad guy may have this information also. Once the pilot uses his radar to get this information, he must assume the foe is alerted. Initial detection should build a picture of what is going on. IFF and communication with AWACS or data link will confirm whether or not our “bogey” is hostile. Once determined, an intercept is desired, the pilot set up geometry to enable his weapons to be employed as fast as possible.

Prosecution

Once the decision has been made to destroy the target, the pilot will move into the prosecution phase. A lot will depend on the range at detection and the target actions. What kind of aircraft is it? What type weapons is he carrying? All good questions and the fighter must assume the worst and plan on it.

Two things the pilot must do to improve against the odds are climbing and accelerating. Climbing to a higher altitude will allow his missile to fly farther. Utilizing kinetic energy (missile flying downhill) and thinner colder atmosphere will allow the missile its maximum range capability. Range will vary dramatically as the aircraft change altitudes. A missile capable of a 40-mile kill at high altitudes may be hard pressed to make it to 20 miles at lower altitudes. Accelerating gives the missile that much more kinetic energy at the start of its flight enhancing its range. Any similar move by enemy will bring him in our high-level SAM range.

Let us suppose that we are flying a combat air patrol during any red alert situation. There are three possible scenarios. First (and most desirable) the bandit continues on with no apparent action to counter our moves. Second, he turns and runs away! This may be just fine, as we will have denied the enemy the use of that airspace at that time. This may even be our mission and doing so without firing a shot is optimum. Third, he points his nose at us and turns on his high-powered radar to lock us up!

If the target runs away, we prosecute until we have successfully denied enemy use of the airspace for however long we need to. Mission accomplished. We remain on station until we need to do it again or we get relieved. PAF F-16s have conducted this type of interception in December 2008 against IAF Su-30MKI and Mirage-2000H, where both the bogies turned tail and returned back to their own airspace.

In the situation where no response is noted, we press into a shot, or make him run prior to that. If you get to weapon release without a response, you will likely win the engagement barring any unfortunate failures. Unless your opponent is really lucky, he will die before he can get a missile in the air at you. Most kills even in the visual arena occur in this fashion with the foe not knowing what hit them.

Our third choice becomes the main challenge for us. If you can’t get away with surprise and you have the situational awareness to continue to a missile shot, expect that your opponent will too. Your radar warning gear should be turned on and jamming used as conditions and equipment permit. You will likely expect the same thing to be used against you. For most of our scenarios you can expect the Indian aircraft will get a shot off first. Most of the ranges for these weapons are greater than western types and an experienced opponent will use this advantage. At this point our prosecution phase has usually wound up with the two fighters nose on to each other and accelerating. Having an idea about when a foe can fire will help determine what you do in the final phases of an engagement.

While the miles count down, we monitor our displays and shoot our first missile at maximum range. At this point we then do a very high G turn to the left or right to put the radar target at the edge of our scope. We call this a crank, or check turn. This immediately causes the opponent’s missile to have to fly farther while our missile heads straight at him. This is also called an “F-pole” maneuver. If you’re lucky, and there is no missile headed at you, you have a big advantage.

He most likely now knows a missile is headed his way and must do something to avoid taking it in the face. He will have to jink hard and employ countermeasures to shake your missile. Its likely he will be successful as at maximum range your missile won’t have a lot of maneuvering capability left to stay with him. It’s important to understand how missiles work at this point. Just because you get a “shoot” cue at max range, doesn’t mean you’re going to kill your opponent. All a shoot cue means is the missile can make the range to hit the target if NOTHING changes. If the target jinks or maneuvers the missile has to also make the intercept.

This maneuvering uses energy and reduces its available G at intercept and reduces its range at the same time. The aircraft getting the first shot has a big advantage for obvious reasons. A missile has a motor that burns very quickly and then stops very soon after launch. Once the acceleration phase ends the missile is coasting to the target. The farther out it is, the slower it will be when it reaches the target.

There is nothing wrong with using two missiles to kill an opponent. It’s a good technique to use against an opponent that has a longer-range weapon. Disciplined pilots will hold a missile inside of max range as the closer you get the higher the odds of a kill go up. It’s called probability of kill. Closer shots yield higher energy/available G at intercept. Throwing a missile out at max range will cause an opponent to take his nose off of you and destroy his energy state trying to defeat your incoming missile. He may even lose radar contact with you. We term this “wasted” missile a “spoiler” meaning it is likely not going to hit, but it forces the bogey to react and defend against it as I mentioned above. It “spoils” his game plan.

The Kill

Let’s go back to our crank maneuver. We likely did this around 20 – 25 miles (longer if at high altitudes) and maintained our energy. We watch the missile time of flight and support it with radar energy as long as we need to. Russian weapons need to be supported longer usually and the ability to shoot multiples is not as good as in western aircraft. Supporting a missile means nothing more than maintaining a radar lock so the missile can get critical real-time information on what the target is doing. Missiles like the AMRAAM can be fired in certain modes which don’t have this “support”, but its optimum to provide it to the missile. Your probability of kill goes up dramatically the longer that you can maintain the lock. The AIM-120 can be fired and at some point, in its time of flight, the missile can complete the intercept with a high probability of kill without support. At that point, the fighter (shooter) can turn and run negating any missiles fired at it outside of 8 -10 miles. This better “fire and forget” ability is what gives western pilots an equalizing tool when it comes to dealing with the really long-range missiles like the R-77. Once we get a time out on our first missile, or no shot is detected against us we pitch back hard at the bandit. We fire another shot unless our first shot was successful. Right about now is when the BVR engagement ends and we enter the visual arena.

If you detect a missile coming at you, the only thing to do is to turn hard away from it and run. As a rule of thumb, if you think it’s closer than ten miles a hard turn into the missile coupled with a rolling maneuver will give you a good shot at defeating it. If you can see it visually then wait until it’s so close as to be uncomfortable and then a high G turn into the missile is your best defense. Chaff and or flares should be used as appropriate. Remember the longer the range you can detect a shot, the better chance you have of defeating the missile. Of course, this is just a canned scenario, it won’t always happen like this.

Another big problem with BVR engagements is how to tell if you got a kill or not. The bogey won’t send you a personal message and there likely is no one around to confirm the kill. Inside 20 miles or so depending on the weather, you may see an explosion and you might not. It’s likely that if you’re still alive you killed the target, and you better watch for his wingman. Another key will be your radar and your warning gear. AWACS can sometimes confirm a kill as it can see better resolution than fighters’ radar, there may even be parts falling. Whatever happens, don’t go scouting for your kill. Maintain mutual support and hurry back to your station/friendly airspace and determine your fuel state and further combat capability.

Defense in the BVR Arena

When you press a bogey/bandit into a BVR engagement it’s not always going to go the way you want. If you’re flying an F-16, you’re likely at a disadvantage when it comes to the idea of a missile joust. Most Western fighters don’t possess a true long-range missile (yet) like the R-77. Soviet and more recent Russian BVR doctrine has always emphasized firing pairs of missiles, one with heat-seeking guidance and one with radar guidance, to defeat countermeasures. With the option of active radar, heat-seeking and anti-radiation seekers, and an imaging seeker, the result is a very lethal cocktail from a defensive countermeasures perspective – a defending fighter may only have datalink transmissions to provide warning and no indication of the seeker mix on the inbound missiles.

Even though the enemy may have an advantage with pure range and first shot, it doesn’t mean you can’t win. There are a few basic tactics that will work to level the playing field, but remember the bad guy can employ them too.

Let’s say we have detected and are prosecuting a bogey that has been confirmed to be hostile. The bandit has us locked and your radar warning is indicating a shot has been taken. You’re still 12-15 seconds away from an Rmax (max range) shot on the HUD, what do you do? At this stage you don’t have to give up and run. The first tactic to try is the “beaming maneuver”. Simply stated, you do a high G 90 degree turn left or right to try and destroy the Doppler shift for his radar. Most likely this will break lock and the missile won’t be able to engage you. The radar needs to “see” the high closure or Doppler shift values on the returned energy to maintain a lock on your jet. Be aware that R-77 will have an active capability so you’re not necessarily out of the woods. The beam maneuver will also work against the missile itself once it’s gone active.

This beam maneuver, also termed “using the notch” (for the Doppler notch) should be held for a short period of time and then you reevaluate what your radar warning is telling you. If missiles are still flying at you, you turn to put the missile/bandit at your six at the same time unloading the aircraft and heading for the deck at as fast as the jet can go! If you do this outside of 10-12 miles, you will likely defeat the missile. Hopefully he won’t run you down or you have some place to go which is “safer”.

If the beam maneuver works pitch back to reacquire and hopefully have evened up the missile range problem as the bandit now is looking at a shot but so, are you. At this point if you can’t build enough situational awareness to continue, head towards safer airspace as fast as possible with your head on a swivel and good mutual support.

Turning and running 180 degrees from the bandit is useful if you want to try and deplete his supply of missiles. A well-disciplined pilot won’t let you do this more than once though.

It’s an easy kill for a second flight or your wingman if the bandit does not see them yet. Conversely, don’t let a bandit do this to you. If they turn and run let them! As I said previously, much would depend on what your mission is and how you accomplish it. Denying the enemy use of the airspace for a determined time, or protecting another group of aircraft may be the mission at hand. If you suck the fighters away from that goal your mission is accomplished. We all want to shoot down fighters but its not always required.

Jamming and electronic countermeasures are another great equalizer. Using good jamming gear will also help to even out the playing field, especially when it comes to missile shot parameters. You may not be able to totally defeat a missile or radar, but you will degrade it to a large extent. Sometimes this may be enough to get off that important first shot in a BVR fight. It’s generally accepted that western aircraft and missiles are slightly better at this game and this helps to make it a more even game. Remember that using jammers is going to highlight your position, maybe not exactly, but it will show a general direction in which to look.

Close Combat Strategies

If the Indian pilot misses us with two to four BVRs and has us in close, he has done something very wrong. The last-ditch engagement is one with close combat IR missiles and guns. It will not be a surprise if you find yourself against an enemy Su-30MKI head on with very much less space to maneuver. The ‘In-Close, Stay-Close, and Kill-Close strategy’, is the only chance to defeat the new generation of all-aspect, high-off-boresight missiles.

Fighting in a tight spot is a good way to shoot down the enemy along with the wingman. The main reason is that in close combat, or turning dogfights, pilots tend to highlight themselves with afterburners and missile shots are directed towards them.

In dissimilar air combat training, or while flying an air defense mission, the Su-30MKI is a menace and too hard to handle. However, in real time combat, and that too inside hostile territory, it takes cool nerves of the pilot rather than a high-performance aircraft, to win a battle.

Rule number one in close combat is to fire a medium range BVR missile at a range of 20km followed by all aspect IR missiles on the first opportunity to disrupt the enemy’s attack plan and try to get as close as you can to get out of his IR missile range, while deploying flares. A barrel roll attack may come in handy, as altering the angle of approach while maintaining speed may confuse the enemy if he wants to take a shot using HMS at the same time while carrying out evasive maneuver. This maneuver will let the enemy in a state of panic as now he will utilize his full capabilities in carrying out evasive maneuvers.

When compared with other fighters, the Su-30MKI releases huge amount of heat signature which makes it a magnet to IR missiles. Added to it, any TVC maneuver will add to its heat signature. Thus, any positive IR shot taken from a distance of 10 km would have a high chance of hitting the aircraft. Even if the Su-30 survives this trick, it would buy enough time for the PAF fighters to close in for a gun kill at the huge plane. Though the Su-30MKI has the capability to take on against multiple targets with missiles, it cannot repeat the same feat with guns and thus has to concentrate on a single target.

The life expectancy in a knife fight in hostile airspace is something like 30 – 40 seconds, good for us while fighting a defensive battle but very bad for the Su-30MKI. A fully engaged Su-30MKI is a dead duck against PAF defenses, because as the pilot would be indulged in a dogfight, he would not have time to monitor the situational awareness, and thus would not be able to react if any other defending fighter attacks it with missiles.

Denying the Su-30MKI’s the use of AWACS killer missiles

In any battle, it would be IAF’s first priority to destroy our aerial assets using Vympel R-77M, Novator KS-172 and Zvezda-Strela Kh-31 missiles. Owing to the range of these missiles, PAF AWACS, AEW&C and ELINT aircraft would have to be deployed in such a way, as to provide maximum coverage while staying at a safe distance. All approach paths to these aerial assets would be guarded by SAM units and point defense interceptors.

Thus, PAF has to deploy its SAMs effectively, while firing HQ-9 missiles at the inbound Su-30MKIs which can disrupt their attack pattern allowing our fighters to fire BVR missiles at them.

Apart from them, PAF also has to deploy dummy AWACS to lure these Flankers, and utilize classified snare traps to destroy them. Below are some non-classified snare traps.

SAM Traps

SAMs are useful in disrupting the Su-30MKI’s attack plan. By firing SAMs at these aircraft when they are indulged in combat, can disrupt their attack plan. With the Su-30MKIs in the process of conducting evasive maneuvers under a SAM attack it would be easy for PAF defenders to single them out in aerial combat situation.

F-7PG Snare Traps

With the motorway fully operational, as well as small satellites scattered throughout the country, PAF F-7PGs on cockpit alert, with engines running and A/A Radar switched on stand-by mode. While getting a complete running commentary the pilots would be updated regarding the situational awareness. Under favorable conditions if any intruding Su-30MKI closes in that area at a range less than 20 km, the F-7PGs can then take off and switch on their A/A Radars. This would appear as a sudden blip on the radar scope of the MKIs and would give very less time to react.

Procedure would be simple

  • Zoom towards the target at full power
  • Lock them at max range (which would appear as soon as the A/A radar is switched on)
  • Fire the IR missiles at regular intervals at the target while deploying flares conducting a barrel roll attack
  • Disrupt enemy evasive maneuvers by engaging them with guns

A blip on the radar scope of the Su-30MKI would be followed by wailing of the RWR along with MAWS (Missile Approach Warning System). Instinctively the MKI would conduct a break into the approaching missile deploying flares because slowing down the aircraft means instant death. Thus, with the crew of the MKI already engaged in surviving the incoming missiles, other defense elements can engage the remaining Flankers without any threat.

Conclusion

On papers it may seem easy to down the Su-30MKI, but it requires great courage, cool nerves, and extensive practice to handle the MKI. Those days are gone when you fly in an enemy airspace challenging their best fighter for a duel. PAF fighters have an important job of defending their airspace first and then go for the offensive.

While BVR combat tactics remains the same on both defensive and offensive missions, it is always advised to fly air defense missions, while let the offensive job to be done by long range guided missiles and glide bombs. Since we can enjoy the facilities of our own radar cover, terrain, ground based anti-aircraft units and jamming environment, these tools come in handy while taking on against the MKI.

Similarly, I have also explained the danger of a WVR in hostile environment, no matter how good a pilot is. IAF Su-30MKIs are excellent dog fighters at their own turf, but in hostile territory when every available resource is against them, they have very bleak chances to get out alive if they opt for close combat or turning dogfights.

Su-30MKI is no doubt a demon in the sky, but that does not mean that it is invincible. The aircraft is operated by humans, and humans can tend to make mistakes. It is the job of PAF pilots to force the IAF pilots to commit mistakes or do anything wrong, so that they can capitalize on it and take out the enemy. It is all a game of tactics, and only that pilot will win who apply the correct tactics at the correct time, keeps his nerves cool, does not panic and is capable of taking timely decisions within split second’s timings.

Author: Sarmad Hassan Shareef

#TeamPakistanStrategicForum

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