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Mar-02-2009 11:40printcommentsVideo

Russian Jet Fighters: Formidable Opponents of Western Technology

If politicians eventually press the U.S. into another war, our pilots may be up against hardware that carries very harsh and severe consequences.

Russian SU-30 jet fighter in flight
Russian SU-30 jet fighter in flight

(SALEM, Ore.) - Americans historically tend to have a superiority complex toward other countries when it comes to military hardware and technology. Yet most probably won't be surprised to learn that people in other nations have the same problem.

I think Russian military aircraft technology has caught up with ours in many respects. You'll have to watch the video of the SU-30 below and you may have a similar opinion. It seems like the factions in the United States that love to cry for new wars in new places haven't considered how much the planes our would-be enemies fly have progressed.

Reesman's Russian MiG-17

My experiences with actual Russian fighter aircraft includes an in-flight TV news profile story on a MiG-17 owned by retired U.S. Air Force pilot Bill Reesman for KYMA Channel 11 News in Yuma, Arizona. I was able to shoot from a Lear Jet while the MiG was put through amazing aerobatic maneuvers. After that I was hooked.

A couple of years later, I covered the first operational visit of MiG-29 aircraft to the United States at the Red Flag Fighter Weapons School at Nellis Air Force Base in 1999.

These were German Luftwaffe planes and their pilots and crews were fantastic to work with in recording my news report for my then-employer, KVVU FOX-5 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Tim King with Air Force F-16

In fact that story flew so well with the Air Force that they offered me a ride in the back of an F-16 jet fighter just three days later. The Air Force calls it their "Incentive Program" or at least they used to. It is a wild ride in the 9 g environment and anyone who does this knows what I am talking about.

That ended up being the most exciting story I have ever worked on of its type. After a physical and several hours of training, the pilot and I spent an hour and fifteen minutes flying over Death Valley, California.

The experience left me with a profound desire to learn more about what I call, the world's fastest hot rods.

Old MiG-21 at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan photo by Tim King

When I was in Bagram, Afghanistan in 2007, I walked to the far side of the airfield to photograph a row of MiG-21 jet fighters that I believe were actual Afghanistan Air Force planes.

I assume they have probably been sitting in the exact same place since defeat of the Soviets in 1989; undisturbed and surrounded by a minefield.

In the 1970's Afghan pilots in planes like this would make raids on Pakistani targets. They had the backing of the Soviets and yet remained an independent nation.

The old jets seemed like a real glimpse into another time when the place was occupied and fought over by completely different armies than those who occupy Bagram today.

Last summer in Iraq, I saw a number of MiG-23 fighters at the Balad air base. These were Iraqi Air Force jets that are in varying states today; mostly junk I suppose.

MiG-23 at Balad Iraq photographed last summer photo by Tim King

The planes obviously cost a bundle when they were new and are significantly more advanced than the MiG 21's I photographed in Afghanistan.

But this aircraft pales next to the collection of MiG-29 Fulcrum jet fighters that were discovered on this base shortly after it was captured by the Australians in the early part of the Iraq War. They were long gone when I was at Balad and I was unable to learn very much.

It seems like the old Russian planes are a dime a dozen. American aviation enthusiasts buy planes like this for less than $50,000 and restore them for twice that amount into usable airplanes. Perhaps the cheap prices explain why these old units languish in the deserts today.

The plane featured in the videos below is the modern version of these old Russian planes I photographed in the present U.S. war zones.

The multi-role twin engine Sukhoi Su-30 jet fighter first flew in 1996. It is considered very comparable to the U.S. Air Force F-15 and is currently in the air force inventories of Algeria, People's Republic of China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Russia, Venezuela and Vietnam.

During the Cold War years dating back to the Korean War, aviation programs in the Soviet Union demanded that pilots always had a forward observer; a set of trained eyes and ears at the battlefront calling the shots.

I first learned this through U.S. Air Force intelligence officers back in the late 1990's as a news reporter in Las Vegas, Nevada.

While this wasn't classified knowledge, it was profoundly interesting to learn how the other side did business. The approach meant that the Communist pilots were not allowed or make decisions of whether to fight or not; their forward observer, whether in another aircraft or on the ground, called the shots.

This ineffective mentality is no longer the case with the eastern nation jet fighter programs. They have restyled their approach to more closely resemble American and western aviation tactics and procedures. This means they will be more formidable in the air if our pilots ever have to fight against them.

In the late 1990's the Air Force assumed ownership of a Moldavian MiG-29. In the hangar, threads hung from the jet's tires. That told a story of dwinding budgets for flight operations in eastern countries as they neared the end of the Cold War. The countries simply didn't have the money to keep their pilots trained and their planes in the air.

World Rivals in the Air

There is a decades-old history of rivalry between eastern and western jet fighter design and technology. While American designs are more expensive and generally considered to be better, the fastest jet fighter ever made is the Russian MiG-25; capable of more than three times the speed of sound. Such demands lessen the life of an aircraft and the MiG-25 is typically not flown at anything close to that speed. As an intercepter however, it would potentially be unbeatable.

The Korean War was the first test of jet fighters in any conflict. At first, the Soviet MiG-15's dominated the skies. With Russian and Chinese pilots often at the controls, the MiG's proved deadly.

One day, November 1st 1950, at least sixteen American F-51 fighters (P-51 Mustangs) were shot at by six Soviet MiG-15 interceptors led by Soviet WWII ace Mayor Nikolay V. Stroykov. The WWII propellor planes like the Mustang, along with the U.S. F-80 Shooting Star and F-84 Thunderjet jet fighters, had a job on their hands fighting the robust and highly maneuverable MiG fighters.

But everything changed when the U.S. Air Force launched the F-86 Sabre. Wikipedia explains that the F-86 Sabre pilots enjoyed advantages they learned to exploit to the fullest. Foremost among those was a radar ranging gunsight on their six .50 caliber machine guns, which ensured that even short bursts of fire generally found their target. F-86 pilots were also equipped with G-suits, which prevented pilot blackout in high-speed turning maneuvers.

It is unlikely that anybody will ever fully agree on the casualties and "kill" ratios over "MiG Alley" during the Korean War.

The Soviets claimed 1,106 United Nations planes of all types shot down, including about 650 Sabres. (The USAF only admits to losing less than 200 aircraft in air combat.)

The F-86 pilots claimed 792 MiG-15s shot down, while B-29 gunners claimed a further 16. These numbers were later reduced to 379 MiGs. The Chinese PLAAF claimed only 85 kills.

In Vietnam, the competitors varied. The MiG-17 and MiG-21 fighters were widely used by the North Vietnamese Air Force. They fought planes like the F-100 Super Sabre and the F-4 Phantom. Once again, if you believe western sources which are fairly reliable for the most part, the U.S. planes dominated in most air to air combat, though the other side had plenty of talented pilots and more aces overall than the Americans.

During the end of the Cold War in the 1980's, the Soviet MiG-29 was the terror of the skies. There was more speculation about it than real knowledge at first.

While MiG aircraft were only built in odd numbers, the movie Top Gun references the aircraft by calling them MiG-28's - "MiG-28's, no one's been this close before!" The planes used in the movie were actually American F-5 Tigers painted black with red stars applied to the tails.

The United States F-22 Raptor is the most exciting aircraft to be developed and implemented in recent years. The aircraft, like the SU-30, is capable of "thrust vectoring" which means the pilot can change the direction of the jet blast and create an entirely separate way to control the jet in flight.

The ultimate western jet in the world of thrust vectoring is the AV8/b Harrier which can actually take off and land like a helicopter.

Hopefully the world will not have to put these machines against each other in a future war.

Here is the video of the amazing Russian SU 30 at an air show performance:


In this video, the F-22 and SU-30 air show demos side-by-side:

Russian SU 30 crash at Paris Airshow. No victims, both pilots ejected:

Tim King is a former U.S. Marine with twenty years of experience on the west coast as a television news producer, photojournalist, reporter and assignment editor. In addition to his role as a war correspondent, this Los Angeles native serves as's Executive News Editor.
Tim spent the winter of 2006/07 in Afghanistan with Oregon troops. Tim recently returned from Iraq where he covered the war there while embedded with an Oregon Guard aviation unit. Serving the community in very real terms, is the nation's only truly independent high traffic news Website, affiliated with Google News and several other major search engines and news aggregators.
You can send Tim an email at this address:

Comments Leave a comment on this story.

All comments and messages are approved by people and self promotional links or unacceptable comments are denied.

mark June 5, 2012 8:06 am (Pacific time)

how about the f 14? is still reliable or another inferior of US Naval design????

Robert USMC March 20, 2012 6:52 pm (Pacific time)

The exercise PACAF's Pacific Vision on Sept 25/08 revealed that the United States air superiority is just a fantasy. The exercise was consised of face the Red Team one hundred Su-27SM, four Su-30 and two Su-35 against Blue Team one hundred F-35, one hundred eighty seven F-22 and four hundred F/A-18E/F. The exercise showed the blue team higher in number of aircraft is double "inferior" when hundreds of Blue Forces aircraft were lost in the first 20 minutes downed by the Red Forces,. on the other had only 12 aircraft was downed in the Red Team.

The Russians outnumbered by a margin of 6/1 without theire latest stealth and experimental fighters now in production, shot down hundreds of F-22's, F-35's and F18's that since then the appropriations for our F-22 and F-35 have been cut by over 50% pending further studies. In 1992,the Russians invited a dogfight between the F15 and Su-27 - the American pilots were nervous and demanded the exercise be over 200 kilometers off the coast of California. The Russian fighters wiped the F-15s so bad in all categories that the US has purchased two Su-27's from the Ukraine to study Russian aereonautical design. (They got the A base model not the F advanced model. Russia fighters are so superior to the American F-22 and F-35 that the Pentagon so seriously concerned that they have employed a whole division to examine our fighter craft vs Russian technology which has proven to be amazingly superior.
Also, in the Autumn of 2000 two Russian Su-27's conducted a sudden attack mode on the USS Kitty Hawk and buzzed the Carrier Flagship of the US 7th Fleet that did not even see it coming till it was too late. The US arcraft carrier would have been destroyed in real combat conditions.
You people better get some education and quit reading the propaganda and uneducated sites your getting your information from.
I love this country too, but facts are facts to deal with not emotions.

Tim King: Semper fi Robert, thanks for an excellent overview of the situation.

GEORGIJKononov January 1, 2012 5:18 am (Pacific time)

Только здесь сантехнические работы от профи

BORISVorobjov35 December 22, 2011 2:27 am (Pacific time)

недорогие пассажирские перевозки комфортабельными автобусами

David December 9, 2011 3:40 pm (Pacific time)

1, The Modern Jet Fighter Will Hit Speeds of (M)2.1 + Crusing Speeds too!

David P.Curcione December 9, 2011 3:38 pm (Pacific time)

1. We need to Build Scram_jets & Regular Jet Fighters Planes will have it to soon will be thoses: engines to Hit Speeds of Mack-13 to Mack 20 too With Rocket Engine too!

David December 9, 2011 3:40 pm (Pacific time)

1, The Modern Jet Fighter Will Hit Speeds of (M)2.1 + Crusing Speeds too!

GORBUNOVROSTISLAV23 November 19, 2011 9:48 am (Pacific time)

Эффектная реклама на радио и в прессе.

Evseev34Dmitrij November 18, 2011 5:56 am (Pacific time)

Хороший сантехник в Киеве

Kyle June 20, 2011 8:55 pm (Pacific time)

tim like your story i think the raptor wasn't even flown to its limits and its radar and stealth capabilites wernt even taken ito doubt other countries have come along ways with their aircraft but theyll need to come alott further if they wanna keep up or from being blown outta the sky before they ever even see what did it....nice comment back to the idiot with the f-16 only fly's staight...he thinks we copy crap from france our planes look notthing like theirs and the russian planes were copied from us.....but tim try not to be so bias in your reports....we can tell ya love russia a little too much...

Tim King: I'll keep that in mind Kyle, It' true, I wrestle with my bias every day.  The F-16 is the coolest and most trim fighter of its nature in existence.  I've pulled more than seven g's in that highly maneuverable plane.  By the way the F-5 was a copy of a Russian design!  It was not a copy cat thing, we needed a plane that flew like a MiG, that is my understanding.  Thanks for the comment Kyle.  

David P.Curcione August 6, 2010 11:25 am (Pacific time)

1. We should make half Jet & part Rocket engine Fighter Combanation Plane Plane too!To fly at 6th Geration fly at Mack 13 to Mack 22 into Orbit Fighter Plane too! We should built it too! Soon as possable too! To protect our Plenet Agents Allien Ammies of other Space may do harm to Nations on earth too! There are Billions of Galixies Mabe Atot more too! Maybe moer too!! There are Groups Galixis Like Counties in outer Space too! on the Out stirts aresa too! agreed!!! Wake up People of other nations watch the Skies for U.F.O too!! Some are Friendy Some are not so nice too! Eminies of Earth too! Wake up!! smell the coffie people !!!

carl thomas. January 2, 2010 9:57 am (Pacific time)

The f 22 is the best if you think other wise look at the history of us fighter jets look at there number wins in combat there are no comperson to us

Bill December 19, 2009 6:59 pm (Pacific time)

This is the most un-informed piece of garbage I have ever read.

Tim King: Wow, thanks very much for the compliment, I appreciate it.  

Max October 28, 2009 8:52 am (Pacific time)

For some of you who vehemently proud of US planes, such as F-15, this article will awake you from your rosy dreams: As someone mentioned, you have to compare apples to apples (4 gen to 4 gen planes) in order to be objectable.

Max October 28, 2009 7:41 am (Pacific time)

Here is another one for you: You can find many more articles similar to this drawing a well deserved criticism..

Max October 28, 2009 7:38 am (Pacific time)

For some of you who vehemently proud of US planes, such as F-15, this article will awake you from your rosy dreams: As someone mentioned, you have to compare apples to apples (4 gen to 4 gen planes) in order to be objectable.

Steven May 13, 2009 3:28 am (Pacific time)

Hey does any one have a link with more pics of the abandoned russian planes


Tim King: This will get you to the page where the albums begin: Photo page

John Alward May 10, 2009 8:21 am (Pacific time)

The side by side video shows tremendous capabilities of both aircraft. However, the F-22 maneuverability is extremely deliberate, where the Su-30 looks a bit on the cusp of being out of control. The Su-30 pilot looks like his hands are full where the F-22 pilot performs his maneuvers effortlessly.

Gauhar March 10, 2009 2:14 am (Pacific time)

I guess the F22 Raptor has a better Fly-by-wire system compared to the SU 30. It seems to be in more control in teh comparison video above... Ofcourse, it could also depend on the training of teh pilots. I wonder how a Russian pilot would fly an F 22 Raptor, or an American pilot would fly an SU 30... ANyways, since the economy has crashed completely, and there is no chance of recovery atleast for a decade, there is no chance F-22 would ever be inducted in large numbers.

Dorel March 9, 2009 9:56 am (Pacific time)

Canadian pilots are the best ,everybody in the Us AF knows it . And in fact who designed first the fighter jets of today ?

Jack mckay March 6, 2009 11:19 am (Pacific time)

hello!!!!!! are guys gone nuts, comparing a russian jet that was built in soviet times(4th generation). with F-22 that is the "modern fifth generation" US fighter jets the best US fighter jets that US could come up wiht in 21century. hahaha it is funny as hell, you should should have a side by side F-16 and Su-30 video and then you would realize that unfortunately F-16 can only go straight that's all. poor americans, allways copy things either from russia and France germany, and built them decades later, and try to compare it with old 4th generation fighter jets. it's hellirously funny.

Tim King: Well Jack, glad to help your comedic needs today. You think the F-16 is an aircraft that can only go straight and that means you know absolutely nothing at all about fighter jets. Because of its trim single engine design, the F-16 is one of the most maneuverable fighter jets in the world and everybody from F-15 drivers to airline pilots wish they could get a couple hours in one.

I admit I'm not an expert, though I'm not really sure what qualifies a person as such. I can talk to you about flight characteristics of aircraft from the Nieuport 11, SPAD and the German Albatross, to the WWII designs; the Zero vs. Wildcat, ME-262, all kinds of things also far and beyond the world of fighters also.

So before you try to belittle people, stop and look up what you are talking about first. To insinuate that the F-16 is not a maneuverable jet says everything we need to know about you.

Blue skies

Bernie March 4, 2009 11:06 pm (Pacific time)

During Vietnam Russia trained the Noth pilots, we own them. The US has the resources to continuously train pilots, not other country does this except Israel. The only pilots who pose a threat to our pilots in actual combat regardless of aircraft flown is Israel, they are our allies so we have no worries!

mon pun March 4, 2009 5:55 am (Pacific time)

The Russian Sukhoi and MiGs are crowd favorites ar aishows but the reality is these fancy manueuvers bleed airspeed and energy. They wouldn't survive for long in actual combat as proven in the latest Red Flag exercise with Indian Air Force Sukhois pitted against F-15s and F-16s. Against F-22s, it would have been an even greater mismatch.

Jeff March 2, 2009 10:13 pm (Pacific time)

The problem with Russian aircraft is not their performance straight off the assembly line but after 5, 10 or 15 years. Russian planes are notorious for their lack of reliability. They perform marvelously for a few years but quickly degrade due to lack of spares, poor maintainability, and few if any upgrades. Western planes are built to last for decades and usually upgraded to remain competitive with newer designs, but Russia has not been known to follow this model. A good example is Russia's grounding of the MiG-29 fleet for some three months now.

Tim King: Jeff, that's interesting and possibly the photos I included are some form of evidence of the aircraft's expendable lives. I remember when MiG-21's were for sale really cheap and they were practically selling off entire squadrons with extra engines and parts in some cases. I admire the Russian plane's ability to take off and land from dirt runways and their cold weather capability. I suppose there aren't many choices in these areas in a country like Russia.

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