Thursday December 12, 2013
Russian Jet Fighters: Formidable Opponents of Western TechnologyTim King Salem-News.com
If politicians eventually press the U.S. into another war, our pilots may be up against hardware that carries very harsh and severe consequences.
(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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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