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IAF Sukhoi vs RAF Typhoon: Controversy in the skies

By The Rediff News Bureau
Last updated on: August 11, 2015 14:42 IST
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Indian Air Force Commander claims Su30-MKIs beat the British Royal Air Force's Typhoon FGR4s 12-0 during Indradhanush 2015. The opponents dismisses it  as 'clouded recollection'. What really happened, we will never know and do we really need to?

Imagery of a Royal Air Force Typhoon and Indian Air Force Su30-MKI taken from the Voyager aircraft during the Indradhanush exercise. Photograph: Royal Air Force

Last month, Indian Air Force's Su30-MKI fighter jets duelled with the British Royal Air Force's Typhoon FGR4s during the two-week training exercise called Indradhanush 2015.

The aim of the exercise, that started on July 21, was to enhance mutual operational understanding between the two air forces and provide ample opportunity for exchange of ideas relating to concept of operations in a dynamic warfare environment.

However, controversy erupted as the Indian jets flew back to India from the RAF base of Coningsby.

In an interview to news channel NDTV, IAF Commander for the exercise, Group Captain Ashu Srivastav claimed that his contingent scored a 12-0 victory against the RAF fighters in a series of aerial dogfight scenarios.

The media report said: 'The first week of the exercises pitted the Su-30, which NATO calls the Flanker, in a series of aerial dogfight scenarios. First, there were 1 v 1 encounters, where a single jet of each type engaged each other in Within Visual Range combat, firing simulated missiles to a range of two miles.'

An IAF Su30-MKI taking off from the RAF base of Coningsby. Photograph: Royal Air Force

'The exercises progressed to 2 v 2 engagements with two Eurofighters taking on two Su-30s and 2 v 1 exercises where two Sukhois took on a single Typhoon and vice versa. Notably, in the exercise where a lone Su-30 was engaged by two Typhoons, the IAF jet emerged the victor ‘shooting’ down both ‘enemy’ jets.'

The Royal Air Force though was quick to counter the claim.

An RAF spokesman clarified: "Our analysis does not match what has been reported. The RAF pilots and the Typhoon performed well throughout the exercise with and against the Indian Air Force. Both forces learnt a great deal from the exercise and the RAF look forward to the next opportunity to train alongside the IAF."

Citing an RAF source, the Independent newspaper reported that the IAF commander's claim was clearly designed for the "domestic audience".

Imagery of an RAF Typhoon (extreme right) and IAF Flankers taken from the Voyager Aircraft during a refuelling mission. Photograph: Royal Air Force

The Independent report said: 'There must have been some clouded recollection on the flights back to India, as the headlines of the Indian press bear no relation to the results of the tactical scenarios completed on the exercise in any shape or form.'

According to David Cenciotti of the Aviationist, the purpose of such exercises is usually to study the opponents -- learn their tactics and strategy -- sometimes without showing the "enemy" the full extent of a weapon system capability (even though the latter is also the "excuse" air arms most frequently use to comment alleged defeats).

'The kill ratio depends on how the scenario has been set up, with the Rules Of Engagement affecting the number of simulated kills. These kill ratio claims (of the IAF) should be taken with a grain of salt since they are often used for internal propaganda and marketing purposes and they have very little value unless we have some details about the scenario, the supporting assets involved in the engagement (AWACS, Electronic Warfare platforms, Ground Controlled Interceptors, etc.) and the rules of engangement.'

In Within Visual Range scenarios, the Su3-MKI is expected to excel against the Typhoon because it is a highly manouevrable aircraft. But when it comes to longer-range combat exercises, the Sukhois have been 'less successful'.

An RAF Typhoon and an IAF Su30-MKI in action during the Indradhanush exercise. Photograph: Royal Air Force

Tony Osborne, the London bureau chief of Aviation Week, suggested caution when dealing with the Indian claims.

"These cricket-style scores claimed by the IAF look impressive but should be treated with caution and certainly not as a realistic gauge of combat capability," he said.

"We have to view these scores through the haze of pilot bravado, national pride and also some political correctness. Nonetheless, the Su-30MKI is one of the aircraft that the Typhoon was designed to tackle and defeat, and no doubt in the right hands would present a potent challenge. Today [though] the aim would be to engage aircraft like the Su-30MKI from long-range before the two could come together in a dogfight."

During the Indradhanush 2015 exercise, pilots from both countries had complemented each other's warplanes.

Squadron Leader Avi Arya, a Qualified Weapons Instructor responsible for training pilots on the radar and weapons systems of the Su-30, said: "Both are fourth generation aircraft and so are matched evenly, so the learning value comes from the person to person contact, it’s the man behind the machine which matters. All fighter pilots speak the same language, that’s the common thing we have and it’s very comfortable to learn from each other."

An IAF tanker aircraft refuels a Su30-MKI while other aircraft fly close by. Photograph: Royal Air Force

Speaking shortly after his first encounter with the thrust vector equipped Su30-MKI, Typhoon pilot Flight Lieutenant Mike Highmoor had no doubt about the values of the bilateral exercise.

"This is fantastic. It is the first time I have flown against a Flanker this morning and it’s fascinating to see another air force do its thing in a different aeroplane. Flying against an aircraft which is equally comparable to the Typhoon is not something we get to fight against on a regular basis in the UK. It is very exciting. It (Su30-MKI) is an incredibly impressive fighter, but the Typhoon is a good match for it."

Opposing Flt Lt Highmoor on that first sortie was Squadron Leader Amit Gehani, who said: “We were flying a lot of missions that are proving our air combat missions. We brief on the ground, we go up there, set up the fights and thereafter it is a free for all. The Typhoon is a good aircraft, a very powerful aircraft. The RAF pilots here are really amazing and flying with the Typhoon we were learning a lot of new lessons from the RAF which we will take back to India. Of course we are also giving some good points to the Typhoon pilots."

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