One again, Russian Su-27s have been involved in a dangerous close encounter with a plane they have intercepted.
The Swedish Air Force operates a pair of Gulfstream IVSP aircraft, known in Swedish service as S102B Korpen, used for ELINT (Electronic Intelligence) purposes.
The aircraft, based on the American Gulfstream business jet but equipped with eavesdropping sensors, conduct surveillance missions in the Baltic Sea. According to Swedish Air Force officials, during those sorties, the Korpens fly in international airspace, with their transponders turned on, and regularly transmit their position to the relevant civilian air traffic control agency, both domestic and, if needed, foreign ones.
Nevertheless, as reported by the Swedish media outlet SvD Nyheter, the Swedish spyplanes are almost always intercepted by Russian armed fighter jets on Quick Reaction Alert at the Russian airbase in the Kaliningrad enclave.
Most of times such encounters are routine stuff, something that has happened in international airspace across the world, for several decades. However, Swedish officials who talked to SvD explained that the behaviour of the Russian Su-27 Flankers frequently scrambled to intercept the Gulfstreams has become increasingly aggressive.
The most dangerous incident occurred on Jul. 16, between Gotland and Latvia, when a Russian Su-27 Flanker, armed with 6 air-to-air missiles, intercepted one of the two Swedish ELINT jet, and flew as close as 10,7 meters of the spyplane.
Even if there was no real risk of collision, the incident highlighted a behavior that the Swedish military have not seen in previous years, SvD reported. In fact, international procedures recommend not flying closer than 50-150m from other planes during interceptions.
Actually, this is neither the first nor the last time a Russian Flanker performs a dangerous intercept on a foreign air arm’s surveillance plane.
On Apr. 10, 2012, a Royal Norwegian Air Force P-3 Orion flying over the Barents Sea came across a Russian Air Force Mig-31 Foxhound: the Norwegian crew initially observed the Mig-31 twice shadowing the P-3 at a safe distance, then disappearing. Moments later the Russian fighter jet came back from behind the patrol aircraft, so fast and close it was in danger of a mid-air collision.
There are several other similar incidents that did not end with a collision; however, mid-air collisions occur every now and then.
On Sept. 13, 1987, a RNoAF P-3B collided mid-air with a Soviet Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker over the Barents Sea.
Although damaged, both planes were able to land safely, but all the episodes we have recalled, from the oldest to the most recent between the Russian Flanker and the Swedish Gulfstream show how dangerous close encounters can be.
H/T Erik Arnberg and Lasse Holmstrom for the heads-up
As reported by the Washington Free Beacon, a Chinese Su-27 flew dangerously close to a U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon ASW (Anti-Submarine Warfare) aircraft over the East China Sea, on Aug. 19.
The P-8, a derivative of the Boeing 737, capable to carry the Mk-54 airborne torpedo and the Harpoon anti-ship missile, and to perform ASW missions as well as ISR (Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance) tasks, was conducting a routine surveillance mission in international airspace when a Chinese Flanker intercepted it.
Routine stuff, until the Chinese jet flew within 50 feet of the Poseidon “and then carried out a barrel roll over the top of the aircraft” a maneuver meant to threaten the American aircraft, as commented by US officials familiar with the incident who have talked to Washington Free Beacon’s Bill Gertz.
The American jet was one of the aircraft assigned to U.S. Navy’s VP-16, a squadron based at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Florida, that has been deployed to Kadena, Okinawa, one the largest U.S. airbases in the Asia-Pacific region, located about 400 chilometers East of the disputed Senkaku islands (Diaoyu for China), since December 2013.
One of the J-8s piloted by Lt. Cdr. Wang Wei, made two close passes to the EP-3 before colliding with the spyplane on the third pass. As a consequence, the J-8 broke into two pieces and crashed into the sea causing the death of the pilot, whereas the EP-3, severely damaged, performed an unauthorized landing at China’s Lingshui airfield.
The 24 crew members (21 men and three women), that destroyed all (or at least most of ) the sensitive items and data on board the aircraft, were detained by Chinese authorities until Apr. 11.
According to the information released by the RAF, the Typhoon aircraft, from 3 (Fighter) Squadron, were launched !after four separate groups of aircraft were detected by NATO air defences in international airspace near to the Baltic States.”
The “zombies” (how unidentified aircraft are dubbed in fighter pilots jargon), turned out to be a Tupolev Tu-22M “Backfire” bomber, four Sukhoi Su-27 ‘Flanker’ fighters, one Beriev A50 ‘Mainstay’ early warning aircraft and an Antonov An-26 ‘Curl’ transport aircraft “who appeared to be carrying out a variety of routine training,” even though the Flankers appear to be armed to the teeth, with 4x R-27 medium range and 2x R-73 short range air-to-air missiles
We recently explained how, 10 years ago, Exercise Cope India put the Indian Air Force Su-30 against U.S. Air Force F-15C jets with results that are still open to debate: since the drills took place during F-22 budget reviews, some analysts affirm the Air Force intentionally accepted the challenging ROE (Rules Of Engagement) to gain more Raptors. Others claim this version of the story was invented to try to save face after the Indians achieved an impressive 9:1 kill ratio.
Even if we might never know the truth, it’s undeniable that, at least on paper, the Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker has been one of the best Russian combat planes.
The Su-27 belongs to the same class of the U.S. F-14 and F-15, but unlike the American fighters it can fly at an angle of attack of 30 degrees and can also perform the “Pugachev Cobra”.
In a Cobra, the plane suddenly raises the nose to the veritical position (or beyond) before dropping it back to the normal flight, maintaining more or less the same altitude through the entire maneuver.
The Su-27 and its “Cobra” have been the highlight of many air shows from the end of the 1980s to the middle of the 1990s. But, since then, the Flanker maneuverability has been furtherly enhanced.
The improved multirole Su-30MK is a Flanker variant fitted with both canard forewings and thrust-vectoring nozzles which have improved its agility.
But how can this kind of maneuvers be used in combat?
A clear idea comes from an authoritative source: Aviation Week and Space Technology magazine.
In “Su-30MK Beats F-15C ‘Every Time'” published in 2002 on AW&ST, David A. Fulghum and Douglas Barrie reported that the Su-30 used its maneuverability to beat the F-15 in several engagements conducted in a complex of 360-deg. simulation domes at Boeing’s St. Louis facilities.
According to the article (that is often referenced by Indian media outlets to highlight the presumed Su-30 superiority on the American fighter jets) an anonymous USAF officer explained that in the case of a missed BVR missile (like the AA-12 Adder) shot by the Flanker, the Su-30 could turn into the clutter notch of the F-15’s radar, where the Eagle’s Doppler was ineffective.
As the AW&ST story explained in detail, this maneuver could be accomplished making a descending, right-angle turn to drop below the approaching F-15 while reducing the Su-30’s relative forward speed close to zero: even if this is a very old air combat tactic, the USAF officer said that the Sukhoi could perform effectively this maneuver thanks to its ability to reduce rapidly its speed and then quickly regain it.
If the Flanker driver performed correctly the maneuver, the Su-30 was invisible to the F-15’s radar until the Eagle was inside the AA-11 Archer IR missile range, since the F-15’s Doppler radar relied on movements of its targets.
As pointed out by the USAF officer, this tactic “works in the simulator every time,” however, only few countries have pilots with the required skills to fly those scenarios.
But some unique features, such as the power of its engines and its superb aerodynamics, make the Flanker, in the right hands and in the proper scenario, a great dogfighter and a very tough enemy for every western jet WVR (Within Visual Range).
Moreover the Su-30 could carry the short range IR missile AA-11 Archer which in the ‘90s was the best short-range AAM in the world since it could be linked to the pilot’s helmet fire control system and was capable to be fired at targets until 45 degrees off the axis of the aircraft: both these capabilities were not possessed by the AIM-9M, the main western short range missile at the time (later replaced by the AIM-9X Sidewinder).