Have Indian Su-30s really “dominated” RAF Typhoons in aerial combat with a 12-0 scoreline? Most probably not.

Aug 08 2015 - 58 Comments

Indian fighter jocks claim they have “humiliated” the RAF colleagues in mock aerial combat exercises conducted during Exercise Indradhanush 2015. “Our analysis does not match what has been reported” the RAF said.

As we have already reported, four Indian Air Force Su-30MKI Flankers from 2 Sqd have recently been deployed to RAF Coningsby, UK, to take part in Indradhanush 2015, a two-week training exercise with the Royal Air Force Typhoon FGR4s.

The exercise has ended and the Russian-built aircraft have returned to India but Exercise Indradhanush 2015 left an unexpected trail of controversy after Group Captain Srivastav, the Indian Contingent Commander in the drills, told the Indian NDTV that the performance of his pilots was “exceptional.”

According to Srivastav, India’s most experienced Su-30 pilot, the IAF pilots came away from the exercise with a resounding 12-0 victory against the RAF Typhoons in WVR (Within Visual Range) engagements conducted while in the UK.

Here’s the report of the mock aerial combat exercises published on the NDTV website:

“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 (WVR) combat, firing simulated missiles to a range of two miles. 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.”

So, not only held the Su-30s an edge on the Typhoons on 1 vs 1 and 2 vs 2, but even when a Sukhoi flew against two Typhoons, it managed to shoot down both enemies.

The response to such claims was almost immediate, even though not too detailed. According to an RAF source quoted in an Independent piece the Indian claims were “clearly designed for a domestic audience“.

A UK MoD blog on this topic said: “As you would expect, advanced military capabilities are rarely operated to the limits of their potential, especially when exercising against other nations’ aircraft. This exercise was no exception for the Typhoon Force.”

True.

A spokesperson for the RAF just said:

“Our analysis does not match what has been reported, 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.”

So, the outcome of the engagements is at least unclear. However something can be said.

First of all, 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). Then, the kill ratio depends on how the scenario has been set up, with the Rules Of Engagement affecting the number of simulated kills.

Actually, this wasn’t the first time the Indian Air Force publicly claimed a resounding (and debated) victory: during Cope India 04, Indian Su-30 were able to achieve a 9:1 kill ratio against U.S. Air Force F-15C jets from 3rd Wing based at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska.

In that case, the kill ratio was confirmed but it was also explained that the F-15s were defeated because they lacked an advanced active electronically scanned array (AESA) and were called to fight the Su-30s in scenarios that involved six Eagles against up to eighteen IAF aircraft with no chance to simulate any beyond visual range (BVR) missile shot (due to the Indian request of not using the AMRAAM). Furthermore, 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…

Anyway, just like all the simulated kills we have much talked about in the past, including some involving F-22 shot down, all these kill ratio claims 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 ROE.

In this case, for instance, dealing with the ROE, an RAF source said the Typhoons fought “with one arm behind their backs.”

Moreover, WVR engagements, in which the super-maneuverable Su-30 excels, are less likely than BVR (Beyond Visual Range) ones where a Flanker would be much more vulnerable, as Indradhanush 2015 seems to have proved.

Here is what Group Captain Srivastav told NDTV about LFE (Large Force Engagements) that saw from 4 vs 4 to 8 vs 8 engagements at BVR in the skies near Coningsby:

“Asked about the performance of IAF pilots in these Large Force Engagements, Group Captain Srivastav told NDTV his pilots performed “fairly well” though “quantifying [the results] is difficult”. It was not unexpected for the IAF to “lose” one or two jets (over all the Large Force Engagements put together) given that the movement of each formation was directed by fighter controllers coordinating an overall air battle.”

Image credit: Crown Copyright / Royal Air Force