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

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

 

About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.

12 Comments

  1. “…left an unexpected trail of controversy…” Come on. Really? That’s like being surprised when two prize fighters start talking smack about each other.

  2. Just one thing needs to be pointed out, David. NOWHERE has the Indian Air Force said it thrashed the RAF 12-0; that’s a line to be attributed to the NDTV reporter. Nowhere in the NDTV article that you posted has the Indian officer made the claim of such a “victory.” He only said the performance of his boys was exceptional, which he would if they were flying Mig-21s.

    I find it amusing that the whole of the UK press seems to be up in arms over a UNVERIFIED claim on one Indian news site and taking it as officially coming from the Indian Air Force. Did the same brouhaha happen when the former RAF chief Stephen Dalton said Indian Sukhois lost to RAF Typhoons a few years ago?

    • The problem is that every news source in India and many across the world are saying this. The IAF might not have made a statement of ‘We is best’ but many news papers closely linked to the Indian government have done so. The RAF has to respond in some way, especially considering the perilous situation of its funding and future support and acquisitions with the SDSR coming up later this year. It’s completely blown up beyond proportion and it makes sense for the RAF, having been effectively accused of the media of being utterly useless, to make a reasonable response.

      Also, the British newspaper press? Blowing things out of proportion and running stories designed to elicit outrage over facts? Noooooooo, that would never happen…

      • “news papers closely linked to the Indian government have done so”

        What does this even mean? The government does run a TV service, but no newspapers. Most newspapers, contrary to what you claim, display open antipathy to the current ruling dispensation.

    • In this case, the Indian Air Force should have issued a denial to rectify the NDTV article.
      The article is based on an exclusive interview to the Contingent Commander in the exercise. Now, two possibilities: the 12-0 was either made up by NDTV (in this case, why 12-0?) or someone suggested it to the writer.

      If you read the story, it is quite clear that the writer seem to suggest all the data included in the article was provided by the IAF personnel they have talked with. There seem to be no “guesses” or “assumptions”.

      Hence, you should blame NDTV for bad reporting or you have to admit someone has had interest in leaking the scoreline….

      • David,

        Having worked in a media for quite a bit, I can tell you one thing: the media will create half-truths with no hesitation! A headline saying “IAF thwacks RAF 12-0!” gives you more hits than “IAF holds its own against the Few,” and in this case NDTV managed to do just that by literally having the British press and Internet feed from its bowl at a time when NDTV has seen a trough in popularity. The media can make up claims and is accountable to no one.

        The IAF has indeed issued a usual, bureaucratic clarification

        http://www.defense-aerospace.com/articles-view/release/3/165923/india-backs-down-on-washout-claims-against-raf-typhoons.html

        About the IAF “leaking” the scoreline, well ask put yourself in the boots of an IAF officer and ask what you get by saying the SU-30 thrashed the Eurofighter? The IAF is desperate to get new aircraft and the Eurofighter (on paper) remains a viable alternative. If I were the IAF officer, I’d have said the “Typhoons mauled us; We need new jets”.

  3. One thing is certain: the SU-30s are a lot more value for money than the Typhoons.

    • I Believe the only people who could make that assessment would be the Indian government and the IAF themselves. They have the su-30 and they had a tender for procuring new aircrafts and the su-35 did not make it to the final selection where the Rafal and Typhoon were the preferred options.

      • Su-35 wasn’t participating in this one because IAF was looking for a medium sized fighter.

  4. Sounds like India Media has done it again like what BBC did it last month …
    Really like to see some statment from IAF in regards to this, then pommies can reply – without even verifying these englishman are up in arms against controversy created… nice

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