Cope India 2005 – US down in flames again?

The actual news on the results of the recent joint exercises in India has been scarce. NewsHog asks Did The USAF Get Beat Up By India Again?

No-one’s saying so officially, but after the shock of having their F-15s kicked around the sky last year by the Indian Air Force in Russian jets, the USAF must have been hoping to even the score in this year’s US/India air exercises.

The thing is, the only reports so far (and admittedly they are Indian reports) suggest they got another shock.

Yes, one of the Indian reports calls the F-15 the “Tomcat” and they all seem to be over-hyping the reputation of the F-16 (“billed as the most superior fighter in the world “?…no one bills it as anything of the sort), but it appears that maybe the USAF didn’t do as well as they were hoping. (via Defense Tech)


  1. Hmm, I don’t really see why losing a 4 vs. 10 or 4 vs. 12 combat would really be a ‘shock’ against anything approaching a modern enemy (which the Indian Air Force certainly is). That was the most common scenario last year, I understand. If it was 4 vs. 4 with AWACS support and AESA then I would be worried…

  2. On the other hand, regardless of whether the engagements are ‘fair’ or not, being beaten in training exercises has certain positive attributes. It’s better to lose at training sometimes than become too complacent about your superiority… I suspect what happens is that the planners of the exercise purposefully set it up to be a bit more difficult for the US than India. Or perhaps they try to make it fair but underestimate the Indians. Or perhaps the Indians are just really good. I don’t know… I’ll eagerly await the details of the engagements and how they went, until then we can only speculate. But if you want to know what happened last year, be sure to read about exactly how it was set up or else you won’t get a good sense of what the results mean. To keep last year in perspective: ‘The Four F-15’s were outnumbered, usually flying against ten or twelve of the same model Indian fighters.’ ‘According to United States media, the F-15C’s were defeated more than 90 percent of the time in direct combat exercises against the IAF.’ I’d say it’s pretty impressive that four F-15s EVER beat ten or twelve SU-30s. To summarise: make your own analysis. 🙂

  3. Hi Murdoc, Yep, one of the Indian newspapers made a big slip calling the F-15 a ‘Tomcat’. I also agree with your commenters on last years exercize. However, I would refer y’all to the last link on my post, the forum by the Indian pilots and defense wonks – LOTS of detail, and yes they do know that last year’s Cope India had restricted ROE. However, I would stress that this year the rules included BVR engagements with AWACS support and the Indian pilots seemed to have done very well. In particular, the refurbished Mig 21s were a surprise, it seems. Also, in at least one out of two head-to-heads between a single Su30 and an F-16, both with AWACS support, their information is that the Su30 came out ahead. Regards, Cernig PS Thanks for the link.

  4. The article I read from last year said that the MiG-21s were a surprise. If they were a surprise again this year, someone has a short memory 🙂 The SU-30 is a much larger aircraft than the F-16, with a larger radome and more missiles and fuel. It’s also a large radar target and therefore detectable at large distances. However, as far as I am aware, most F-16s have relatively old radars. The F-14 and F-15 are in the same class as the SU-27/30/33’s class, the F-16 is more similar to a MiG-29.

  5. By the way, thanks for the info Cernig, it’s fascinating. I’m particularly interested in the F-16, MiG-29, SU-27/30/33 and MiG-21. I know least about the IAF’s upgraded MiG-21s. The latest model I’m familiar with is the MiG-21bis which is not a match for a modern fighter. It sounds like the models they have have a significantly uprated engine and improved radar/fire control as well as the ability to fit new missiles. I’ve been wondering for a while when the US will field a longer range missile. (For all I know, you have, but it’s classified). The R-77 is a larger weapon and thus has longer range than the AIM-120. This means the F-16s could have a hard time against an SU-30 in BVR. It sounds like the IAF really know what they are doing. I wonder how the pilots compare to Russian/Ukranian pilots flying their own aircraft. Murdoc, if you find out more info later, I’d love to hear it! Especially narrations from pilots and descriptions of how some of the scenarios worked out.

  6. Nicholas – From what I have seen, there are no operationally planned missiles in the near term comparable in range to the R-77. In the mid term 2012-15 there may be a missile introduced, but given funding issues, I would not bet on it. That said, in operation I doubt that the R-77 extra range will help the SU-30 much. The US is changing the equation. Air to Air missiles are now being hardened against EMP and now incorporate two data links. The EMP protection is necessary as US fighters are now being equiped with EMP equipment to burn out electronics. The upcomming B-52 and E-10’s can cook a turkey in flight at over a 100 miles. This is going to give the R-77 & the SU-30’s fits. The two way data links allows US fighters to fire their missiles and let the AWACS guide the missiles in, or the fighters to fire a missile and use its radar to guide in other missiles. This technology allows the stealth fighters to have the benefits of stealth and be able to use radar guided munitions.

  7. That’s certainly interesting… I don’t really see why it’s so difficult to add some boosters to AMRAAMs so that there is some kind of stopgap measure. Range is not everything but sometimes it helps. I’m sure the F-22 will make a big difference too. Yes, I realize how useful it is that one aircraft can launch a missile and another (even AWACS) can guide it. In a head-on pass with AMRAAMs against R-77 equipped fighter you’re at a major disadvantage since they can fire sooner and beam/disengage sooner. If someone further back (second element?) could guide the missile you could launch and leave straight away. And yes, I see the advantage of the stealth aspect – the guiding platform most likely gives itself away, but the launching platform is the most at risk. UAVs may change the equation somewhat too. If AWACS can guide it, the launching platform needs almost no intelligence or sensors. Still, I think it’s a good practice to make each individual platform as good independently as possible, and then also get the extra benefits of working intelligently together. That way if something goes wrong and, say, AWACS is unavailable or a flight needs to go independently into enemy territory they can still fight and win on their own.

  8. All other factors being equal – range is a very good thing. Even if all other factors are not equal, range can trump a bunch of factors. That said, range is only as good as your sensors. Stealth and ECM puts a dent in the sensor range. More importantly for missiles, the longer the range, the less manuverable the missile tends to be. So at 20 miles the R-77 can keep up with any fighter, at 50 miles, it can keep up with e B-52. Now, if they can fit a RAM jet engine in the puppy, harden its electronics, and give it a dual mode seeker – radar & ladar or infrared then maybe you got something. Though I have to admit that a long endurance, high stealth UCAV with missiles that recieve guidance from a AWACS, would be simply devistating as a air dominance platform.

  9. MO; all, The comment about learning from defeat is also true on the ground. COnsider the National Training Center at Ft Irwin, CA. There is a resident OpFor there, who knows every wadi, nook, cranny, and crag in the maneuver area. Units that go there for force-on-force training usually lose. But winning there isn’t really the point. The point is training and operating under combat conditions for extended periods; leading, planning for, and maneuvering actual men and equipment across an actual landscape, not a notional digital one. And because the ‘enemy’ there is so skilled and motivated, ‘friendly’ forces get to fight against a top notch opponent, and arguably the toughest one they are likely to face. It’s because of the NTC that US ground forces can take apart any organized military force they are likely to face. I distinctly remember reading ‘Stars and Stripes’ after GW1, when a trooper from an ACR said something along the lines of, ‘After the NTC, the Tawakalna was nothing.’

  10. james – I’m not sure that increased range means decreased maneuverability. In fact, because of its unique tail surfaces, I heard the R-77 is *very* maneuverable. Granted, longer range usually means bigger and heavier, which requires large fins (which create more drag) to maneuver well but that’s probably why the Soviets thought up that ‘potato masher’ concept. You may be right with that statement most of the time but I believe there are ways to circumvent it. Obviously range is no good if you can’t detect and track your target, which is why I thought the F-16 and MiG-21s would do well at BVR. But the radars on the SU-30MKIs (and probably the AESA equipped US fighters) are getting so good I’m not sure that’s going to help any more. I’m sure the F-22 will make a difference though. The solution coming in 10-20 years you menioned is probably the RAMjet powered AMRAAM. Soviet missiles have had RAMjets for ages (even sharing the combusion chamber with the booster rocket!) so it shouldn’t be difficult, but it’s still not coming for a while for some reason, why is why I am advocating external rocket boosters to increase range until it’s been developed and deployed. Yes, I think in our lifetimes, if the military-industrial complex isn’t completely missing the point, we will see swarms of smallish UAVs with long endurance and high sprint speeds which carry a couple of AAMs that are guided by AWACS. The response will probably have to be stealthy cruise missiles or UAVs which drop bombs. Geeklethal – I read a work of fiction at some point (I think it was Sum of All Fears) which talks about Ft. Irwin and what you described. It makes me angry to hear about exercises which are ‘rigged’ so that the blue team can win. Wasn’t some guy fired from a recent exercise for finding clever ways to win despite the ‘rigging’? (like using motorcycle messengers instead of the comm net which he knew the other side could listen in on). I think it’s better training if both sides can think on their feet.

  11. A good army learns from it’s defeats, a great army learns from it’s victories. America doesn’t lose often, and I’m betting the Indian Air Force is really quite professional, even if the exercise is unbalanced. One factor that would even things up would be realistic missions with lengthy missions. Our planes tend to have better ‘legs’ than most of the russian (I keep wanting to say ‘former soviet’ but that’s not PC)fighters. The SU-30 might be better, I’m not sure how it’s fuel performance is. We also have a better in-air refueling capability. I think the F-22 will probably even us back up, even at 4-10 odds. I’d like to see a f&f missle like the Javelin AT missle for air to air targets. Shoot and scoot, no held radar lock, fire, jink, and put the hammer down.

  12. Chad, that’s true. One reason why they’re being surprised by the upgraded MiG-21 performance vs. F-16s is, I think, because a major design point of the F-16 was to have enough fuel for it to have decent range. Drop tanks are also usually carried, reducing performance and enhancing range. The SU-27/30/33 are pretty large aircraft though. Bigger than an F-15. They have lots of internal fuel, which is good, because their engines are pretty thirsty. Of all India’s aircraft, they would be the longest range fighters I think, and comparable to an F-15 with conformal fuel tanks. The MiG-21s definitely have ‘short legs’ and I think -23s may also. I’m pretty sure the Russian aircraft have some mid-air refuelling capability but not sure if India has any/many tankers. AIM-120 can be used in a fire and forget mode but they’re less likely to find a heavily maneuvering target that way. Mid-course updates (which require radar which is pointed at the target, but not a lock in the traditional sense of STT) help it adjust its intercept course if the target changes course before it gets close enough to use its own radar seeker. One advantage the R-77 has is, because it has a larger diameter, it can have a larger radar seeker and therefore possibly can get its own lock at longer range (it depends on how advanced the radar technology is too – an AIM-120 derivative of similar diameter to the R-77 may well outperform it, I don’t know). I think you have to learn from both victories and defeats, but if you’re never defeated you don’t know your limits… I contend the US learned a LOT from Vietnam (especially since you were up against Soviet technology, which is still the primary opponent technology today – in fact sometimes the very same pieces of equipment).

  13. Nicholas, Oh, I don’t think it’s a debatable point at all: the US *did* learn alot from Vietnam; professionals always learn. Whether that always translates into direct improvement on the tactical-scale battlefield is something else though. And you don’t have to go back to Vietnam regarding your point about learning on commie technology and systems. When I went through Ft Huachuca, we spent weeks, into months, learning Soviet systems, organization, capabilities, etc etc. The fact that the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union were unravelling was largely immaterial. The attitude was that, given any enemy we were likely to face, that enemy was trained or equipped either by us or the commies. Either way, we’re pretty smart on their stuff.

  14. Nicholas The real measure of a missile is its no escape range, not it best range. Any missile you make has a lot of trade offs, with high manuverability often trading off against range. Thrust vectoring increases weight, and maintence. Fins, produce drag, and high G performance increases all the ocsts. The thing to keep in mind with missiles is that your engine fires for a realitively brief time period, after that you bleed speed with every turn. At the end of a long range shot, your missile’s ability to manuver is allways compromised. A final note on the R-77. The stated range of 100KM is a tad misleading. Ranges are stated in terms of certain conditions. For example the AIM-120C range is calculated with two aircraft approaching each other at Mach 1.2 at a height of 10K. The R-77 range is calculated with two aircraft approaching each other at Mach1.5 at a height of 20K. So naturally the R-77 range is overstated.

  15. Yes, I basically ignore missile ranges because there are far too many variables. Even if you ignore the millions of different combinations of your altitute, attitude (both direction and climb/dive) and speed as well as the targets’, you still have the question of who does what after launch. What I do tend to pay attention to are seeker quality and propellant weight vs. missile weight. Both the AIM-120 and the R-77 seem to have good seekers – at a guess, I would say the AIM-120 is better, but that’s just because at the time the R-77 is developed I think the US was far ahead in terms of electronics, especially miniaturisation, which is important in a small item like a missile. However, the R-77 is much larger and heavier so it ought to have more total energy (and not bleed it to air resistance quite so fast). That may impact maneuverability however. One of the common scenarios, at least in a fighter vs. fighter combat, would be what I’ve heard referred to as ‘chainsaw’ – basically, fire a BVR missile at some range and then turn around and run like hell. The interesting thing is, the longer you wait to take ths shot, the better a shot you get, but the same is true for your adversary. It’s like in those game shows where there’s an increasing amount of money, and if you press a buzzer you get that money, but if you wait too long you lose it all. (It’s entirely possible if you both wait too long, you’ll end up shooting each other down). I suspect in that scenario, the R-77 may have the upper hand, which worries me. If both fighters are high and fast and have long-range missiles, the only ways I can see for one to defeat the other are: * Stealth allowing one to launch the missile before the other can get a firing solution, or possibly is not even aware of its presence. * One missile has enough of a range advantage that its platform can launch and turn before the other * Excellent decoys/jammers allowing one platform to avoid being hit by the others’ missile, even if it can reach that platform It’s possible to outmaneuver a BVR missile but IMO nobody sane would rely on it. It would be a last resort to try that. So, the F-22 and F-35 may deliver on the first. US aircraft may well be capable of the third, but that would probably be classified so I don’t know. So, assuming the F-22 is not in the picture yet (as is the case with Cope India) and ruling out the decoy method, range is pretty critical in determining who will win a BVR fight. It may well be the decoy/jammer solution which means that the US Air Force is not terribly worried about the range difference. Also, better co-ordination/tactics may be able to defeat the advantage, but that really depends upon the quality of your opponents and the relative numbers. There are definitely other scenarios but against a smart enemy who knows where you are, this is how I imagine it will play out so I tend to think about it a fair bit.

  16. Oh, and there is an advantage for twin-engine fighters (e.g. Su-30 vs. F-16) in BVR combat, which is basically that they typically have a higher available T/W ratio while carrying a decent amount of weapons and fuel, and they also typically carry enough fuel to spend some time in afterburner without having to worry about it too much. In the F-16 simulator I find the plane carries quite a decent amount of fuel, but if you’re expecting combat you end up bringing drop tanks which cripple your performance (although in a really serious fight, you’d ditch them, but they’re not cheap so not in an exercise I think. I try to avoid doing so unless I’m in serious trouble). Then, when you start a BVR engagement you go to full burner to get as much speed/height as possible so you can loft the missile and extend the range as much as possible. As soon as you start beaming/turning you bleed of most of that speed and have to spend some more time in the burner putting distance between the target and yourself (assuming you know or suspect the target has BVR missiles too). By then you have to start worrying about having enough fuel to complete the mission/get home. I think the F-16 makes up for that by being cheap enough and easy enough to maintain that you can afford to outnumber the enemy 🙂 The updated MiG-21s would have a similar advantage, although their legs would be even shorter but in exchange they’re even cheaper. By the way, I’m not sure how accurately this simulator represents the F-18, but assuming it’s somewhat accurate, I find that the Hornet bleeds of a lot more energy in a high speed turn (and does so at a higher angle of attack typically). If this is accurate, I don’t think it makes as good an air-to-air platform as the F-16. I hope the F-18E/F is no worse, but I suspect it might be 🙁 Interesting: here they are saying an F-16 pilot flew a MiG-29 and didn’t find it as stable in the same flight regimes (low speed loop yaw departed).

  17. Hi Nicholas, Ypu will no doubt be fascinated to hear that IAF frontline pilots get about 20% more flying time than USAF pilots. The IAF is the frontline for a nation that has two hostile and allied powers – Pakistan and China – on its borders, both of them with nukes. Note, Pakistan will host the Chinese navy for its first ever exercise outside home waters next year. I’m not at all sure its a good idea to be selling to both Pakistan and India for their ongoing arms race and of the two I would pick India. Regards, C

  18. we beat the USAF with MiG 21 and 23s. Forget about MiG 29s and SU 30 MKIs We induct smart young men. They take pride in defending our motherland, unlike the mathematically challenged American medicrity of the USAF. What the hell! Bring up the ‘so called’ 5th generation F22 against us! We’ll take care of them. Old saying ‘its the person behind the machine that matters’!!! And the USAF just got a learning jolt! We – The IAF -are the best.

  19. And I’m a Physician here in the USA I entrust my family’s health to —- Me. Why? Guess what. We’re good at what we do, me having 7 degrees. should know what I do. ( I hope!!) We try to excel. The world is ours. That is why the USAF will ALWAYS lose against us. WE ARE THE PROS.!

  20. we in the Indian Air Force have had more combat experience than any other air force in the world (oops including the Israelis). So, it should be no suprise that we ‘screwed’ the USAF. we have fought Air Forces (Pakistan) on equal grounds and screwed them unliks the unequal combat between the Israelis and the idiotic Arab Air Forces.

  21. If the MiG-21bis Upgrade had included plasme stealth capabilities, I presume USAF would have been shell shocked. If the technology exists then it makes sense for India to upgrade further and retrofit the stealth component.

  22. I apologise for the jingoistic comments of Anoop Singh my countryman. Pride in your country should never blind you to reality. The Pakistanis learnt that to their cost in 1965 ( ‘One Paki equals ten Hindus’) when we turned Khem Karan into a graveyard of Patton tanks with our museum-piece Centurions. Similarly, it’s professionally undeniable that let alone the USAF, the US Navy alone can take out the Indian Air Force in days, if they deployed all their air assets. Courage is redundant against long-range technology. The US has no reason to fight us – we’re the only country that likes them in this neighborhood. Let us absorb their high technology and use it for protection against those who really hate us ( and them), Pakistan & China.

  23. Parshu-since you are working as an intellectual coolie to some american company, it does not mean that USAF can beat india !! Anoopsingh was right!!