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Flying & fighting in the Sukhoi Su-30 ‘Flanker’: A pilot interview

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Photos: Gp Capt Sharma

Described as a ‘royal merciless game-changer’, the Sukhoi Su-30 ‘Flanker’ is a monster: a long-ranged, well armed, unbeatably manoeuvrable fighter uniquely equipped with 3D thrust-vectoring control (TVC) enabling it to perform seemingly impossible aerobatics in the sky. We spoke to  IAF Gp Capt Anurag Sharma to learn more about flying and fighting in the Russian superfighter. 

What were your first impressions of the Su-30?
“I was awestruck at the size of this monster! I caught a glimpse of it at Bangalore Airshow in 1997 (I was part of the inaugural day fly past in a Jaguar formation). There it stood in the lineup….. majestic, mighty and muscular! Head and shoulders above the crowd! Even the Air Display by the Russian Test Pilot was a show stopper. The M2000, F-16 etc were just no match for this beauty.”

“Another mission that stand out is a group combat mission that was pitching a Su-30…against three F-16… End score one F-16 claimed without loss.”

What’s the difference between a K and MKI and which is better?
“Su-30K was basically the Su-27 UB (trainer version) modified to be a two-seater fighter and the Su-30 MKI is a two seater upgraded version of Su-30K. While the two maybe classified into the same family and have few physical differences (canards, nosewheel, thrust vectoring and glass cockpit); the operational philosophy of the two aircraft is vastly different because of the much-upgraded operational capability of the MKI.

The Su-30 K was basically an air defence fighter of the 3.5 Gen that could drop dumb bombs (albeit in large quantities). But the MKI is a multirole fighter in the real sense of the word. The enhanced avionics package, weapons, near AESA airborne interception radar that permits simultaneous Air-to-air and air-to-ground targeting puts the MKI in a league of its own. The fly-by-wire system of the MKI allows carefree handling viz-a-viz Su-30K. The Su-30 K was handling with care especially in the low speed regime whereas the MKI is carefree handling all the way!

Personally, my heart is with the Su-30K! perhaps because I grew up on it. Attempting to master the Su-30K was a challenge in itself because you had to develop “seat of the pants feeling” in an aircraft that was not carefree handling (as you would expect a FBW aircraft to be). The avionics package, information presentation was rudimentary and presented great challenges as an operator. I think that is what made it special. The skill of the pilot counted more on that type.

But given a choice, I would pick the MKI for a combat fight. The total package of the MKI is a force multiplier in combat!!! Hands down!!

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Which three words best describe it?
“Royal, merciless, game-changer.”

5. What is the best thing about it?
Ans. As a fighter pilot, you look to emerge victorious in every battle; the Su-30 gives you that confidence. Rest is up to you!

And the worst thing?
“Haven’t found one yet!”

How you rate the Su-30 in the following categories?

“A. Instantaneous turn– at high speeds, a shade slow, but once you get her to 650-709 Kmph- as goos as any. With thrust vectoring- unparalleled!

B. Sustained turn– depends upon the load and altitude. At medium altitudes with AA loads only very good and matches any other 4/5 gen fighter ac.

C. High alpha- Exceptional! Requires skill but once you know what to do- she’s a beauty!

D. Acceleration. The Su-30K was faster because it was lighter but the MKI is good when it comes to low speed combat against F-16/F-18/ Mirage 2000 class of aircraft. Acceleration also depends upon the load carried.”

Interview with IAF MiG-25 pilot here

Climb rate

The Su-30K had a greater reserve of power; even in the MKI, ROC is very good for its huge size. You can feel the acceleration when she climbs!

What was your most memorable mission? 

“Well there have been many over the years but a few that stand out are as follows: –

(a) DACT with F-16 Block 60*of  Republic of Singapore Air Force.

(*Ed: think these are actually Block 52)

The strongest adversary that we could possibly face in our life as a fighter pilot was the F-16 of PAF (for obvious reasons). So the excitement of facing an F-16, even in a mock combat was unbelievable. The weight of the mission was overbearing! Perhaps that’s what makes it special. As the combat commenced, we manoeuvred for our lives and in very little time the situation was in our favour! The desperate calls from the F-16, “Flare, Flare, Flare!” are very distinctly audible in my ears even today! From that day, the anxiety that prevailed over facing an F-16 in combat was gone forever…. Vanished! It was clear what the outcome would be!”

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“Another mission that stand out is a group combat mission that was pitching a Su-30 & one MiG-21 BISON against three F-16 . As luck would have it, the BISON did not get airborne and now the game was one Su-30 vs three F-16 in a BVR scenario. Again, we pushed the envelope, manoeuvred between 3000 ft to 32000 ft, pulling up to 8 g, turning, tumbling, firing and escaping missiles in a simulated engagement. The crew co-ord between us in the cockpit and the fighter controller on the ground was the best that I have ever seen! The results in a mock combat are always contentious but with ACMI, they are more reliable. End score one F-16 claimed without loss. When we got out of the cockpit we were thoroughly drenched in sweat and tired from the continuous high G manoeuvring but all smiles for the ecstasy that we had just experienced.”

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Which aircraft have you flown DACT against and which was the most challenging?
“In the Su-30 I have flown DACT with RSAF (Royal Singapore Air Force) F-16, M-2000 H /5[ FAF], MiG -29 amongst the ASFs. I think the most challenging was the M2000 in France. The carefree manoeuvrability of the Mirage its nose profile and avionics package perhaps gave it an edge over the others. The F-16 beyond the initial turn loses steam, the MiG -29 is very powerful but conventional controls maybe …. . A good Mirage guy can manoeuvre more carefree.”

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Typhoon pilots say they ‘trounced’ the Su-30 in DACT exercises, yet Su-30 say the reverse? What is the truth?
“Well I wasn’t part of that exercise but some close friends were. The story goes both ways especially when you are engaged in friendly exercises with fixed rules of engagements! I think it’s an even fight and the man behind the machine would make the difference! Such a contest gets any fighter jock drooling!”

How easy is to fly? What is the hardest thing about flying it?  
“Basic flying is not very difficult including exercises such as AA refueling. But it’s a Herculean task to reach a level where you can exploit it to its fullest especially in large Force Engagements (LFE) The capability of the aircraft outruns you by miles. In fact, at times even 7 Multi-Function Displays (MFD) and two aircrew are insufficient to achieve what she can do for you!”

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Is TVC useful in air combat? If so, how should it be used?
“Most people think that it’s not! My suspicion is that’s because it requires skill to put it to good use. Once two beasts of this kind engage in combat, it goes down to the wire and in the low speed regime the TVC allows you just the edge you’ve been looking for. Just 300m is enough to get to the right angle and Boom!”

How would you rate the cockpit?
The cockpit is Russian! hey don’t build the aircraft around the pilot like the western manufacturers do! So the ergonomics leave a lot to be desired. The HOTAS could be designed much better. But ask anyone who hasn’t flown other types and he’s okay with this!
Have you fired live weapons- if so, what was it like? 
Yes,! AA missiles, LGB,  and Runway denial weapons. Weapon delivery is really exciting! The adrenaline rush, the cold sweat that trickles down your temples when you press the trigger are a different feeling altogether. They are really expensive and hence the opportunity comes rarely. The thing that worries you most is that you don’t want to be the dumbass when it comes to firing Smart Weapons

I think the AA missile is the best! When the weapon leaves your wing, the plume, noise and shear power of the accelerating missile is breathtaking.

How confident would a Su-30 pilot feel going against a modern USAF F-15C
“As far as the platform is concerned, he’s got a better baby in his hands. No doubt!”
What is the greatest myth about the Su-30?
“That it’s too big to manoeuvre!”

How combat effective is the Su-30?
“A game changer!”
 How reliable and easy to maintain is it?
“Reliable – yes!  Maintenance- extensive!

What tips would you give new pilots coming onto the Su-30?
“It’s like a Tapasya (Sanskrit word meaning total selfless commitment. Dedication, commitment and patient hard work will reveal the true pleasures of flying to you! Early days are tough, just hang in there, get over the hump and you will experience heavenly pleasure that only fighter pilots have been blessed with.

How much post-stall manoeuvring can the average squadron pilot do? Is this a rare skill?
“Independent manoeuvres – they do it from day one (it’s that easy!). Relative manoeuvring in relation to an adversary in the sky requires extensive training and skill development! The manoeuvres can be counter productive in not done correctly.”

What is the hardest manoeuvre to pull off in a Su-30? 
“A downward combat manoeuvre with TVC at low levels against a manoeuvring target.”

As a personal opinion: What should the Indian Air Force procure and what should it get rid of? 

“Well, the Old Gen’ aircraft are already being phased out and The IAF is in the process of procuring the Rafale (a great choice!) The LCA development and large-scale induction into the IAF is no-brainer! It must be done but the platform should be a qualitative addition as well! Just adding numbers is not the right answer. Self-dependency is critical for India’s growth and rise as a major power on the World stage. There is a huge prospect of joint development with other major manufactures around the world such as BAE that have been traditional defence suppliers for IAF.”

Interview with an IAF MiG-27 pilot here

Tell me something I don’t know about the Su-30?

“The Su-30 MKI  has perhaps as many players as the Typhoon! The Russians provide most of the hardware; Indian , French, Israeli industries provide software, avionics and weapons! The Russians won’t give their knowhow to Israelis and the French won’t give it to Russians. So it’s is a great achievement to get these components talking to each other! The Heart of the avionics system that communicates with all these various systems is Indian.

What should I have asked you about the Su-30?

“A fighter pilot has a unique relation with his aircraft. A unique bonding; much like the Avatar with his Ikran*!  . Sharing that feeling with another occupant in the cockpit is not easy! Especially when your WSO is not fixed.

Loosing that privacy or rather intimacy is not easy! While you learnt to live with it, I personally consider a huge loss as a fighter pilot. But alas there is no way out! With such competent platforms; perhaps two crew are indispensable!”

*the dragon in the Avatar film

The R-73 is an old missile- What do you think about the idea of adding ASRAAM to the Su-30?

“The Su-30 is getting upgrades continuously and plans are in place to enhance the weapon inventory. So it’s a cat and mouse game with the adversary being payed all the time.”

How good is the helmet mounted sight – is it used much in air-to-air training?

“Very good! It allows off bore targeting and that coupled with TVC gives a good angular advantage to the Su-30 in combat!”

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_E1R5400 (1).JPGThis interview would not have been possible without the kind help of Angad Singh 

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F-15 versus Flanker: An Eagle pilot’s view

Su27.png Undoubtedly the two most formidable fighter aircraft of the Cold War were the US’ F-15C Eagle and the Soviet Su-27, code-named ‘Flanker’. Which would have had the upper hand in air combat? We ask former USAF F-15 pilot Paul Woodford “The Su-27 Flanker, as a threat the USAF F-15 community needed to take seriously, emerged in the late 1980s as significant numbers of the aircraft began to be fielded. During my first two F-15 tours (Soesterberg AB NL from 1978-1982, Elmendorf AFB AK from 1982-1985), the air-to-air threats we trained against were the MiG-21 and -23. By the time I finished a joint staff tour and returned to flying Eagles in 1989, MiG-29s and Su-27s were the primary threats, and we trained seriously against them. DHJT61JUAAAtbzE.jpg If you look at publicly released figures on the F-15, the Su-27, and their weapons, you see right away the Flanker and the Eagle were evenly matched in terms of aircraft performance and weapons capability. Nevertheless, we—Eagle drivers—felt confident we would prevail in combat. This was based on our knowledge of the training hours Flanker pilots got in comparison with ours. When I started flying F-15s again, at Kadena AB on Okinawa, Japan, we trained almost exclusively against forward-firing beyond visual range threats; i.e., Su-27 Flankers and MiG-29 Fulcrums, even though their numbers, at least in our area of operations, were small. If we could defeat aircraft similar in capability to our own, we figured, we could beat anybody. We didn’t know how good the Su-27’s radar was. Ours was damn good, and we had to assume theirs was too. Our air-to-air weapons, the AIM-7M Sparrow and AIM-9M Sidewinder, were on paper evenly matched against the Su-27’s AA-10 Alamo and AA-11 Archer. An advantage the Su-27 had over us was its long-range infrared search and track (IRST) system.
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Russian_SU-27_Flanker_MOD_45157731.jpg Now no one would have bet the bank on any of what I’m about to share with you. We had to assume the aircraft and its missiles were at least as good as ours, and that’s how we trained. But there were a few things most of us felt, though we rarely shared those thoughts. Russian_Federation_Air_Force_Su-27_aircraft_intercept_a_simulated_hijacked_aircraft_entering_Russian_airspace_Aug._27_2013_during_Exercise_Vigilant_Eagle_13_130827-F-XT249-354.jpg Published performance specs and numbers are always best-case, radar target acquisition and missile engagement ranges in particular. The probability of kill for our Sparrows was somewhere around 50%. Pk for the Alamo was probably similar. Short-range heat-seekers were different: the AIM-9M’s Pk was nearly 100%, and we had no reason to think the Archer was any worse. We knew the actual performance capabilities of our own aircraft and missiles were somewhat less than advertised and so, likely, were theirs. But whatever the numbers, we were probably still evenly matched. The big difference was training. We flew, on average, three times a week, training hard against a threat as good as we were. At the time, based on intel, we knew Russian pilots were flying and training far less. Tacticians at the Fighter Weapons School at Nellis AFB in Nevada were working hard on how to beat BVR threats as capable as our own, specifically ways the F-15 and its missiles could defeat the Su-27 and its missiles. They developed what at the time was a classified technique called the f-pole manoeuvre. Basically, we’d enter the fight high, fast, and as head-on to the threat as possible (giving our AIM-7s the longest possible ranges), launch at max optimum range, and immediately crank into hard turns away, right to radar gimbal limits. Our Sparrows were in the air, flying straight at their targets along the shortest possible distance. Their missiles, had they launched at the same range, had to fly farther to get to us. The f-pole manoeuvre, properly executed, might even give their IRST systems a harder problem finding and tracking us, but I can’t attest to that. We had a lot of confidence in this technique and practiced it religiously, and believed it would make the crucial difference in combat. sukhoisu30mkiindianairf.jpg In other words, we thought we were ready for them. We were better trained. We were just starting to field the AIM-120 AMRAAM when I left Kadena for another staff job, and I never flew with it. I’m guessing it gave us a tremendous advantage for a year or so, until the bad guys caught up. Ditto the AIM-9X and today’s enemy equivalent. And of course today everyone knows about the f-pole manoeuvre and we can assume foreign air forces train their fighter pilots in the technique. I don’t get to talk to current USAF fighter pilots much these days, but I bet their level of confidence in being able to defeat enemy threats is no different than ours was.” — Paul ‘Skid’ Woodford Read – Cold War Eagle Driver: F-15 pilot reveals all here Follow Paul’s aviation adventures on his blog here jajdja1911.jpg

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An Idiot’s Guide to Chinese Flankers

 

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Dear Hush-Kit, 

I am generally a happy man, but there is one thing in life that leaves me confused and angry: I can’t get my head around all the different Chinese Flankers (I refuse to put that word in inverted commas). Please please could you explain the differences, without drowning me in details? 

Yours hopefully, 

Jeffrey Bainbridge, Luton 

OK Jeffrey, no problem. I will do my best. Where I fail, better informed readers will gently correct me in the comments section.

So, first of all we have the Shenyang J-11.

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The J-11 was just a Russian Su-27SK provided as a kit and assembled in China (China also got a batch of Russian-built Su-27SKs). The J-11B is a Chinese-made version with indigenous engines, avionics and a lighter composite airframe. Importantly, the J-11B can deliver smart bombs.

So pretty good then? 

Yes, probably is. It also added a glass cockpit. It has some good weapons too, the PL-12 is analogous to the AMRAAM- and the US Navy, for one, is terrified of it. The Chinese WS-10 engines were initially shit though- and the aircraft had to be refitted with Russian AL-31Fs, but they’ve since sorted the ’10 and they’ve gone back to it.

Think crap Su-35.

Wait, so early Flankers didn’t have glass cockpits?

I know, pretty lame right? The Russians lagged behind the West with glass cockpits. The original Su-27 cockpit was jokes.

Is the J-11 a ‘pirate’ copy?

It’s complicated. The Russian did give them a licence to build some on the condition that they had Russian-built engines and avionics, but the J-11B broke that agreement and is a pirate (it’s 90% Chinese so doesn’t benefit Russia much). Initially Russian aircraft manufacturers were vocally pissed off, but now (realising they can’t do anything about it) they say it’s all fine, though they do have a vested interest in selling them more stuff. Intellectual property rights have only been around in China since 1979, and the attitude of both Communism and China to the protection of ideas/things is a different one to the West (to be fair Russia is also pretty laissez-faire on this matter). The Chinese aren’t allowed to export J-11s, an agreement they have honoured.

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Good radar? 

The Chinese thought the early Su-27SK and J-11 radar (the N001) was pretty rubbish. There was a big argument about upgrading (the Russians dragged there heels) and eventually it was upgraded to N001VE (for the J-11A) standard (kinda like an early F-15 radar). The J-11B got the Chinese Type 1474 set which is far better, and is now being tested with an AESA.

J-11B prototype 524 - 06 Chinese J-11B Flanker Fighter Jet Spotted With Grey Radome modifed radardome active radar scanned, AESA In Play (5)

My head is starting to hurt. What else is in the J-11B family? 

Before we get to that you must know that they also bought a combat capable two-seater called the Su-27UBK.

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Two-seats and square-tipped fins identify this as a Su-30MK. Inserted in the wrong part of this article to confuse you.

OK, that I can deal with. So now can we go back to the other J-11 variants?

No, because we need to know about the Russian-built, Russian-equipped Su-35.

So what’s that? 

A Russian-made top of the range ‘Super Flanker’. Chinese has bought 24, probably just so they can filch the technology.

Super eh? So that’s the best Flanker of all?

In some ways. But it has a PESA radar. AESA is what everyone wants, and the Chinese already have it on their J-11Ds (more on this later). So in terms of radar technology it’s not the best. In most other respects – notably its fly-by-wire system, integrated avionics and use of composite materials- it probably is.

Can you stop teasing me about the J-11 family now? 

OK. We have:

  • J-11BS – A twin-seat version of the J-11B.
  • J-11BH – Naval (but not carrier compatible) version of the J-11B.
  • J-11BSH – Naval version of the J-11BS.

Hey, are you just stealing this bit from Wikipedia? 

I’ve got a friend coming ’round soon and I’m getting bored of your questions.

Alright, tell me quickly what the other ones are…

J-15

China’s first carrier-borne J15 fighter jets were displayed for public to see Wednesday in Xi’an of northwest China’s Shaanxi Province (2).jpg

The J-15 has canard foreplanes and naval markings.

Carrier-based version based on the J-11B, that also has some bits nicked from the Su-33 design. Mercifully easy to identify as it has canard foreplanes and lives on carriers. 

Wait, why haven’t you mentioned the Su-30s yet? 

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The most formidable fighter-bombers in PLA service are the Su-30MKKs.

Jeez, be patient, I was going to explain. The Su-30 is a two-seat fighter-bomber. It’s heavier than an old Flanker and more versatile. It can carry a whole bunch of horribly effective air-to-ground weapons. China has the Su-30MKK and Su-30MK2. They have the longest range radar of any Chinese Flankers- the Zhuk-MS. As you can expect the Chinese ripped off this design to produce a variant they called the J-16 (though some claim it is based on the J-11BS)

Did you mention a J-11D? Yes I did. This is the probably the most badass of all. It has AESA, reduced conspicuity to radar, and new electronic warfare systems, but it isn’t yet in frontline service.

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The J-11D has a funny looking nose.

You failed, my head still hurts. 

OK, try this:

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A handy chart, though it does lack the Su-35K and J-15D.

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Was the Spitfire overrated? Want something more bizarre? The Top Ten fictional aircraft is a fascinating read, as is The Strange Story and The Planet Satellite. The Fashion Versus Aircraft Camo is also a real cracker. Those interested in the Cold Way should read A pilot’s guide to flying and fighting in the Lightning. Those feeling less belligerent may enjoy A pilot’s farewell to the Airbus A340. Looking for something more humorous? Have a look at this F-35 satire and ‘Werner Herzog’s Guide to pusher bi-planes or the Ten most boring aircraft. In the mood for something more offensive? Try the NSFW 10 best looking American airplanes, or the same but for Canadians. 

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Pentagon requests new advanced fighter aircraft for Russia

Image: BAE Systems

THE PENTAGON — The Pentagon released a report today requesting Congressional authorization for the allocation of funds to develop a new air superiority fighter for the Russian Federation. Parlor Banjo reports.

The aircraft project known as Military Air Counterable Grade Unassailable Foreign Fighter Increasement Node (MACGUFFIN) would see an initial $102 billion spent on developing a mass-produced fighter aircraft with greater capability than the ‘Flanker’, ‘Felon’ and nascent ‘Fleabag’ combat aircraft. According to USAF Colonel Tilch Willdergande, “We would like fighter aircraft and funding for future fighter projects, but this will require a credible air-to-air threat. China is at least twenty years behind us and Russia is broke. In the face of such a paucity of threatening air-to-air platforms we propose that we develop a new Russian fighter aircraft with US levels of stealth and situational awareness. In the absence of this project we would be forced to export F-35s to Russia, and possibly China, which would be a huge breach of export protocol and would threaten our global security. For this reason alone, MACGUFFIN is vital for regional dominance.

The Russian Minister of Defence Sergey Figniya released a counter statement on Wednesday, “We are offering to build a new fighter aircraft for the United States in order to leverage funding for a larger Su-57 and Su-75 force. The current mess of prehistoric F-15 and F-16s is a greater throwback to the 70s than Russian Gay rights. The F-22 and F-35 were designed to give IT guys maintenance work uninterrupted by flying hours. We’ve spent lots on really good surface-to-air missiles and the Government won’t give us Rubles for planes, which is annoying as planes are cooler.”

Death Star | StarWars.com

The Ministry of National Defense of the People’s Republic of China representative Gǔn Dàn has also recently spoken on the subject, “I forgot to write down which combat aircraft we’re working on so I have no idea on our current air power ranking. Every Monday they email me to tell me we’re building something new. Do the US still build aeroplanes or is that just a Chinese thing now? I think we might have a stealth bomber, or a new naval stealth fighter – is the Death Star ours?”

Meanwhile, European defence planners are planning to have a plan in place by 2045. The United Kingdom, who are currently in their own continent, are actively seeking a ‘sexual unicorn’ for their dysfunctional marriage but thinks their wife is not 100% behind the idea, but maybe Sweden.

Swedish defence company Saab AB is currently collaborating with every future combat aircraft project everywhere. A spokesperson for Saab, Nils Wallerius, described the company’s current dilemma, “As the last company allegedly able to run a fighter project with some degree of fiscal responsibility, we are currently involved in 456 international combat aircraft projects, but this is one higher than the Swedish population of 455 people. My sister has had to give up her Monday badminton club to run a Brazilian UCAV program.”

Image: BAE Systems

What we know about Russia’s new ‘Fleabag’ stealth fighter: Sukhoi Checkmate Q&A with RUSI Thinktank’s Justin Bronk & update from Jim ‘Sonic’ Smith

Checkmate, new Sukhoi fifth-generation stealth fighter jet is seen during an opening ceremony of the MAKS-2021 air show in Zhukovsky, outside Moscow, Russia, July 20, 2021.  Sputnik/Alexei Nikolskyi/Kremlin via REUTERS

Russia reveals what is described as a prototype of a new fighter aircraft at the MAKS 21 airshow. We caught up with Justin Bronk (Research Fellow at the RUSI  think-tank and Editor of RUSI Defence Systems) to find out more 


Is the Checkmate at MAKS a mock-up or aircraft?
Without higher resolution images it is difficult to be certain. However, the lack of wiring and hydraulic lines within the visible parts of the main landing gear well, as well as the rather oversimplified external textures seen in the leaked footage pre-official the unveiling appear to suggest a mock up rather than a functioning aircraft.


What does the configuration reveal about the aircraft’s role and capabilities?
The Light Tactical Aircraft (LTA) designation and the configuration show that this is clearly a concept aimed at producing a relatively cheap and cheerful, somewhat low observable light fighter, primarily for the export market.
The relatively compact size and engine/intake placement will limit the space available for internal weapon bays. I would guess two IR dogfight missiles in the small side-mounted bays ahead of the main landing gear, and space for 2-4 R-77 class BVR missiles in a ventral bay. However, larger air-to-air and air-to-ground ordinance would likely have to be carried externally. It is also likely to have a modest range with internal fuel due to the competing demands for landing gear housing, weapons bays and avionics within a compact airframe.
As with the Su-57, the LTA features an Infra-Red Scan and Track (IRST) sensor embedded at the junction between the forward canopy and the nose, and will likely feature an active electronically scanned array (AESA) type radar in the nose. The latter, however, will be limited in size due to the narrow and aggressively tapered nose profile.  
One particularly notable feature is the lack of conventional elevators. Instead, the LTA has canted stabilisers which are more vertical than I would have expected if a ruddervator (or V-Tail) configuration was intended to provide primary pitch authority. Instead, it would appear that pitch authority will be provided by a combination of tailless delta style elevon control and at least 2D thrust-vectoring. This suggests to me that the LTA has a lessened design emphasis on supermanoeuvrability than previous Russian fighter designs.

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Image: Vasily Kuznetsov: https://flickr.com/photos/27984580@N05…


How far is Russia from an operational Checkmate?
I would suggest that this is a long way from an operational aircraft. The slick PR campaign and dramatic reveal at MAKS is obviously an attempt to convince some of the nations mentioned in the Rostek commercial to buy into a nascent development programme. The slow development pace and limited procurement scale of the Su-57 Felon (which is far more important to Russia’s own defence needs) shows the limits of UAC’s ability to develop the LTA to an operational aircraft without significant external funding. 


Will it be used domestically? How will it aid the Su-57 force and what would it replace?
The Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS) tend to purchase a range of different combat aircraft at a small scale to keep the various formerly Sukhoi and Mikoyan design bureaus and production lines viable. Therefore, if the LTA is developed successfully into an operational aircraft, then I’m sure that the VKS will purchase it on a limited scale. However, I suspect that they would prefer to increase the quantities and maturity of the Su-57 over committing to the LTA on a large scale.


What would be the hardest technology for the Russia’s to master if the aircraft is seen as a counter/alternative to F-35?
There are three key technologies which Russia will need to master before the LTA could be seen as a competitive stealth fighter in a practical combat environment:
Firstly, they would need to master compact AESA radars for use on fighter aircraft – something which is being worked on with the Su-57 but is still causing headaches. The key issue is that to be a viable stealth fighter, an aircraft must not only be difficult to detect on radar, but must also be able to detect and engage enemy aircraft without revealing itself through the energy emitted by its radar. This capability is referred to as low-probability of intercept/low-probability of detection (LPI/LPD), and it is a vital factor in the survivability and lethality of the F-22 and F-35 which is often missed by non-specialist commentators.
In very broad-brush terms, LPI/LPD radars work by exploiting the fact that AESA radars employ hundreds of individual beams rather than one or several large and more powerful ones in a mechanically scanned or PESA type radar. Use of specific frequency, wavelength and pulse repetition techniques for these many individual beams can enable AESA radars to avoid producing an easily identifiable signature within the electronic ‘noise’ of the modern air environment. However, the programming, threat EW intelligence granularity and signal processing capabilities required are highly complex and difficult to master. Furthermore, the goalposts are constantly moving as passive electronic warfare (think detection, classification and tracking of hostile signals) capabilities improve with technology. In other words, what was LPI/LPD against Russian or Chinese systems in the 2000s is almost certainly not LPI/LPD against (say) a USAF F-35A in 2025. Without a genuinely LPI/LPD AESA radar, an operational LTA would expose its position against modern opponents every time it used its primary sensor – rendering its low-observable shaping features far less useful.
The second key technology is achieving the necessary level of industrial quality control to produce viable low-observable aircraft in quantity. While bespoke hand finishing can potentially produce relatively low-observable results for prototypes, traditionally Russian fighter manufacturing has not been conducted to the extremely fine tolerances and quality control levels required to mass produce stealth fighters. This also carries over to the maintenance side of things – can the VKS (or potential export customers for that matter) afford to change their maintenance and operating procedures to a sufficient degree to maintain stealth properties in service for any length of time? For air forces used to operating previous generations of Mikoyan or Sukhoi products (with their famously high tolerance for rough conditions), it would be a culture and budgetary shock to say the least.
The third key technology set is in the field of advanced materials science and thermal management. One of the biggest challenges in moving from a prototype that looks a bit like a 5th generation aircraft to a genuine operational capability is incorporating all the myriad sensors, avionics, life support and fuel/engine systems. All of these components, especially the sensors and fuel/engine systems generate a great deal of heat when in use. This must be managed without adding the usual ducts, ram air intakes etc which would destroy the stealth properties of the airframe. They must also all compete with fuel and weapons for very limited space within an outer mould line which is fixed for RCS control reasons. Sensors must also be covered with fairings or airframe skin which allows their own emissions to pass unimpeded, but interacts with hostile radar in such a way as to not compromise the RCS.


How will it likely differ in concept to the F-35?
The LTA is clearly aiming for a significantly lower degree of stealth at a much lower price point compared to the F-35. It can be thought of perhaps as a somewhat low-observable spiritual successor to the MiG-21, where the F-35 is intended to be a very-low observable spiritual successor to the F-16, EA-18G and F-15E.


Does a STOVL or carrier variant seem likely?
STOVL doesn’t look compatible with the airframe, as it requires such specific design features to achieve – not least positioning the centre of vertical thrust roughly on the overall centre of gravity. I also doubt that it has the required high-alpha flight characteristics and pitch authority for CATOBAR carrier operations given the intake design and previously mentioned reliance on elevons/thrust vectoring.

Do you like how it looks?
It’s certainly refreshing! A different take to add to the increasing number of mini-F-22 or F-35 clone mock ups popping up around the world. A qualified ‘yes’ on the looks front.


How much experience does Russia have in stealth and how much does it embrace the concept?
Russia lacks any experience with true VLO stealth. However, it has made significant progress with LO airframe design features in the Su-57, and it certainly has the potential to manufacture a new generation of combat aircraft (with the Felon as the centrepiece) that get past the traditional massive signature weakness of the Flanker and Fulcrum series.
I think Russia has its own take on stealth as a concept, with a firmly realistic internal appraisal of its own industrial and financial limitations, as well as the constantly improving nature of NATO sensors which make true VLO performance in a major war ever harder as a goal for future systems. For them, I think RCS reduction features are seen as key to maintaining current levels of competitiveness in the air – whilst ever improving long range SAM systems and ground based radars form the first line of defence (or offense) against NATO airpower. For me, Russian boasts about F-22 or F-35 levels of stealth in novel air systems are simply propaganda aimed at the Russian domestic audience and prospective export customers.


What should I have asked you?
How much of the technology developed at such expense and effort for the Su-57 can be leveraged for the LTA/Checkmate?


Likely export customers or partners?
The three most obvious potential candidates would be India, the UAE and Turkey. However, India is likely to be very wary after its experiences with the PAK FA/FGFA programme and poor support for the Su-30MKI fleet post acquisition. The UAE appears to be (bafflingly from my perspective) being allowed to purchase the F-35, so is unlikely to be interested in the LTA. Turkey has its own TF-X ambitions for domestic LO fighter development and has also seen ‘behind the curtain’ on F-35 before being ejected from the programme so will have very high operational expectations for any future ‘stealth’ fighter acquisition which the LTA is unlikely to be able to meet.
Otherwise, Vietnam, Argentina and Algeria are all potential candidates, but the likely competition is from more mature and lower risk offerings from China.

Where does this leave rival fighter design bureau MiG?

MiGs models of a new design has not received as much attention as the Checkmate. MiG’s new light combat aircraft proposal

The MiG-35 is already a damp squib, very much in the shadow of the Sukhoi product line in Russian service and on the export market. After MiG’s recent absorption within UAC I think the composite firm will focus on its more successful Sukhoi products rather than new MiG-derived concepts. The MiG-35 It isn’t much cheaper than a Su-35S, does everything worse, no large orders, AESA radar wasn’t delivered as promised…

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MiG’s proposed new carrier fighter
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MiG’s new light combat aircraft proposal


Will it happen?
If I had to bet? No.

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Checkmate, new Sukhoi fifth-generation stealth fighter jet is seen during an opening ceremony of the MAKS-2021 air show in Zhukovsky, outside Moscow, Russia, July 20, 2021.  Sputnik/Alexei Nikolskyi/Kremlin via REUTERS
(Hush-Kit spoke to someone who has seen it up close who commented: “It’s real, but lacks some systems for sure”)

Jim Smith update

An image of the Checkmate aircraft (or possibly mock-up) has now appeared, and the analysis below has been updated to reflect this.

The aircraft has been reported to be Russia’s first single-engine supersonic low observable tactical fighter, and has been developed by Sukhoi, and is being presented at the MAKS show by Rostec. The stated intent is to ‘rival the US fifth-generation F-35 aircraft’. The aircraft is also described as a domestic light fighter, which will compete with the F-35 in export markets. This latter comment is backed up by a video on the Rostec website which identifies a number of countries by name including India, Argentina, and Vietnam, as well as some elements suggestive of Middle Eastern states.

The new photographs show an aircraft that loosely resemble the earlier ‘teaser’ imagery, but with significant differences in the intakes, fuselage and wing planform.

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The ‘Checkmate’ aircraft (Hush Kit reporting name ‘Fleabag’) has a novel diverterless intake under the nose, with a unique V-shaped appearance following the shape of the underside of the forward fuselage. The position of the intake is not dissimilar to the teaser image, but the aperture has a higher aspect ratio V-shaped slot appearance. It’s appearance is definitely a ‘smiley’ intake, and I feel sure this echoes Rostec’s feelings about their very successful publicity campaign leading up to the Checkmate launch.

Looking at the intake, one wonders whether a vari-cowl will be fitted, similar to that on the Su-57 and Eurofighter Typhoon, to allow greater mass flow through the engine in high thrust and low airspeed conditions.

The YF-23's Air Inlet Design Was Its Most Exotic Feature You Never Heard Of
Was the 'stealth feature' of the Su-57 just a ruse? - Quora

 The wing appears to differ from the teaser image. While retaining a highly-tapered, thin, low-aspect-ratio planform, the trailing edge has relatively little forward sweep, resulting in a relatively conventional cropped-delta planform, rather than a near-diamond planform. The planform is similar to the Tejas, the Mirage 2000 and Eurofighter Typhoon, to cite three examples from different sources.

The forward fuselage of the Checkmate aircraft features a strong chine in the plane of the wing, which grows into a highly-swept leading edge root extension, or strake. The intake is located at the start of this strake, and a large door is located in the underside of the strake. While this might be a forward weapons bay, it could also provide access to aircraft systems and equipment.

The main undercarriage legs are widely spaced, and retract forward. As a result, there is significant space under the centre fuselage, which could provide significant volume for a weapons bay, at a location which would be closer to the aircraft centre of gravity.

The rear view of the Checkmate/Fleabag aircraft appears to show a single afterburning nozzle, located between twin butterfly tails. Given Sukhoi experience in the application of thrust vectoring to its heavy fighter designs, it would be surprising if this were not also fitted to the new aircraft.

The teaser image features an Infra-red Seeker Tracker, located ahead of the cockpit, and a radar in the aircraft nose. This is a typical arrangement for a Russian fighter, and is replicated on Checkmate, although separate Rostec imagery has suggested the use of a multi-purpose targeting sensor, like the EOTS system fitted to the F-35. This system is not visible in the new image of Checkmate, but could simply be out if sight on the port side of the aircraft.

Combat Systems Fusion Engine for the F-35

The fuselage and tail design of Checkmate are somewhat reminiscent of the McDonnell MFVT (Mixed Flow Vectored Thrust) ASTOVL concept, and although that single-engine aircraft featured twin side-intakes, there is still a resemblance between it and Checkmate/Fleabag. The image shows a model held by the Newark Air Museum, who kindly provided this picture.

The MFVT design was one of the propulsion alternatives examined in early UK-US joint technology studies looking at possible ASTOVL concepts in advance of the JSF program. I am not suggesting that Fleabag is a STOVL aircraft, but rather noting that the fuselage volume taken up in the MFVT for its STOVL system results in a fuselage shape compatible with the internal weapons bays which are a feature of Checkmate/Fleabag.

McDD/Northrop/BAe ASTOVL/MRF/JAST/JSF studies | Page 2 | Secret Projects  Forum
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What can we infer about the aircraft? To me, the highly-tapered, low aspect ratio wing suggests that the design is intended to be used for BVR combat. The wing area and aspect ratio suggest that supersonic acceleration, and, with high thrust-to-weight ratio, a vectoring nozzle, and a strake ahead of the wing, instantaneous turn rate, will be strong features of the aircraft. On the other hand, sustained turn rate, required for WVR engagements, will be weaker. The configuration should result in the instantaneous turn rate being structurally, rather than aerodynamically, limited for substantial parts of the manoeuvring air combat envelope.

Whether a low signature is achieved by Checkmate will depend on a number of aspects – not just the shape, but also the materials, the manufacturing standards, and the electromagnetic properties of the surfaces and structure. The novel intake uses shaping of the lower fuselage to provide a diverterless intake, and the relatively high position of the engine will allow a sinuous intake duct to screen the front face of the engine.

There has been much uninformed commentary, suggesting that Checkmate is a copy of the American X-32 or F-35. In my view, there are sufficient original features in the design of the intake, the fuselage, the cockpit, the wing and the empennage, to indicate that is not the case. The similarities are really limited to being a design solution to what may have been similar objectives to those of the JSF program, but without the requirements for STOVL or deck landing.

What, then, is the intended objective, or role, of Checkmate? Limited, and possibly unreliable hints about its performance suggest a maximum speed in the region of Mach 2.0, and a maximum take-off weight of 18 tonnes. This suggests an aircraft in the general class of a MiG 29 replacement. However, the space available for internal stores, and the attention paid to reducing signatures, indicates that tactical strike is also an important role, suggesting that Checkmate may indeed be a Russian Strike Fighter.

From the wording used in the press release – descriptors like ‘domestic light fighter’ and ‘tactical fighter’, and the reference to exporting the aircraft, it could be that the new Sukhoi is intended to be a cheap alternative to the F-35, indicating, perhaps, that some compromises in the signature area might have been made in the interests of containing acquisition, operating and maintenance costs.

 With the marketing emphasis on the export market, perhaps the main objective is to provide an exportable multi-role combat aircraft, while retaining the option of a non-exportable version for local air defence and tactical strike. Such an aircraft would complement the Su 57, delivering air superiority, and a future MiG-31-replacement, which would provide strategic air defence.

F-36 Kingsnake: Air Force's Next Fighter Jet? | F-16 Replacement

Could the aircraft be a Russian equivalent to the @Hush_Kit F-36 Kingsnake concept, aiming to regain the position once achieved with the widespread use of the MiG-21, by undercutting the cost of the F-35?

First comments on new single-engine Russian fighter: Checkmate?

Teaser images may describe configuration of new light/medium-weight Sukhoi fighter

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TASS has announced that Russia’s latest fighter aircraft will be unveiled, and, indeed, demonstrated, at the MAKS-2021 show on July 20. We consider what this might mean and what the configuration of the circulating images reveals.

The aircraft is reported to be Russia’s first single-engine low signature supersonic tactical fighter, and has been developed by Sukhoi. The stated intent is to ‘rival the US fifth-generation F-35 aircraft’. The aircraft is also described as a domestic light fighter which will compete with the F-35 in export markets.

The below image above is a ‘teaser’ for the aircraft and must be viewed with some caution until the actual hardware is revealed. The basic configuration shown in the illustration above has a near-diamond wing planform, with thin highly-tapered low-aspect-ratio wings, a forward canard, and twin butterfly tails. The aircraft has a single engine, with a large diverterless intake (UPDATE: the aircraft or mock-up photographed beneath a tarpaulin has shoulder mounted intakes similar to that of the F-22 and appears not to have a canard) under the forward fuselage. An Infra-red Seeker Tracker is located ahead of the cockpit, and a radar is mounted in the aircraft nose.

This 2017 3D model is unconnected to the model on Borisov’s desk but is interesting to compare.

This model was seen on a Sukhoi executive’s desk, deliberate teaser or disinformation?

Given Sukhoi experience in the application of thrust vectoring to its heavy fighter designs, it would be surprising if this were not also fitted to the new aircraft.

The wing planform and tail design are somewhat reminiscent of the McDonnell MFVT (Mixed Flow Vectored Thrust) ASTOVL concept but the aircraft features a chin intake rather than side intakes. The Newark Air Museum in the UK have a model of that concept, shown below. The MFVT design was one of the propulsion alternatives examined in early UK-US joint technology studies looking at possible ASTOVL concepts in advance of the JSF programme.

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What can we infer about the aircraft? To me, the highly-tapered, low aspect ratio wing suggests that the design is intended to be used for BVR combat, as the wing area and aspect ratio suggest sustained turn performance might not be a strong point. The fuselage below the wing line is rhomboidal, the flat sides and fuselage width suggesting reasonable size internal weapons bays, which are necessary if the aircraft is to have a low signature.

Whether a low signature is achieved will depend on a number of aspects – not just the shape, but the materials, the manufacturing standards, and the electromagnetic properties of the surfaces and structure. Certainly, some will question whether the canard foreplane and the large under-fuselage intake are compatible with this intent.

From the wording used in the press release – descriptors like ‘domestic light fighter’ and ‘tactical fighter’, and the reference to exporting the aircraft, it could be that the new Sukhoi is intended to be a cheap alternative to the F-35, suggesting, perhaps, that some compromises in the signature area might have been made in the interests of containing acquisition, operating and maintenance costs.

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 Could the aircraft indeed be a Russian equivalent to the @Hush_Kit F-36 Kingsnake concept, aiming to regain the position once achieved with the widespread use of the MiG-21 by undercutting the cost of the F-35?

– Jim Smith

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Hush-Kit thoughts

It is hard to know what to make of Russian rumours or even official statements regarding military hardware, and this is a prime example. There are more unknowns than facts around this fighter. Is it single-engined? Is it primarily for export? Could there be a STOVL variant? Manned, unmanned* or (more absurdly) optionally manned? If built, would it be built by Sukhoi or MiG (some recent releases mention Sukhoi but many older ones mention MiG)? If it is for export, and a cheap stealthish fighter could be just the ticket, then a launch or partner nation will be sought. India is said to like their Russian-sourced MiG-29UPGs very much but was far from happy with its treatment in the Sukhoi/HAL Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) project. Whether they would want another partnership after the mess of FGFA is open to question, though a later off-the-shelf purchase would seem a viable idea. So who could afford to invest in such a fighter? Even domestic orders are far from assured these days with the MiG-35 floundering in obscurity, the Su-57 flailing around in single digits while even the dominating ‘Flanker’ series is not being ordered in enormous numbers. Outsiders who would love a long range stealthy fighter-bomber include Iran and Argentina but both seem highly unlikely to get involved. China has its own Shenyang FC-31 kicking around (somewhere) which appears to be in the same category so Sino-Russian collaboration seems an unlikely bet. Though it has long enjoyed a partnership with Russia, China is now far richer and ahead technologically in almost every aspect of military aerospace so what it would gain from cooperation with an increasingly unpopular Russia is hard to see.

Another issue is that no-one (at least publicly) really knows what the next generation of fighters will look like – or even if their should be one. Following or countering the American lead, as has been historically the case, is harder now as there is uncertainty on which technological direction the US will go in. The UK, with a similar defence budget to Russia is also thinking big with its Tempest research project, but this appears to have the same vagueness of direction, with placeholder shapes and every conceivable tech being mentioned without a clear idea of what is needed or why.

Despite a defence budget less than a tenth that of the US, Russia still thinks big, but with a global GDP percentage that has shrunk by almost 1% since a high of 4% in 2007/8 it is often biting off more than it can chew. As with the US experience, so-called ‘5th Generation’ heavy fighters have proved budget vampires, with many seeing an obsession with brand new airframes as an archaic idea. Mentioned as a “new light plane designed to cope with tactical assignments” in the TASS press release it is seen as ‘Lo’ to the Su-57’s ‘Hi’. This is what the US F-35 was originally intended to be (to the F-22’s ‘Hi’) but spirally demands and costs left USAF with the F-16 fulfilling this as its planned replacement grew too aristocratic for everyday tasks.

Perhaps as a provocative statement against the F-35 the teaser video features British RAF 617 Squadron badges.

Though Russia is believed to have world-class electronic warfare technology, it lags in both the sensor arena (failing to have a truly operational AESA radar 20 years after US adoption) and likely in the field of data fusion. This aircraft (if it happens) is likely to be a simpler machine than the F-35, which may not be a bad thing.

The Su-35 and F-15EX show the sense of filling an old design with new goodies, while many new ideas, such as ‘loyal wingmen’ (the implied sleight of ‘loyal’ being a required descriptor for a wingman has not gone unnoticed in the pilot community) remain unproved. In summary – the future is vague and the Russian state’s appetite for new military projects is bigger than its belly.

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Photos of the forward fuselage reveal what appear to be should mounted intakes somewhat like those of the S-37 Berkut and somewhat like those of the F-22.

Most importantly, we suggest ‘Fleabag’ as the NATO reporting name.

* An unmanned variant of the KB SAT SR-10 with the superb name of ‘AR-10 Argument’ has been proposed.

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TASS PRESS RELEASE

MOSCOW, July 13. /TASS/. The latest combat plane that Russia will unveil on the first day of the MAKS-2021 aerospace show will rival the US fifth-generation F-35 aircraft, Executive Director of Aviaport Aviation News Agency Oleg Panteleyev said on Tuesday.

“The teasers in English and the regions that the pilots presented in a video released by Rostec [state tech corporation] suggest that the domestic light fighter will be in competition with the US F-35 aircraft on foreign markets. I am certain that the fighter’s demonstration at the MAKS-2021 will create a wow effect. It is not accidental that [Russia’s state arms exporter] Rosoboronexport has invited over 120 delegations from 65 countries of the world to the aerospace show,” he said.

Little is known about the plane’s performance characteristics so far, the expert pointed out. According to the data available, the latest fighter features low radar signatures in various bands, a high thrust to weight ratio, a large weapon payload and advanced air-launched armaments, the expert pointed out.

“There is no doubt that in this decade Russia will be able to restore the tandem of breakthrough aircraft platforms: the heavy Su-57 [fifth-generation fighter] and a new light plane designed to cope with tactical assignments,” the expert said.

The Rostec press office announced earlier on Tuesday that Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation (UAC, part of Rostec) would feature a fundamentally new military plane on the first day of the MAKS-2021 international aerospace show in the town of Zhukovsky near Moscow. The project’s official website was also unveiled, with a midnight countdown to the plane’s July 20 premiere.

As a source in the domestic aircraft-building industry told TASS in the spring of this year, the Sukhoi Aircraft Company (part of the United Aircraft Corporation) is developing the first Russian single-engine light tactical fighter with supersonic speed capability and low radar signature.

We asked a private-jet interior designer to judge 8 fighter cockpits

First we asked a Topgun instructor to rate 8 cockpits, then we asked an art historian – and now we turn to a designer of private jet interiors. Alexander McDiarmid rates the interior design style of 8 fighter cockpits.

Convair F-106A Delta Dart

Information overload in a very small space. All text is small, difficult to read and so many dials and switches! You can introduce mirrors to make smaller spaces appear bigger but in this case that would only add to the problem. Is this where Bell & Ross get their watch inspiration from?

Grumman F-14A Tomcat

As above but slightly less cluttered due to one joy stick however the seat material both in colour and fabric adds a little warmth. While the dominant, black half moon window frame is a serious ‘statement piece’ (Kelly Hoppen speak) it’s no Gulfstream G550.

General Dynamics F-16A Fighting Falcon

SONY DSC

Modernity is starting to appear along with greater user functionality and the side stick gives an impression of more central space. Thought should be given in how best to use the extra space with the integration of perhaps a foldout tray table and wireless device charging. The seat design is very Bauhaus, simple yet effective and very much form following function. The battle ship grey interior paint against the black wool (cashmere, angora?) seat is a challenging cmf (colour material finish) palette and desperately in need of some warmth perhaps inspired by a falcon’s plumage and colouring.

Sukhoi Su-27 ‘Flanker B’

The Trabant blue colour for such a small space is commanding on the eye, one wall/surface only in blue, to set the interior design tone would be on trend. The interior does not look very solid, flimsy almost but not cluttered and overfilled unlike the others.

Why use MDF when oak is available? The layout has a simplistic yet functional Soviet era charm and design pieces from this period are very both praised and collectible. This is certainly a stand out piece of interior design.

Panavia Tornado F3

Finally, elements of symmetry in the cockpit. Period industrial design aesthetic with a less is more philosophy, the dominating angular design really dominates the space with 1980’s electronic Tomy games and Casio watches for inspiration. The heads up display makes for a great statement piece.

Somewhat of an arcade game aesthetic for a young bachelor pad perhaps or games room.

Boeing F/A-18E Super Hornet

Great, modern and ordered industrial design aesthetic with glorious mood night lighting offering a calm environment and cozy feel. Definitely somewhere one might want to relax in after a long day and especially on a cold night. The heads up display makes for a great statement piece and really grounds yet balances the space much like a central, crystal chandelier. In terms of a pleasing piece of aesthetic interior design this is the best in the article.

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Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II

Very modern aesthetic with the Tesla inspired screen but somewhat of a brutal and cold aesthetic. Not a very elegant interior design like the F/A-18E Super Hornet, and getting Blaupunkt in car radio vibe coming too… There is no sense of harmony or flow from the brutal interior to sublime exterior. While the two-tone exterior matte grey painting creates visual interest, it could have been used in the interior sensitively. Budget problems? Plus side is the large fan intake for cockpit air conditioning I assume. Any A/C interior grilles should be painted in the same exterior grey matte paint.

We asked an art historian to review 8 fighter cockpits

Freed from function how would fighter cockpits appear to the artistic eye? We asked art historian Minerva Miller to gauge how 8 fighter cockpits fit into the history of art.

Convair F-106 Delta Dart

There is something dystopian about this cockpit. It appears to be the work of the advanced hobbyist, a Basquiat-like (see below) puzzle that screams of ability and technical nous. Dials, buttons and sticks converge in a chaotic melange that announces a lack of care in orderliness and ergonomics because this engineer, this pilot, know what everything is. But whilst this appears to be a homage to Post War ‘make do and mend’, do not be fooled. The central gauge and dial are symmetrical and focussed, towards what who knows? – but this cockpit is more Blade Runner than Mad Max.

McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II

A monumental classicism imbues this cockpit, its Palladian portico is supported by dials in columns. It is severe with its grey imbued De Chirico (see below) palette and lack of colour. Whilst elegant its round features also hint of authoritarianism, the flash of a searchlight, it’s secretive brutal glamour smacks of the pre-war years. This is a cockpit that shows you the passage of time, that tells the pilot what he should do.

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Grumman F-14 Tomcat

This space is redolent  of Pop Art, it riffs on the imagery of the past but there is an unmistakable element of Studio 54 about it. The joystick and serried ranks of switches remind one of a Lichtenstein image (see below). The pilot here is part of the narrative, two screens reflect back at them. The optimism of the sixties has gone, this is about brittle individualist control, it could be a DJ’s lair or the pilot might be Bowie – in any case this is the cockpit as Warhol print.

Airplane, c.1959
by Andy Warhol

General Dynamics F-16A Fighting Falcon

SONY DSC

There is something quixotic about this cockpit. At first glance it looks more organic and textural than its predecessors with its deep womblike chair cover. It has an edge of machismo; the screen nestles between the pilot’s legs and ‘pull to eject’ is the legend on the handle closest to the pilot’s groin. Yet the joystick is not large and there is almost a rococo playful element to the design of the dashboard, see for example the diagram of the aeroplane to the left.  This cockpit plays effectively with the ideas of conflicting mutable gender identity that were popular amongst the Avant-garde New York scene of the time.

Aviation paraphernalia for deep enthusiasts here

Sukhoi Su-27 ‘Flanker’

A post-modern cockpit, its colour scheme a martial blue with pops of constructivist red. But whilst the Cold War may still rage, this design is more a homage to the post-modernist irony of the architecture of Venturi and the playful colour dichotomies of Milan design. It presages the obsessions of the coming decade with its playful anthropomorphism – see the joystick  that resembles, a hand, a face.  There is an edge of robotic playfulness, like Alessi’s products which resemble people, this cockpit is awaiting it’s human to climb in and play with it.

Dassault Rafale

The soaring geometic plans of this cockpit have a cubist purity, an abstract minimalist aesthetic applied here with wide open spaces left between controls and two dark enveloping voids. This is not an inward-looking Spartacism however but owes more to elements of Béton Brut and the art of Brutalism.  Whilst there is a restful monumental  element– it is counterpointed by a quietly aggressive quality. It resembles a Samurai Warlord resting having conquered all the blue infinite sky behind him and waiting for the next battle.

Boston City Hall, an example of brutalism using béton brut, that will not give you much useful situational awareness when dogfighting a F-16.

Eurofighter Typhoon

The use of circular planes initially provides a feeling of movement which recalls the diminishing spheres and curves of Futurism and Vorticism.  This sense of elegance is fractured by the dissonance of the angled monitors which, whilst breaking up the curvature, in turn give way to ziggurat-like sweeps of controls. This coupled with the small armies of twinkling seeks to wrap the pilot up in the experience of flying within flying – a meta experience comparable to early virtual reality and digital art forms. A cockpit for the synth age.

Dazzle-Ships in Drydock at Liverpool by Edward Wadsworth, 1919, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. Started in 1914 by Wyndham Lewis, Vorticism aimed to reflect the industrial age through hard-edged forms.

 Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II

This cockpit, like a site-specific art installation, gives less of itself to the viewer. The stability offered by the traditional props of hardware are reigned back in favour of the large screen, a changeable canvas altered by the interplay of the observer and the unavoidable influences of nature. It represents two and three dimensionally the artistic challenges of life.  Whilst offering colour and the stimulation of traditional imagery the physical interaction is limited leaving the pilot with the artistic and psychological challenges of modernity, the role of the individual, and art, within fast moving cultures and spaces, both physical and imagined.

Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View 1991 Cornelia Parker
Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View 1991
Tate
© Cornelia Parker

Minerva Miller, M.A.hons (Cantab)  Msc (City)- University Librarian at the University of London

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Rhino charge! Flying & Fighting in the Super Hornet

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Eleanor D. Vara/Released)

‘Cruisebox*’ took the Super Hornet, workhorse of the US Navy, to war. We spoke to him to find out more about life with the ‘Rhino’.

(*name withheld on request)

Which types did you fly before the Super Hornet?

“The summer after I graduated high school I got my private licence flying Cessna 152s. After joining the Navy, because of my eyesight, I became a Naval Flight Officer or NFO, which is the back- or right-seater in most types. Flight school was T-34C, T-39G/N, and then I finished training in the TA-4J. After that, my first fleet squadron flew the Lockheed S-3B Viking and I flew mostly in the front right seat, with about a third of the time in the back right seat. After my first (and only) tour in S-3s, I transitioned to the Super Hornet – universally called the Rhino.”

“For a while, our squadron had a jet with no tanks on it that we were using for airshow practice. We’d take that thing out and BFM in it when we weren’t practicing. That thing would eat even the F-15s and F-16s for lunch.”

How did it differ from the type you were flying before?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

“The difference between an analog submarine hunting aircraft and a digital strike fighter is the same as that between a 1976 Cutlass Supreme and a 2002 BMW. The only thing they had in common was that they both had a tailhook that made a nice solid thunk when you dropped them.”

“Another difference between the S-3 and F-18 was that in the S-3, I had a set of flight controls in the front right seat and would occasionally fly when the pilot was tired or bored. A question I’ve often been asked is, can you fly the Rhino from the backseat. The answer is usually no. A quick tour of my back seat office. Just like the front seat, I have the three video displays surrounded by buttons. Instead of a stick and throttles, I’ve got a set of hand controllers, one on each side of the cockpit. Each controller is shaped like a large joystick, and like the pilot’s stick and throttles, they are covered in knobs and switches that allow me to perform different functions with the jet or the sensors. You cannot, however, fly the aircraft with these controllers. Below and in front of my ejection seat on the floorboard is a small cutout with a nub that looks like a short piece of pipe sticking up. The Rhino is designed so that the back seat controllers can be removed and a stick and throttle installed to turn the jet into a conversion trainer for new pilots, giving both the student in the front seat and the instructor in the back seat a set of flight controls. I recall someone saying the conversion process takes about 8 hours, but I’m sure some Chief out there will call nonsense and let me know his or her crew out there did it in less time. At the F-18 schoolhouse in Lemoore, California numerous Rhinos are configured with stick and throttles in the back for initial training. Having flown the F-18 from the backseat as an instructor in this configuration, I can confirm that all that dazzling digital flight control technology in many ways makes the Rhino easier to fly than your doctor’s Beech Bonanza. In regular deploying fleet squadrons, we never put a stick and throttle in the backseat as both crewmembers are so busy doing their own job that we never fancied taking time to do the other person’s job.

First impressions?

“It no kidding smelt like a new car. The first Rhino I ever flew in had 25 hours on it. That included the flight from the factory.”

How would you rate the cockpit for the following:

Ergonomics

“Excellent. All the switches were within easy comfortable reach. Neat detail: There were like four different switches to put out expendables (chaff/flares) in the backseat. That way even if you were using a grab handle to twist yourself around to look behind you, an expendable switch was no more than a thumb movement away.”

Pilot’s view

“The pilot’s view was exceptional. Of course, my view straight ahead was blocked by the pilot’s headrest. My view to the sides and behind was excellent.”

Comfort

“For an ejection seat, the seat was comfortable, and the cockpit noise was easily shut out with just a normal helmet.”

Instrumentation

“When plopping down into the cockpit of a Lot 25 Rhino, the first thing one notices are the three video screens arranged left to right, with the middle screen being slightly bigger. These video screens are the same regardless of if you are sitting in the front or back cockpit. Around each screen are twenty buttons, five on each side. The label describing what each button does is displayed adjacent to it in a three or four letter shorthand on the video screen. Pressing any of these buttons will cause the screen to change and bring up another twenty functions for the edge buttons. Well, it doesn’t take too much multiplication to figure out that the Rhino has hundreds of buttons hidden in its sub-menus. New aircrew spend much of their initial training building the muscle memory of learning where and under which menu each button hides. Later models of the Rhino have an even bigger middle screen in the back, with even more buttons around the side.

One thing I liked was that all the systems talked to each other, including the ATFLIR. If I designated something on my radar, I would see that track in a top down god’s eye view on the SA or Situational Awareness page. AND, if I pulled up my FLIR, it would be looking at that radar contact allowing me to identify him before coming into eyeball range. Same thing if I designated an air-to-ground target, all the sensors would look there, you didn’t have to cue each one individually.”

Against F-16s

In WVR: Which aircraft would have the advantage and why?

“A fight I had in 2009 is a good example of WVR against an F-16. We were on detachment to Key West (The Real Fighter Pilot Heaven). We were fighting against Air Guard pilots in their F-16Cs. I was a senior WSO paired with a new pilot who had been with the squadron less than a year, but who had flown combat with us in Afghanistan, all air-to-ground. The F-16 we were fighting was flown by an Air Guard Lt Col and armed with AIM-9M. He was experienced, but we had the JHMCS helmet and AIM-9X. I briefed up New Guy on a simple game plan that I thought would be easy for him to execute and was predicated on some assumptions I made about Air Force tactics. Often our Navy tactics were based on observing what the bandit does and then executing a game plan based on that. But because he was a new pilot, I instead scripted our first two moves so that new guy would have a very clear mental picture of what to do and be able to execute.

Our game plan was at the first head-to-head pass we would immediately go down in a split-S, regardless of what the F-16 did. Air Force doctrine is to not highlight yourself against a cold blue sky against a guy with an advanced heat seeker. So I assumed that he would come down with us. Then when we met him again, we would go down again, regardless. We would essentially be in a one circle fight going downhill with gravity helping us stay fast. The idea was that we would meet at the hard deck on the third pass and both aircraft would have a ton of speed, and then we’d pull the surprise. If my assumptions were wrong, it could get ugly fast.

We met out over the water in the mid-20s and the fight’s on was at wingline passages in a head-to-head left-to-left pass. New Guy immediately went down, and sure enough, the F-16 came down with us. The one circle geometry kept us inside his 9M forward quarter min range. A second head-to-head pass and we immediately went down again. The F-16 came down again. We now have a third merge just above the hard deck and both of us have a ton of energy. Now here comes the surprise … nothing slows down like a Rhino with those big goofy crooked pylons on the wings. AND, no airplane without vectored thrust can point its nose around at slow airspeed like a Rhino (or Hornet for that matter).

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At the merge, the F-16 started a high G turn, but with all the speed he had, he was cutting a pretty wide circle above the hard deck. When he looked over his left shoulder, he saw our jet pointing at him seeming to almost hang in the air. New guy had the F-16 in the HUD with a screaming AIM-9X tone.

You see, circa 2009, nothing in the regular inventory could slow down and point it’s nose like a Rhino (except maybe a helicopter). Now, we couldn’t come across the circle and chase the F-16 down. We were at very low airspeed and not really going anywhere at this point. But due to the phenomenal fight control computers banging around all 24 flight control surfaces multiple times per second, we’re able to keep flying and pointing our nose at him. The Colonel knocked it off and new guy had a sweet HUD tape of him nose on to an F-16 in plan view. Of course, if there had been more than one F-16, floundering around at low airspeed would have made us a tasty target for his wingman. But on this day, no wingman, no problem. The moral of the story is be careful getting into visual range with a Rhino … he can’t run away and will stay and fight because he has to.”

And in a long range BVR set-up

“Since we’d both be armed with AMRAAM, the advantage would lay with outside factors like quality of AIC control, environmentals, quality of wingman, etc. There are so many flavors of F-16 out there that it would also depend on what sort of radar was hanging on his nose.”

Which set-ups and altitudes would the F/A-18F favour?

“I’d like to be lower in the 20s or teens looking up at the F-16. The Rhino doesn’t do great up high (unless it’s clean, with no pylons) and of course, looking up at him makes things the easiest for my sensors (including eyeballs) and hardest for his.”

How would the SH pilot fight?

“At range, shoot and let the AMRAAM do its thing. If bandits were blowing up and their formations falling apart, go to the merge and press our advantage. If that wasn’t the case, we could fall back, re-group, and try again. Once you got to BFM, the Rhino will take most adversaries 1 circle.”

Who would you put your money on?

“A huge variety of factors would go into answering that question on any given day. Including lots of things that people don’t generally think about including, quality of maintenance, are all his systems working, are we in a sweep or defending a point, what other assets are supporting us, how often have the pilots flown in the last 30 days, etc., etc. That said, most days I was pretty happy to be sitting in a Rhino.”

How does the F-18F compare with the ‘Flanker’?

“I really wish I knew. In training our adversaries could simulated the expected shot ranges of the different flavors of Alamo missiles carried by the Flanker, but once you got to the merge, it’s still an F-16 or an F-5 or whatever.

That said, in most previous jets you had data link capability, but sometimes it worked and sometimes it wouldn’t, and sometimes you couldn’t see what everyone else saw, etc., etc. In the Rhino, the datalink not only always worked, it worked well with not only other aircraft but also with ships in the fleet. So my surmise is that I would have better big picture situational awareness than the typical ‘Flanker’ operator and be able to exploit that, but that’s just a surmise on my part.”

What was your most challenging opponent in BFM/DACT and why?

“We fought against F-22s once. The Raptor guys said they liked fighting against us because the fight would go almost 30* whole seconds before they had us, and that was much longer than against other types they fought. So they thought it was better training for them. Gee. Great.

We didn’t call the shots, because we wanted to mix it up with them, but at the time we had JHMCS and AIM-9X while they had neither. We could have just called “Fox 2” at the fights on, but there’s not really much training value in that for either side.”

What is the best thing about the F/A-18F?

“The fact that all the systems work well together and that it is a very reliable aircraft maintenance wise.”

*Postscript: “Now that I think about it, it was probably closer to 15 seconds before the F-22 had us. And by then had us saddled in our six o’clock. I really feel guilty because I’m sure there’s some F-22 guy out there who thinks, “30 seconds. Pffft, it doesn’t take that long.”

….and the worst?

“The drag from those dumb, goofy crooked pylons.”

Rate the F-18F in the following areas:

Instantaneous turn rates

“Outstanding. Better than anybody else out there we fought save the F-22.”

Sustained turn rates

“Good, but the Air Force jobs like the F-15 and F-16 were better unless we were completely slick (no tanks or pylons). For a while, our squadron had a jet with no tanks on it that we were using for airshow practice. We’d take that thing out and BFM in it when we weren’t practicing. That thing would eat even the F-15s and F-16s for lunch. We actually did the thing in the new Top Gun trailer where we came in at low altitude and then went straight up in between a flight of two jets (they and we weren’t as close to each other as in the trailer, but it did surprise the heck out of them to put it mildly). The only problem is that without extra tanks of gas, you couldn’t take it to war unless you were using it as a point defense fighter.

Weapons platform

“Excellent. I haven’t talked about it much yet, but the jet was great for air-to-ground. Even dropping dumb bombs it was very accurate.”

Acceleration

“Middle of the road for tactical jets.”

Top speed

“Who knows? It could go supersonic – sure. But once you did, the fuel quantity would count down faster than the airspeed would count up, so I don’t know that we ever got it to its maximum theoretical or placarded airspeed. You usually needed to turn or do something else before you did.”

Take-off characteristics

“Fine.”

Landing characteristics

“It flew well around the boat. The approach speed was pretty low for a fighter jet. The Rhino’s approach speed is similar to that of an airliner which makes it a bit slower than Air Force jets.”

Climb rate

“Depended on loadout, but typical to above average for that generation of jet.”

Range

“It could always be better, but we usually had enough to get where we wanted to go. However, unlike an F-16 or F-15 outfit, if we needed more gas we could just configure one of our own jets as a tanker instead of begging another unit for a KC-135 and hoping it showed up.”

Sensors

“Excellent. And now the Rhino is even better with the AESA radar which basically sees everything in front of the jet, all the time, instantaneously.”

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What’s the biggest myth about the F-18F?

“We would always like more gas, but sometimes people talk about it like it could barely make it to the beach from the carrier. I can remember several missions where we ran land based types out of gas.

What should I have asked you?

Why does the Navy have some single seat and some two seat Rhino squadrons? The official, and largely true, reason is that the Forward Air Controller (Airborne), or FAC(A), mission is so complicated and dynamic that it really does take a crew of two to do it well. During this mission the pilot will typically be talking to soldiers on the ground while the WSO is talking to other aircraft and positioning them to come in for Close Air Support runs. They will then briefly talk to each other to coordinate and then go back to talking to different people on different radios. Meanwhile, their wingman will fly in a high cover position to keep a big picture view of threats beyond the immediate area. I do think this particular mission goes better with a two seat crew. In a Navy carrier air wing, only the F-18F squadron has qualified FAC(A) crews. The single seat squadrons don’t. At least, that was the way it was circa 2008.

The un-official, and largely true, reason is that just like Intruder and Tomcat squadrons of the 70s and 80s, half of the Navy fliers in the Pentagon during the development of the Rhino were NFOs, and they weren’t going to sign off on a program that removed NFOs from all Navy fighter and attack jets.

One neat trick a two seater can do that the single seater can’t is VID at long range with the ATFLIR. At maximum zoom in air-to-air mode, the image of a jet on the ATFLIR bounces around all over the screen as the system tries to stay pointed at a radar contact. If I take over manually and switch to EO (TV) mode, I can smooth the slewing with the thumb controller and identify the bogey as an F-5 or whatever well beyond visual range. Several times in training, I had a single seat Hornet or Rhino pilot ask to see my tapes because they didn’t believe I could visually ID a jet at that range.

  1. Describe your most memorable flight or mission in an F-18F? (long answer please)

It’s tough to pick out the “most memorable” mission. I guess I could tell you about the first time I dropped a bomb from a Rhino. We were flying over Iraq and it went something like this…

Okay, now I’m concerned. I should be scared, but I’m wrapped in a warm cloak of denial that anything really bad could happen to me. However, I am experienced enough to have known a few folks over the years who were convinced that nothing bad could happen to them either. This knowledge, combined with the brown-gray thunderstorm I’m now flying around in, is enough to at least upgrade me to concerned. We’re in the middle of a desert war, and there’s frost forming on the noses of my bombs and missiles. That can’t be good. At least the weather is so bad that nobody on the ground can shoot at us.

My pilot is working overtime in the front seat to stay in formation with the lead jet. We’re hanging out east of Baghdad at 12,000 feet in a small bowl of clear air, surrounded on all sides by dark thunderstorms. It’s the kind of dark overcast that makes you feel like you’re indoors, even in the middle of the afternoon. The clear area we’ve found is so small that we have to keep up a pretty good angle of bank just to stay in it. And we’d better stay in this clear area, since we can see visible lightning just to the north, leaping in and out of the clouds. Oh, by the way, this my pilot’s first combat mission.

As we come through the western part of the circle, the clear canopy above me is briefly pelted by pebble sized hail. Getting hit by hail in your car at 60 miles per hour can be an attention getter. At 290 miles per hour, it can be down right unnerving. Fortunately, we quickly pass out of it with no apparent damage, but the circle we’re scribing through the sky is small enough that I know it will be back in the hail in a few minutes.

Even though I’m in the second plane, I’m the senior member of the flight. That means I’m supposed to be conveying the wisdom and guidance of my years to the other members of the flight to prevent us from getting into situations that might just be a little over our heads. With lightning to the north, hail to the west, and Iran to the east, this might just be one of those situations. I’m torn between wanting to stay and complete the mission, and the fear of having to explain how I got my wingman struck by lightning because I didn’t know when to call uncle. Of course, it would be my wingman since, as covered previously, it couldn’t possibly be me.

Additionally, we’re not going to do anything out here today. The weather is miserable, and I haven’t seen the ground in a while. Even the insurgents must be at home sipping tea taking today off from the war. So if we’re not going to do anything, maybe we should call and ask to do nothing somewhere else.

I’m saved from having to make a decision when our controller tells us to proceed to a rendezvous with a tanker. The good news is we’ll have more gas, which in a jet means you’ll have more options. The bad news is we’ve got to go back through the thunderstorms to get there.

Our two jets huddle up close to one another so we don’t lose sight as we pass through the clouds. The medium grey jets can disappear from view easily when flying through clouds. Even though we are only a few feet apart, the other jet flashes in and out of existence as we hit the densest part of the clouds. There’s not much I can do in the backseat except sit there and hold on to the hand controllers on either side of the cockpit.

Just about the time I’m going to squeeze the black paint off the handgrips, we pop out. Hey, that’s much better. I glance at the radar on my right and start looking for a small green rectangle that might signify the presence of our tanker. Soon enough a promising contact appears on the scope right in the piece of airspace where it’s supposed to be.

As we first catch sight of the tanker, it’s nothing more than a small dark speck on the canopy. The speck starts to grow into an unfamiliar shape. It’s not a US Air Force tanker. Instead, our benefactor is a Royal Air Force L-1011. Well God Save the Queen! At the last tanker, my pilot had to take about three stabs at the basket before he got in. The RAF basket on this tanker is very much like the one on our tanker configured Rhinos, so we have a much easier time getting plugged in. Once we start taking gas I begin to relax, and even have time to notice the Rolls Royce engines on the British tanker – nice touch. With the weather as bad as it is, we’re definitely not going to do anything. In fact, they’re probably going to send us home early.

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Just about the time I’ve come to this conclusion, the WSO in the lead jet lets us know we’ve gotten immediate tasking to go bomb something for somebody named Gandhi 15. We’re passed a latitude and longitude of the target by Warhawk, the controlling agency. I enter the coordinates via touch keypad into the pre-planned JDAM checklist which is currently on my left hand display. Even as I’m putting the data in, I figure that the other jet will be dropping as lead, and as wingman and I will just get to watch on the FLIR.

The sun has set and it’s getting pretty dark by the time we switch from Warhawk to Gandhi 15. With a low key check in along the lines of, “Hey, how you guys doing,” Gandhi 15 is clearly a special forces guy. He wants us to bomb a weapons cache and is going to mark the target so that we’ll be able to see it on the FLIR. If he’s giving us the latitude and longitude, why does he need to mark the target? Whatever. I go through the JDAM pre-planned checklist two more times.

Lead asks, “Understand one JDAM”.

“Negative. We’d like two.”

“Okay, I’ll have my wingman come in thirty seconds in trail.”

Holy Cow we’re going to drop a bomb.

I now quadruple check the JDAM set up. Again, even though one of our Lieutenants is leading, I’m the most senior ranking person in the formation, so if anything goes wrong, it’s on me. Because of this, I now start to overthink things. I query lead about the distance of the friendlies because I mix up the meters and feet on the Collateral Damage Estimate page. I get tersely corrected, and he’s right.

I pull up the FLIR, and see the “target,” which looks like any other part of the bank of an aqueduct. In fact, it looks just like one of the countless aqueducts around our home base of Lemoore. I certainly don’t see any bunker type structure, but I do see the burning white glow of Gandhi’s mark. I try to slew the FLIR to look around the target, but it won’t move. There’s no north cue and no latitude and longitude information on the display. I could restart the FLIR to clear out this error, but it will take four minutes and that will be too long. It’s looking at the target – good enough.

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We see our lead’s jet in the data link on the center display. His is displayed as a green circle with a small stick coming out of it showing his direction of travel. This makes it much easier for us to get the correct thirty second spacing.

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Brian Morales/Released)

Lead announces their drop with the standard “Thunder” call. Thunder is the term for a JDAM drop.

We’re getting closer. Normally we drop JDAMs from much higher and the little box on the SA page that we have to fly our jet into is much bigger. Down here at twelve thousand feet, the little window we have to fly into is positively minuscule. For a second I can’t even see it and have to zoom in closer. There it is. THUNK. The jet rolls slightly as the bomb falls away and I state “1 away” in the cockpit to let my pilot know that the weapons page has shown the correct symbology of a bomb leaving the aircraft.

Suddenly there is a large white bloom in the middle of the FLIR display. Lead’ bomb has hit the target in spectacular fashion. Meanwhile, I’m staring into the FLIR. Waiting … and waiting … and waiting … geez, did it go into a frickin – BOOM! Right on target. An even bigger flash in the middle of the screen. Hey what do you know, those JDAMs work.

At this point, the pilot and I are way cooler than we have any right to be on the tape. In a low monotone I state, ‘Good impact,’ and he follows up with a simple, ‘Rog.’ We’re dropping bombs, which on the overall scale of life is pretty exciting, but we’re also Navy guys, so we’re supposed to act like we do this every day.

Gandhi is pleased with the effects, gives us an ‘atta boy,’ and sends us on our way without any amplifying information. Now we’re off to another tanker. This one is an Air Force KC-135 and thus has the metal basket that is difficult to get into. Based on the first 135 we hit today, I’m worried that my pilot isn’t going to be able to get in, and were going to have to divert to Al Asad. After two stabs at it though, he gets in. However, as the jet fills up with fuel and gets heavier, he falls out of the basket when the tanker goes into a turn. He quickly recovers and is able to get back in the basket and finish up.

We are topped off with gas, but running low on time. Our appointed time to return to the ship is coming up, and we’re still in southern Iraq. The other WSO and I quickly confer over the radio and I give the okay to go at military power all the way back to the ship. Military power is full throttle without being in afterburner. When we check in, we’re given direct vectors to the ship – no need to head to the Marshal stack. On the approach, my pilot gets low and catches a 1 wire. This will get him a poor landing grade from the LSOs and he’s audibly pissed up in the front seat as we taxi out of the landing area. I just laugh and tell him not to worry about it.

As we taxi up to our parking spot on the flight deck, several of our sailors point to the empty weapon station on our wing where the JDAM had been. I’ll find out later that one of our chiefs will plug into the turning tanker to tell the crew, ‘Hey 110 doesn’t have a bomb!’ We shut down and raise the canopy. As I climb out of my seat and move towards the boarding ladder, I make it a point to shake my pilot’s hand and give him a ‘good job,’ before he can even get out. Once I hit the flight deck I’m surrounded by a pretty sizeable gathering of smiling sailors full of questions. I think I wind up shaking the hand of half the sailors on the flightdeck. One yells in my ear, ‘the Skipper will be pissed,’ meaning that he didn’t get to be the first in the squadron to drop a bomb from a Super Hornet in combat. We didn’t win the war or even do anything particularly heroic, but you can’t tell from these excited 18-year-olds who just helped send out a bomb in anger for the first time in their Navy careers. A similar scene is played out over by lead’s jet.”

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Describe a typical mission in Afghanistan

“See above. Just like Iraq, it’s mostly brown and far from the ocean which a chance of occasional scattered JDAM.”

What was emotionally hardest about Afghanistan?

“It wasn’t the flying or combat. It was after you land, all the regular office work type reports and meetings that it takes to run a squadron that they don’t show in the movies get to be kind of a drag. Also being away from your family. After eight months you’re ready to go home.”

..and physically?

“Your butt, especially if you have a skinny, bony one like mine, would get pretty sore after eight hours.”

What was life like between missions?

“Well there’s the regular office work of running a squadron as described above. To the Navy, flying is your collateral warfighting specialty. Your primary job is taking care of sailors and ensuring that the squadron is meeting all of its requirements, some of which involve warfighting and some of it doesn’t.

Beyond that, there were movies in the ready room and an occasional port call. And if you hear any rumors that there was an aircrew-only casino with a craps table set up in one of the staterooms, then I can categorically state that you have heard that rumor and I have no amplifying information at this time.”

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Tell me something I don’t know about the F-18F…

“Later models of the F have a much larger screen in the middle of the backseat. This allows the WSO to see contacts via data link at much farther ranges, while still being at the same scale. This may not seem like much, but when you zoom out, all the little contacts just become a blob of symbology. Instead of zooming out, the larger screen allows the contacts to be displayed such that you can tell it’s a flight of two or whatever, while still being able to see very far downrange. It’s just another one of those things that gives an F-18F crew greater situational awareness over his opposition in say a ‘Flanker’.”

Describe the F-18F in three words “Reliable. Nimble. Fun.”

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Everything you always wanted to know about Chinese air power (but were afraid to ask) – Interview with Andreas Rupprecht

Few have written more on the subject of Chinese air power than Andreas Rupprecht. We grilled him on the hottest topics in that most dynamic of subjects, Chinese warplanes.

China appears to be producing new designs at a greater pace than other nations, is that true, and if so, why?

If they indeed are “producing new designs at a greater pace than other nations” (which I’m not sure is true) it it is because they have both the political will, the military ambition, and the money to make it happen. Also, for several years there are no longer only state-owned design and manufacturing companies, but universities and private enterprises. You only have to take a look at the UAV scene, and how many companies are currently developing in that area. They are willing to invest their own money – besides the official contracts – with the aim of earning money with it at some point. Additionally, in contrast to the West, the desire to serve national ambitions is much deeper embedded in China (at least to my perception). The aim is clear: China wants to be the dominant power in the Far East, inviolable from others and the goal is to be on a par with the USA.

What is the biggest strength of Chinese military aerospace technology?

In my opinion to put together the best available – or accessible technologies – from both East and West. To analyse competing products and to find – based on their own technical abilities – an indigenous solution. This is often made without much public announcement (in contrary to Russia and India where much is loudly promised and barely anything materialises). This is done with a huge budget behind it, and most importantly of all, the highest political and military support. The resultant aircraft types are most often put into service in an interim version that then receives continuous updates, modifications and new systems at a much higher pace one than one likes to accept or expects in the West.

What is the role of the J-20?

A good question and in fact one of the most controversial ones in social media groups. Quite interesting, the commonly often heard claim “it cannot be a fighter since it is so huge!” is based on very early and incorrect calculations of the J-20’s dimensions. It was first estimated to be a very long (23m+) and flat fighter and consequently several concluded as a fighter of that size with underpowered engines it might at best possess high speed and a long operational range but cannot be manoeuvrable like a true fighter. This became a constant theme in nearly all discussions and was surely assisted by a relatively modest aerobatic display in the Zhuhai 2016 and 2018 airshows. In essence the J-20 became a large lame duck that could only be a long-range supersonic striker like a modern F-111 or at best serve as an interceptor used to engage strategic assets like tanker and AEW types from far away.

However, all these conclusions ignore the surrounding evidence: first the J-20’s true dimensions, which is in fact shorter than the Russian ‘Flanker’ series, which is without doubt rated as one of the most manoeuvrable fighters. Second, there is a well-known study made by Song Wecong, the chief designer of the J-10 and mentor of the J-20 designer Yang Wei, that was posted in 2001 and clearly demanded that stealth aircraft “must have the capability to supercruise and perform unconventional manoeuvres such as post-stall manoeuvres.” Thirdly, the PLAAF itself praised repeatedly this type’s performance and expressed its satisfaction even with the interim engines. This surely can be rated as propaganda, like the official brochure, which explicitly stated the J-20 being capable of “seizing & maintain air superiority, medium & long range interception, escort and deep strike.” In summary, the J-20 is rated by the PLAAF a true multi-role fighter and I see nothing that contradicts this. How comparable the J-20 is to the F-22 and F-35 is another question, but this statement also applies to all other PLAAF operated types.

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I’m still going to ask you…how does the J-20 compare to the F-22?

Only the PLAAF and CAC know this for sure as such, I have to admit I don’t like questions like that. On the one hand because it is not my area of expertise and on the other hand because there is hardly any information available that enables an assessment. I also dare to doubt whether I could do this at all. For me, the question is more how the J-20 compares to its predecessor in PLAAF service and even more so, how the J-20 evolved. With this in mind, I am convinced that the F-22 was actually the benchmark for CAC but I am also convinced that it was clear to CAC that developing a twin-engine heavy fighter and a stealth aircraft for the first time after the J-10 would be a huge challenge. All of this coupled with the knowledge that one has hardly any experience in this area and, above all, that the engines will still only be temporary solutions. On the other hand, it has been around 15 years since the development of the F-22 and a lot has happened in China in the area of electronics, sensors and materials since then. But, it’s important to note that the predecessor of the J-20 in PLAAF service is the ‘Flanker’ and this came from a completely different period, was for a completely different requirement and was designed by a company with vastly more experience. So in conclusion, I am sure the J-20 is no worse than a J-11B in all areas of performance, but certainly – especially with the current interim engines – it does not come close to a F-22. I do not presume to make any further judgment.

How good is Chinese radar technology?

Similar to the previous question, I think I’m not able to answer this: Again barely any reliable information is available, most is based on hearsay. From what appears the most reasonable information, it seems as if China committed to AESA technology quite early on, and was able to equip most of its current generation types – the J-10C, J-16 and J-20 – with AESA radars. And even if I don’t know any specifications I’m sure the PLAAF wouldn’t use AESA radars them if they weren’t as powerful as conventional systems.

How good is Chinese aeroengine technology?

We surely know that China has some serious issues with previous generations of aeroengines, including the current ‘best’ Chinese engine, the WS-10, which had a very long and protracted development. As such this is surely the field of expertise in which China is still the most behind. How far, I don’t know.

But anyway, it seems as if they finally have a sufficiently powerful and reliable engine to power all its latest fighters. How reliable these engines are is (quite understandably) not known and I’m sure we won’t get any info on this any time soon.

What does China see as the priority threat to counter and does this manifest in their base locations and aircraft choices?

By my understanding, China has three priorities. To safeguard the own country from any internal threats, external threats and to protect its sphere of interest against any external interference. The first part includes operations other than true wars, like controlling unrest in certain areas especially Tibet and Xinjiang, but also to provide disaster relief and evacuating nationals abroad in emergencies. Here especially bases in Tibet and Xinjiang play an important role, but those are not necessarily PLAAF bases.

As for external threats, these generally fall into three areas: the priority is the Eastern Theatre Command standing against Taiwan, which includes the defence or at least deterrence of US forces that might intervene on Taipei’s side. Secondly, the Southern Theatre Command deals with the disputed South China Sea and the countless islands in and around the nine-dashed line (a demarcation line used by the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of China for their claims of the major part of the South China Sea). And surely too, but to a lesser extent than India rates this hotspot, the Western Theatre Command with India (which also encompasses Tibet). And a similar important sector is the Northern Theatre Command against Japan, which again potentially faces US forces in that area and potential instability in North Korea.

In principle – at least today – the PLA’s traditional doctrine has focused on fighting regional conflicts and not global ones. However, in recent years this has changed dramatically, and can be seen not only by the introduction of more modern equipment, but also in the command structure (as well as the locations of their bases). During the early 2000s, a new doctrine was issued, that shifted the focus for the first time from pure defence to some sort of ‘proactively defeating enemies beyond China’s borders, including through preemptive strike if necessary’. In line with this, a limited capability for global expeditionary operations and governance missions (both to safeguard its rising political and economic interests and also to demonstrate its superpower status) were directly endorsed for the first time; the naval base in Djibouti and at Pakistan’s Gwadar port is a clear testimony to this shift.

Other than saying this, I won’t go any deeper into strategic matters. But this fundamental restructuring of the PLA has created a much faster-responding, more flexible and more lethal force, than the PLA has ever been. In achieving this there has been a move away from the traditionally all-dominant ground forces to an increased importance on the PLAAF, navy and rocket force. Additionally, there is the newly formed Strategic Support Force. How much this modern PLA already is able to fight joint operations is still not clear, but again, the PLA’s strategic objectives have dramatically expanded from pure territorial defence to regional dominance over East Asia and the western half of the Pacific. This will further expand into the Indian Ocean soon.

This is certainly manifested in their base locations and aircraft choices: The latter – new aircraft choices – is the part, which is commonly best known due to the rising interest in Chinese matters. As such nearly all enthusiasts of modern military aircraft know the Chinese latest fighters like the J-10C, J-16 and especially the J-20. But it’s not only the enigmatic fighters that are important. Of equal or perhaps greater significance –– are the modern training assets like the JL-10 and new transport aircraft like the Y-20. Never before in China’s history have so many modern types been introduced into the armed forces as within the last decade. To the final part of your question, as to where China sees the priority threat to counter and how this is manifested in basing locations: This is most of all the Eastern Theatre Command, which is most often the one which receives the most modern types and is surely the most capable regional force. Second to this comes the Southern Theatre Command, which is similarly equipped to the ETC and only then – even if India rates this quite differently – comes the Western Theatre Command facing India. The main reason for this is that China has other priorities – and the fact that against India is the well-secured border of the Himalayas. So this a well secured border for its core interests, not needing the fielding of many units.

What happened to the J-31?

To nit-pick … nothing. Since there is no ‘J-31’. The type often claimed to be a J-31 is in fact the SAC FC-31 and from all we know, the second flying demonstrator no. 31003 must have been transferred to the CFTE in Xi’an-Yanliang earlier last year. At least this was a clear hint that something changed and eventually its status from “manufacturer owned demonstrator for an export type” changed to something more PLA related. I try to be cautious as possible, since nothing is yet confirmed, but all hints towards the idea that this type has been selected by the PLAN as the J-15’s successor and future carrier-borne fighter. Allegedly named ‘J-35’, a first prototype is said be ready and we expect its unveiling if not even its maiden flight early this year.

How capable is the J-10C compared to Western types?

Once again a comparative question! Oh well, well I must give a brief answer given the paucity of reliable (or even official) information and even more since I hate such ‘4th Generation’ or even 4+ or 4++ generation discussions, these are just for fan-boys and the more or less uninformed public but in real life other factors are more important than an additional +. Therefore I refuse to give a clear statement like “it is better than the F-16” or “it is on a par with the Eurofighter or Rafale”. But I think from what is known, given the weapons we have seen, the systems, like its IRST and the AESA-radar, it is comparable to the latest Western generation. Surely its powerplant is (or at was for a long time) its Achilles heel. It seems to have, in comparison with the Rafale and Typhoon, a smaller weapons load, especially in terms of the number of weapons stations and overall load carrying capability. How effective its netcentric capabilities are is simply not known.

What is the biggest myth about Chinese warplanes?

That they are all unlicensed copies and clones, that they are worthless trash. This claim in fact drives me crazy since it is simply stupid. Many who always post this in social media or forums either have no clue, have not bothered to check the facts or their accusation is often politically motivated, and most often none of them are interested in facts anyway.

Therefore, first of all, before I go into more details why in my opinion this generalised claim is stupid, a short preliminary admission:
Yes, China has developed little or nothing on its own for decades.
Yes, China has built a lot under license for years; in fact, because there were licenses to do so.
Yes, China has further developed these types and has not always recognised the intellectual properties of other nations.
Yes, China does espionage on a large scale – as do other great nations too; Saab can tell you a thing or two about it

But, especially in the last decades there have been many projects that were also developed in cooperation with foreign (mainly Russian and Ukrainian) companies or for which they were contracted and paid: The Y-9 and Y-20 (with Antonov), CJ -7 and JL-10 (with Yakovlev) and Z-10 (to Kamov). So these are not copies or even stolen drafts.


And even if there are ‘similarities’ to other types, isn’t this the case with other types too? The South Korean KFX, the Turkish TFX and the Indian AMCA are all heralded in the media as indigenous concepts, great achievements of developing aerospace industries in order to develop fifth generation fighters, but only China is accused of having copied the F-35 as it is with the FC-31, but oh .. they added a second engine. But these are details one can easily ignore.

As such, none of that makes China’s aircraft clones and copies straight away. The main problem – and actually an interesting one because these accusations often contradict one another – is that it is (at least in my understanding) technically hardly likely and even less possible to copy something so easily without direct access to the original.

In addition, these ‘copies’ are equipped with different systems, powered by vastly different powerplants, have very different dimensions, they are built from different materials and therefore they have to be structurally different, ergo, they cannot be a copy or a clone, at least not under what I understand as a copy or clone. Despite this, this remains a constant meme in the Western media.

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Or perhaps China the only country able to copy someone else’s product simply by looking at a photo? This however would raise another question: If it is so easy to copy, why don’t other countries do it too? Surely it’s not just that other nations obey intellectual property laws? If China is indeed capable of such miraculous tasks, then it is extremely alarming. This however contradicts the second often claim: all of China’s copies are junk and worthless and they fall apart immediately.

So at least in my understanding, there is a contradiction here: On the one hand, portraying China as stupid and its products as worthless, while at the same time stirring up the great fear of China’s great ‘clone army’!
As I said, I don’t want to give China a blanket excuse, and no one denies that China did not always develop its ideas alone, but these allegations are often created from ignorance of the facts, and they are testimony to one’s own political convictions and bias, or simply stupidity and ignorance.

How does the Chinese air force compare with that of Russia?

Oh well, another difficult question to answer even more since I am not a specialist on Russian types nor the Russian Air Force, you probably should ask Piotr Butowski. I will try my best to answer. In my opinion – as in so many fields – China listened to others, adopted, copied, tried and tested, found its own solution to their own needs and most of all put a lot of money – surely much more than Russia – into its military in all important areas. So that today I would rate the Chinese air force better equipped, with more modern types in larger numbers, better connected and prepared for joint operations. The PLAAF operates more UAVs. They have more (both in number and sophistication) EW and AEW assets. Their fighter and strikers more frequently use precision munitions guided by targeting devices. The PLAAF operates several more UAVs and UCAVs, and they even more ahead in having a modern training system. The PLAAF has more and more modern trainers, the training syllabus, in my opinion, is closely related to the US training syllabus and the pilots train more, fly often and are most likely better paid. And finally, this all it embedded into a general command adapted to modern aerial warfare.

(Photo/huanqiu.com)

If this results in a more capable force, I don’t know for sure, since the PLAAF not only lacks a sufficient number of tankers and true strategic bombers – both which will be available in a few years – but most significantly lacks true combat experience. I must admit, however, that I don’t want to find out what the PLAAF can do in real combat.

How good is Chinese stealth technology?

Actually, I think besides the PLAAF and the individual design teams at CAC, SAC and XAC no one can say this for sure. Surely there is a lot of discussion going on in social media groups and by analysts as well, but at least for the social media sector most of these discussions are pure armchair-analyst’s conclusions based on eyeballing and I don’t want to participate on such discussion since in the end it most likely results in wrong conclusions. Most often such discussions are led by certain fan-boys and so consequently the outcome of any such discussion is most often already predetermined by a fixed opinion like “canards are not stealthy” or “the Russian Su-57 cannot be a stealth fighter” based on a layman’s opinion, bias and prejudice. Anyway, I would at least agree that the discussion of certain details like planform alignment, the treatment of seals and panels, the engines and so on is possible and as such it might be questionable if the J-20 and FC-31 are as stealthy as the F-22 or F-35, but to what degree, no one can tell for sure.

https://hushkit.net/2018/09/12/our-latest-film-analysis-of-the-j-20/

What is happening in the realm of hypersonics?

To admit, this is again not my field of expertise, but from what I see it seems as if the Chinese are highly active in this field since years, they seem to be quite successful, but to what extent the mentioned systems like the DF-17, the just recently spotted air launched ballistic anti-ship missile launched by the H-6N or the CJ-100 cruise missile I don’t want to assess.

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Do they have any operational stealthy UCAVS or UAVS?

This is again one of the biggest mysteries right now. ‘Yes’ if you rate the WZ-7 ‘Soaring Eagle II’ strategic reconnaissance UAV as a stealthy UAV and ‘uncertain’ for a true stealthy UCAV. We know for sure that in late 2013 the ‘Sharp Sword’ (Lijian) UCAV demonstrator flew for the first time. It seems as if a second revised prototype flew in 2016 and then it reappeared as the GJ-11 during the national day parade on 1 October 2019, indicating it might be in PLAAF service. However, the GJ-11 on display was clearly a mock-up only and even if we have seen several other UAVs – including the Soaring Eagle II – both at their factory, at various test units and frontline bases, this is not the case for the GJ-11; at least not to the public. Again, this does not exclude the type already being in service. AVIC claimed in late 2017 that after years of testing it was finally ready for production at Hongdu/GAIC and that this type is ready to enter PLAAF service “soon”, and that quite realistic scale models are available, again suggesting it to be ready since AVIC usually only does this after a type entered service, but we still lack any evidence like an image.

What is the most capable Chinese Flanker variant and how does it differ from Russian technology?

On paper this was in my opinion the J-11D fighter variant, a still mysterious and secret variant. Once planned as a further improved variant of the J-11B featuring a new AESA radar in a reshaped nose cone and an improved digital fly-by-wire system it was to be powered by uprated WS-10 engines with up to 14 tons of thrust two additional hard-points added for the latest generation of AAMs including the PL-10, PL-15 and ultra long-range PL-21. Radar Absorbent Material coating to reduce the Radar Cross Section, a refuelling probe, a new IRST/LR and other improved systems would have made a formidable Flanker. Maybe – if rumours are correct, a Thrust Vector Control (TVC) -equipped variant, on par with the Russian Su-35, was to be fitted with a more modern AESA radar and more modern AAMs. Why this variant was cancelled is still a mystery, maybe due to cost? The most capable Chinese ‘Flanker’ today is the J-16 striker, an indigenous development broadly comparable to the latest Russian Su-30SM albeit without canards and TVC. As such the J-16 has less of a focus on manoeuvrability and more on its avionics and the weapons it can use.

Do you believe the JF-17, J-10 and J-20 were based on Soviet/Russian designs?

The cancelled Israeli Lavi fighter

No, a clear NO. The J-10 is undeniable based on CAC’s own experiences with the J-9 project, that went through so many iterations during its long and protracted development and surely the influence of the Israeli Lavi. But from my understanding the Israeli contribution was more related to FCS-development and integration, avionics, and overall programme management than the design of the fighter itself.

Artist’s impression of the J-9 from Militarywatchmagazine.com

The J-20 – even if surely claimed in certain social media – is surely NOT a Mikoyan MFI Mark 2 even if again certain design elements might be ‘inspired’ by it, but based on official reports, the requirements which led to the J-20 were much closer to the specifications of the F-22.

Concerning the JF-17 I’m still not that sure, especially in regard to the often mentioned Mikoyan Izdeliye 33 (or Project 33), which was of conventional layout single engined MiG-29-look alike under development during the 1980s. But there are wind-tunnel models of the JF-17, which are of earlier origin and that are already closer to the final design. As such there was surely some Russian input – most of all due to the RD-93 – but I don’t think it is based on that failed MiG-33.

Mikoyan 1.44 MFI

What can we expect to see in Chinese military aviation over the next 20 years? “Should I take a look at my the crystal ball, I would say that we surely will get some more surprises. That will start this year with the new J-35 naval fighter, I wouldn’t be surprised if we actually see a J-20 two-seater soon and certainly more UAVs / UCAVs. Also I expect the KJ-600 carrier-borne AEW and other EW types, but I’m not expecting to see the H-20 stealth bomber yet this year. To look any further into the future is difficult, especially because that depends on the political and economic situation not only in China but acrossthe world.

China will certainly continue to move forward (esp. concerning sensors, avionics, engines), it will develop more indigenous systems, will rely more on autonomy and networking … and I fear if China remains politically and economically stable, some day we might be accused of copying Chinese designs and concepts. (just a joke!)

How does the Chinese approach to military aviation differ to the US approach?

Another difficult to answer question. In my opinion, China and its military are aligned with the United States in almost everything. At first this may be seen as a simple copying, but one could also say: China has great ambitions and the US systems and the structure of their armed forces have proven themselves in many ways. So why reinvent the wheel? (one of the most important differences to India, by the way). On the other hand, other factors play a role and these are responsible for the differences: first of all, the Chinese do not have exactly the same ambitions – for example to be a global policeman – or to carry out worldwide missions overseas (at least not yet). China is aware of its limitations, so cannot simply import all US military concepts. It also has its own social and historical factors that also play a major role. Finally, the technological gap with the USA is closing, which forces China to develop more and more its own solutions.

https://hushkit.net/2018/09/12/our-latest-film-analysis-of-the-j-20/

What should I have asked you?

Ha ha … a good question. Probably how do I still manage to follow the PLA so much besides all my private life and job? And I must admit … I don’t know.

How did you become interested in Chinese military aviation?

Oh well, that is a difficult question. At first when I was young and still building plastic model kits, I was interested in everything … fighters, bombers, and most of all US and Russian (then still Soviet) stuff. But later everything secret became more and more interesting. Everything around that buzzword ‘Stealth’ and what turned out to be the F-117, but also the latest Russian types, namely the Su-27 and MiG-29. After the Russians opened at least part of their archives and so much became public, the only two true nations that retained that exciting mystique of secrecy were Israel and China. This curiosity was spurred even more after the Lavi project was cancelled and rumours popped up that it would reappear in China. It did indeed, but not as expected – and still some claim – as a true copy but a very different albeit surely ‘inspired’ type. Regardless of what some claim, the J-10 is NOT a copy nor a clone; its larger size alone and the use of a Russian AL-31 exclude this option, but there were undeniable similarities and so I started to dig even deeper into this matter. And what I learned surprised me even more: There were indeed secret contacts, cooperation between the US and China – even so deep some in the USA today surely would like to ignore, contacts with Europe, Israel and Russia. And the deeper you dig, the more you find: old secret and long failed projects like the J-9 and J-13, the everlasting connection between politics and military desires. It was also fascinating to look at how this was affected by China’s technical and industrial shortcomings. And after years of watching China, its industries, and projects it became more and more apparent, that there is not only a great will to close this gap and to overcome these shortcomings, but also the political will to invest huge sums to solve it. And who knows China knows that everything is planned well in advance, with a lot of patience and perseverance. Most of all, however, I was fascinated by how China managed to move from merely copying and license producing aircraft to modifying and improving by integrating parts from different worlds – the East and West – to real indigenous developments. And yes, even if the J-10 looks like a Lavi on steroids and the J-20 features design elements from the F-22 and F-35, they are certainly not copies. This accusation is too simple, as if designing an aircraft by simply taking part A from here and part B from there and mating them together would work as if it is that simple. Frankly, don’t all other modern types look similar in some way too?

Check out Andreas’ excellent books on Chinese air power here.

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