‘Sukhoi 30 outshone in US aerial exercise’

In what could prove to be a major embarrassment for the Indian establishment, an assessment by a US Air Force (USAF) pilot who participated in the Red Flag joint exercise in Nevada in August claims that the SU 30 MKI, India's most modern aircraft, performed poorly in comparison with its US counterparts. The Su 30 MKI was outshone by US Air Force pilots and lost in one on one aerial combat with the older generation F 15 fighters, the review which was put up on a video sharing website last week, claims.

While the USAF officer in the video has not been identified, he appears to be a combat pilot of the rank of Colonel. He says that the Indian pilots suffered from a high fratricide rate, the term used for friendly kills, and had problems with the Sukhoi engines that were vulnerable to foreign object damage.

However, the Indian Air Force (IAF) said that the Sukhoi's held their own against ace pilots of the USAF and maintained a high serviceability rate throughout the exercise. For the record, the IAF has not commented on the outcome of the Red Flag exercise. "Out pilots were functioning on a stand-alone basis while the USAF pilots were part of a network and were getting inputs on navigation, target information and enemy details. We were getting all our inputs manually and were fighting fit even against all these odds," a top IAF officer said.

The USAF pilot says that the much touted thrust vectoring system of the Su 30 MKI's, which gives the fighter a high degree of agility in close aerial combat was also beaten by F 15 pilots who used their combat experience with the F 22 Raptors to find a flaw in the Indian fighter. Explaining the manoeuver in detail, the pilot says that the USAF tapped a vulnerability in the thrust vectoring system but the Indian pilots would soon find a way of rectifying the flaw.

Senior IAF officers however say that SU 30 MKI pilots were more than a match for their US counterparts and were fighting against all odds even when the French team was grounded for most of the time during the exercise.

"The US pilots at Red Flag were the best of their lot. From out side, a regular squadron with a mix of experienced and new pilots had gone. Above that, the US forces were part of a network and were even getting feedback from space assets," a senior officer said. He added that the Sukhoi's had the best serviceability record at the exercise and spent more time in the air than their French and South Korean counterparts. "We had a serviceability rate of above 90 percent. There is no question of foreign object damage to the engines. We had a tyre burst on the runway but it was changed within minutes by our ground crew," the officer said.

India marked it first-ever presence in the prestigious Red Flag exercise and crossed swords with the the French Air Force (with Rafale fighters), South Korean Air Force (with F-15s) and the US Air Force with their F-15s and F-16s. IAF, which participating with eight Su-30s, two IL-78 tankers an IL-76 aircraft, spent close to Rs 100 crore on the exercise, termed as the world's toughest aerial combat exercise.

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