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Air Power Australia
Air Power Australia



URLS: http://www.ausairpower.net/APA-Flanker-Radars.phpl

Dear Neil,

Air Power Australia is pleased to release its latest analysis tracing the development of Russian Flanker aircraft radar capabilities in Beyond Visible Range (BVR) air combat. It summarises research conducted over several years, analysing the Russian radar technology employed in the Flanker family of high performance fighters. It represents the first, comprehensive, unclassified technical analysis of its kind published globally, focussing on the key engineering and design parameters that determine radar performance.

The paper identifies and dimensions how and why the Flanker has produced so much concern amongst the global air power analytical community.

Several important observations stem from this analysis:
  1. There is a five fold improvement in raw BVR combat performance (power aperture) between the 1980s radars installed in some Flanker variants and the radar installed in the latest Su-35BM/Su-35-1 variants now undergoing flight test.

  2. The raw BVR combat radar performance (power aperture) of the Su-35BM/Su-35-1 Irbis E radar is superior to any Western radar other than the F-22A/B20 Raptor's APG-77(V)2 radar.

  3. The N011M BARS radar currently installed in Indian and Malaysian Flankers, the latter now being delivered for a 2009 Initial Operational Capability, requires only a block upgrade to bring it up to the performance standard of the Su-35BM/Su-35-1 Irbis E radar.

  4. Parametric analysis of the technology and cardinal design parameters of the latest US AESA radars indicates that neither the F/A-18E/F's APG-79 or the JSF's APG-81 will provide a decisive tactical range advantage over the Russian BARS and Irbis E installed in the latest Flankers. BVR missile payloads and Missile kinematic performance, and aircraft launch kinematics, will combine to give a BVR combat range advantage to the Russian aircraft over both the F/A-18E/F and F-35 JSF in most practical BVR scenarios.

  5. The Gallium Nitride transistor technology which provides the peak power improvements seen in the latest US AESAs is being globalised to support the commercial wireless broadband industry and will thus be readily available in coming years to Russian and Chinese industry. As a result of this the next generation of Russian fighter radars will be AESAs, as demonstrated by the recent MiG-35 radar. However, the large size of the Flanker, with about twice the radar antenna size of the F/A-18E/F and F-35 JSF, and with a much greater capacity to power and cool a large AESA, will allow the Russians to produce AESAs having much greater range performance than the current US AESA designs.

  6. It is very likely that Russian industry will offer post 2010 block upgrades to legacy Flankers, involving either variants of the Irbis E, the Pero or an AESA. The competitive dynamic between the two primary Russian radar houses, Tikhomirov NIIP and Phazotron, will inevitably see both competing throughout Asia for block upgrade business to replace the 1980s technology radars in the earlier Flanker variants deployed across the region.

In summary, the analysis in this paper further supports the finding of the preceding analysis of the reasoning behind Russian BVR capabilities, specifically that: The simple conclusion to be drawn is that operators of the F/A-18E/F or F-35 JSF should make every effort to avoid Beyond Visual Range combat with late model Flankers, as the most optimistic outcome is parity in exchange rates, and the more likely outcome a decisive exchange ratio advantage to the Flanker.

The implications for Australia’s current air combat capability plans are obvious.

As a result, Air Power Australia has some very serious reservations about the statements made to the media last week by a "defence spokesman" claiming "Australian air combat experts had analysed the Super Hornet against all regional opponents".

These are specifically in relation to the following claims:

Claim #1: "They [Australian air combat experts] are completely satisfied that the Super Hornet is more than a match for the Sukhoi-30 or any other likely threat in the coming decade"

Reality #1: This claim can be based only upon the oldest Su-30MKK/MK2/MKV variants which carry the least capable 1980s technology NIIP N001 radar. The 'Australian air combat experts' must have excluded the Su-30MKI and Su-30MKM variants, and inevitable block upgrades replacing the radars in the earlier Su-27SK, Su-27SKM, Su-30MKK/MK2/MKV variants. In addition this 'analysis' on the part of 'Australian air combat experts' also excluded the Su-35BM/Su-35-1 aircraft which is being actively marketed in Asia for delivery post 2010. It is impossible to reconcile this claim with regional developments over the next decade, let alone understand how they can fit in with the Minister’s concerns out to 2045.

Claim #2: "Detailed analysis has been conducted against realistic threats that Australia may face and results have indicated that the JSF can readily defeat them in BVR (beyond visual range) and within visual range combat even beyond the 2020 timeframe"

Reality #2: This claim is clearly not supportable by the vast amount of technical evidence available and provided to Defence, and it is not clear how such a curious conclusion could have been drawn, especially given the very limited capabilities within Defence to perform technical analysis of Russian aircraft and weapons both deployed and being deployed across the region. The stealthy high performance PAK-FA, currently being prototyped, will deploy in the same timeframe as the JSF and it will introduce a new generation of Russian BVR and WVR missiles, as well as AESA radars, supersonic cruise and stealth technology. The claimed 'detailed analysis' evidently appears to have excluded all of the later Flanker variants and the new PAK-FA.

Claim #3: "Modern lethal weapons render any aircraft performance measure irrelevant if it does not enable first shot"

Reality #3: This claim shows a deep and fundamental misunderstanding of modern BVR air combat and a lack of appreciation of the capabilities of Russian weapons and aircraft. The implicit assumption in this claim is that BVR missiles have very high kill probabilities which is at odds with decades of experience and known limitations of current technology. The capabilities of the latest Russian radars and missiles, the superior kinematic performance of the Russian fighters over the F/A-18F and JSF, will ensure the 'first shot capability' over the F/A-18F and JSF in most practical BVR scenarios.

Claim #4:"First shot is achieved at long range through modern networking, survivability through signature reduction and integrated electronic counter-measures that deny opponents the ability to shoot, advanced radars to cue weapons early and lethal missiles with long range and protection against countermeasures."

Reality #4: Analysis of the latest Flanker aircraft , their systems and missile technology, demonstrate that each of these cited means of achieving the 'first shot' are possessed by users of late model Flanker aircraft. This yet again demonstrates that the capabilities of the Russian weapons and aircraft are just not understood in Defence or are being disregarded as being inconvenient.

Claim #5: "The Sukhoi Su-30 is in its infancy, however it will be a worthy opponent in the next decade. By which time the Super Hornet's superior sensors, weapons and information systems will also have advanced accordingly."

Reality #5: Sukhoi Su-30 variants have been in production since the mid-1990s which makes the earliest models more than a decade old by design. The claim that the Su-30 is in its infancy is simply not true - it is a well matured design with many variants of widely ranging capabilities. The notion that "Super Hornet's superior sensors, weapons and information systems will also have advanced accordingly" disregards two important realities, which are that Russian avionics and airframe technology have advanced faster than US technology over the last decade, and that the inherent hard limits in the Super Hornet design have already been reached, especially the small radar antenna size. The proposed Block III will not resolve these issues.

These five claims cannot be reconciled against known facts and indeed the laws of physics in some instances. This situation can only be explained in two ways:
  1. The capabilities of the Sukhoi Flankers and associated systems and weapons are not understood, and the design objectives and planned capabilities of the PAK-FA are not appreciated within Defence; or
  2. The capabilities of the Sukhoi Flankers and associated systems and weapons are well understood in Defence, and the design objectives and planned capabilities of the PAK-FA are well appreciated within Defence, but contrary claims are being made to the public and parliament intentionally.
Air Power Australia recommends that the Defence leadership be asked to explain to the Air Combat Capability Review and the Australian community exactly why a "Defence spokesman" has made so many misleading and factually incorrect claims on such an important matter.

Carlo Kopp

Dr Carlo Kopp, MIEEE, SMAIAA, PEng
Defence Analyst and Consulting Engineer
Editor: Air Power Australia @ http://www.ausairpower.net