Monday :: Nov 28, 2005

Gaming Indian Wars

by pessimist

While Washington insiders are playing Patriot Games with each other, the United States military - the world's most expensive - is losing air war games to India:

Had the Indian air force beaten the Americans? Not exactly, according to observers and participants. The exercises had mixed teams of Indian and American pilots on both sides, which means that both the Americans and the Indians won, and lost.
Yet, observers say that in a surprising number of encounters -- particularly between the American F-16s and the Indian Sukhoi-30 MKIs -- the Indian pilots came out the winners.
[T]here are some signs that America's premier fighter jet, the F-16 Fighting Falcon, is losing ground to the growing sophistication of Russian-made fighter planes, and that the United States should be more wary about presuming global air superiority -- the linchpin of its military might.
The participants of the Web site, like a blogger who called himself "Babui," were convinced that the Americans' advantage was in doubt.

Citing a quote from a U.S. participant in Cope India '05 in Stars and Stripes ...

"We try to replicate how these aircraft perform in the air, and I think we're good at doing that in our Air Force, but what we can't replicate is what's going on in their minds. They've challenged our traditional way of thinking on how an adversary, from whichever country, would fight."

... Babui wrote:

"That quote is as good an admission that the F-16 jocks got their clocks cleaned."

Are Indian pilots superior to American pilots? Considering that the Air Force Academy seems more interested in Christian proselytizing than studying aerodynamics in combat situations, that may well be the case.

But, there is another possibility: Did the Pentagon throw the games just to get Congress to fund the F-22 for production? That's the question being posed at the Acorn.

According to this article, the US pilots would have had to work at throwing the exercises. Instead, they may have lost fair and square:

US fighter prowess slipping

Military experts say the joint exercises occurred at a time when America's fighter jet prowess is slipping. Since the US victories in the first Gulf War, a war dependent largely on air power, the Russians and French have improved the aviation electronics (avionics) and weapons capabilities of their Sukhoi and Mirage 2000 fighter aircraft. These improvements have given countries like India, which use the Sukhois and Mirages, a rough parity with US fighter planes like the F-16 and F-15C.
China, too, now has 400 late-model Sukhois.
The Su-30 MKI "is an amazing jet that has a lot of maneuverability," Capt. Martin Mentch told an Air Force publication, AFPN. Maneuverability is key for missions of visual air combat.

If it turns out the US Air Force did, in fact, get their clocks cleaned, it will have been the second time. In Cope India 2004, an air combat exercise that took place near the Indian city of Gwalior, US F-15s were eliminated in multiple exercises against Indian late-model MiG-21 Fishbeds as fighter escorts and MiG-27 Floggers. In the 2005 exercises in Kalaikundi air base near Calcutta, Americans were most impressed by the MiG-21 Bisons and the Su-30 MKIs.

One USAF controller working aboard an AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System) plane told reporters at Kalaikundi Air Base that he was impressed by the speed in which Indian pilots responded to target assignments given them by AWACS. The AWACS, while operated by Americans, was acting as a neutral party, feeding target assignments to both Indian and American pilots during the exercise. In most cases, the Indians responded to target assignments faster than the American pilots did - a surprising fact, given that this was the first time Indian pilots had used the American AWACS capability.

But then, considering that we pay the Pentagon to be the best military in the world, maybe losing these war games are just a way to point out to the Congress that our military professionals need the best weapons and armor we can provide - a lesson they should be learning from the shortages of body armor and armored Humvees in Iraq.

But I digress.

The Pentagon apparently has known for a while that US aircraft capabilities were slipping:

The American military amazed Moscow and the Russian media by saying that Russian-made fighter planes were superior to their American equivalents. How can these flattering revelations be explained?

General Hal M. Hornburg told USA Today that India's Sukhoi Su-30 MKI multi-role fighters have been successful against F-15 C/D Eagle aircraft in mock combat. In fact, the Indians won 90% of the mock combat missions. India's Su-30 MKI fighters and F-15 C/D Eagles from Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, engaged in mock combat exercises in February 2004.

However, no one mentioned that India won three of the four exercises at the time.
"We may not be as far ahead of the rest of the world as we thought we were, said Gen. Hal Hornburg, the chief of the Air Combat Command, which oversees U.S. fighter and bomber wings...The F-15Cs are the Air Force's primary air superiority aircraft...[and] the results of the exercise [were] wake up call."
The Inside the Air Force official newsletter also discussed the "Russian victory," and reported even more details. F-15 C/D Eagle fighters were pitted against not only Su-30 MKI fighters but also MiG-27s, MiG-29s, and even the older MiG-21 Bisons, which also performed well. The fighters not only defeated the F-15s but the French-made Mirage-2000 as well. According to the Washington ProFile Web site [unable to find a link to an English-language page], the results of the exercises surprised the American pilots.

Meanwhile, Russian military experts and aircraft designers did not seem surprised by these victories. The Sukhoi general designer, Mikhail Simonov, has repeatedly told RIA Novosti and other news agencies the Su-27 Flanker and the Su-30 MKI, a modified version of the Flanker, which are now in service in the Indian Air Force, were developed in the 1980s in response to the F-15 Eagle. Moreover, Soviet designers had stipulated far superior specifications. Consequently, Russian experts were not particularly surprised that the performance of the fighters matched their specifications.

Why did an American general publicly admit this fact four months after the exercises? The explanation lies on the surface: The U.S. Congress discusses defense spending for the next fiscal year every June and therefore, top American military officials started talking about events in February 2004 now.

Russian fighters first defeated their US rivals when Sukhoi and MiG fighters had just started being shown at international aerospace shows in the early 1990s. Instead of missiles and artillery shells, Russian and American fighter planes used aerial cameras to record their mock air-to-air battles. American fighters were disappointed to learn the results of exercise - their cameras had not captured any Su-27s.

The Russians, however, had filmed their rivals' vulnerable points from just about every angle.
Chief designer Arkady Slobodskoi, the supervisor of the MiG-29 program, said, "if our plane is within range of an opponent and has a direct shot, the enemy can be considered destroyed. It only takes 5-6 machine gun bursts."
Russian pilots owed their impressive success to the Su-27's spectacular performance and its substantial thrust-to-weight ratio. The F-15, the F-16 and the F-18 have wide turning radii. Russian fighters, on the other hand, can turn on a dime by merely switch on their afterburners. The [Su-27] fighter's unsurpassed performance has already become well known throughout the world because no other fighter (except MiG fighters) can execute such impressive stunts as Pugachev's Cobra and others.

There have been some heavy layoffs in the aerospace industry over the last several years. Could it be that the Air Force has adopted the 'if you can't outfly 'em, buy 'em!' stretegy? It looks that way:

The United States, which is aware of the impressive combat potential of Russian fighters, had even purchased a squadron of MiG-29s from Moldova after the Soviet Union disintegrated. (That squadron was deployed at an airfield near Chisinau.)
Germany, which had obtained a number of MiG-29s after reunification, helped repair the Moldovan fighters. Both Germany and the United States now use these aircraft to train their pilots, so that the pilots can cope with the 7,000 Russian fighters in the world.

But considering the results of the recent war games with India and Russia, this plan isn't working too well. At least that's the take of experts across The Pond:

Britain's Military Balance magazine estimated that India had more than 500 Russian-made fighters. It was therefore not surprising that Indian pilots could defeat their American rivals, despite the U.S. Air Force's intensive combat-training programs.

Admitting flaws and defects isn't part of the Bu$hCo game plan, however, and the excuses have begun to flow:

American pilots have not confronted any serious adversaries for a long time. The U.S. Air Force dominated the skies over Yugoslavia in 1999 and in Iraq in 1991 and 2003. Iraqi planes were grounded during both campaigns. Therefore, mock combat is the only way to amass experience.

Every Top Gun in the US Military should howl long and loud over this 'justification' of the Indian pilot performance:

The long standing American Air Force mentality prevents its pilots from confronting their Russian counterparts because any possible setback would be detrimental to morale. An American Air Force pilot must be convinced that he can and must defeat the former "theoretical enemy." At the same time, these problems do not exist for mock combat exercises against Indian pilots because any defeats can be explained by inadequate training.

The planes' operational capabilities themselves may not be the reason for the poor US showing, agrees one critic:

Is fighter X better than fighter Y?
by Ross Smith (

This is the kind of question that gets discussed all the time, but doesn't really have an answer.

First, best for what? Every fighter is designed with a particular set of requirements in mind. "Fighter" is a fairly general term that covers a multitude of missions. A Tornado F.3 or a MiG-31 is an excellent long-range interceptor, but you wouldn't want to send one of them up against an F-16 or an Su-27 in a dogfight.

Second, the aircraft itself isn't the only factor involved, or even the most important one. Put two aircraft of similar (or even somewhat different) capabilities up against each other, and by far the most important factor is the relative skills of the two pilots.

It's widely believed that superior pilot training was the main reason why American F-86 Sabres consistently gained air superiority over technically superior Russian MiG-15s in the Korean War.
Third, even apparently identical fighters can differ enormously in their electronics fit; and in modern fighters, the electronics is at least as important (not to mention expensive) as the airframe. Export versions of fighters are normally much less capable in the electronic sphere than the equivalent models for the home air force, even when the aircraft have the same designation; does anyone expect the F-16Cs exported to, say, Egypt to be anywhere near the capability of the F-16Cs in USAF service? Older aircraft can be upgraded to modern electronic standards at a fraction of the cost of new fighters, an option increasingly popular in these days of tightened defence budgets (for example, the RNZAF recently upgraded its Skyhawk fleet with a radar and avionics suite equivalent to that of the F-16A).

For the elucidation of all of you wrong-wing kids who weren't even twinkles in the eyes of your parents yet, the Skyhawk was used in the Vietnam War.

But I digress.

Most of the modern generation of fighters are fairly similar in performance. Leaving out specialised interceptors such as the Tornado and MiG-31 mentioned above, if almost any two modern fighters came up against each other in a dogfight, pilot skill would certainly be the main deciding factor.

In these war games, it may well have been the superior ability of the Indian pilots which carried the day for the IAF:

Like fish taking to water, Indian fighter pilots took their maiden introduction to Airborne Early Warning and Control System (AWACS) technology, which flew over the country's skies for the first time. Fresh from having proved their mettle in maneuvers with their United States Air Force counterparts in exercises last year on F-15 Tomcats, IAF pilots held their own, when they came up against the Fighting Falcons, F-16's, billed as the most superior fighter in the world during the almost two week long joint exercises over this airbase.
Though both Air Force officials painstakingly shied away from giving any figures of "kills" or "hits", US Air Force pilots said they had been impressed by the flying skills of the Indian pilots.

This Indian officer knows how to be diplomatic when bragging about his force's victory:

"US Air Force is the largest and most technologically advanced Air Force in the world with rich operational experience. At the same time, the home grown ingenuity and skill of the IAF pilots has earned them respect from different nations of the world", Marshal Major said.

Respect - a word too often alien to the wrong-wingers who visit us - is vital if one's country is to experience peace. It is unfortunate, if necessary, to be able to inspire respect through one's military capabilities. It doesn't help when a fourth-rate military like Iraq's can stand off the Mo$t Expen$ive Military in the world using cell phones and buried artillery shells.

This article presents the military challenges facing India:

Strengthening defence

India's two neighbours, Pakistan and China have continued to strengthen and expand their defence capabilities with new acquisitions, including an entire range of modern missiles and aircraft, which may not he as sophisticated as F-16s or SU-30, but lethal alright. China still remains the world's largest importer of war equipment and because of its old friendship with Pakistan, has passed on hundreds of tested missiles and fighter aircraft to that country.

And that's not all, folks! China and Pakistan began joint naval exercises last week, something that the Indians eye warily. But don't shed any tears for the Indians over this. China is also conducting separate joint naval exercises with Indian units, which indicates the range of their growing influence in the region.

But never fear! The Stars And Stripes are flying proudly off the China coast during war games conducted with ...

... The Philippines?

New war games between the Philippines and the United States would be held in North Cotabato in January next year, the military announced yesterday.

Col. Ruperto Pabustan, commander of the Army’s 602nd Infantry Brigade based in Carmen town, said a battalion of Filipino soldiers and a company size of American troopers will participate in the exercises. The January war game, dubbed Balance Piston, would be the second for Americans in Carmen. “There will be crash training on antiterrorism campaign ...,” he said.

So - is it the fighting prowess of the Americans that impresses the locals? I doubt it! They seem to think we're only very good at something else:

Asked what the provincial government plans to do to avoid incidents similar to the Subic rape case, Gov. Emmanuel Piñol said in a jest: “Let’s cut their organs.”

On Okinawa, the local citizens would certainly be sympathetic. There is plenty of frustration to go around when the US military shields sexual predators from local justice.

Such excesses make an already difficult diplomatic situation into a nearly impossible one that thwarts cooperation among nations with common goals.

But I digress.

But what if the local situation is already every bit as complex as the international one? North Cotabato is a very complicated place. It is a locality where Islamic separatists desire to create their own religious-based state not affiliated with the Phillipines.

But some of these separatists are operating on the Phillipine government's side. Why else would the Army have to stay on its base for these exercises to avoid a diplomatic misunderatanding?

To avoid conflict with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which maintains a presence in Carmen, [Col.] Pabustan said the antiterror exercises would be confined to the 200-hectare area that his command’s camp occupies.

North Cotabato is part of Central Mindanao where soldiers are hunting down terror suspects allied with the Jemaah Islamiyah. These include the Abu Sayyaf and its local ally, the Pentagon gang. The Pentagon gang is composed of former Moro rebels, who have resorted to extortion and kidnapping to raise funds.

Eid Kabalu, MILF spokesperson, said they have already deployed spies to help government security forces recover [kidnapped victims]. Last month, the MILF recovered a four-year-old boy from the hands of the Pentagon [Gang].

Delicate diplomacy would certainly be called for here, wouldn't it? In a way, this situation illustrates what this nation would be like if the NRA were to get its way and allow everyone to use openly carried side arms when they felt threatened. Everyone would have to be extremely careful not to upset the guy pointing a big gun at you (and they all look big when you're looking at the business end of one!).

Substitute military exercises right outside your borders for openly carried side arms, and the basic situation of diplomacy remains unchanged. War games aren't just the purview of the big guys. But that doesn't mean that there aren't tensions, or less of a need to be diplomatic and cautious when armed activities are conducted by smaller, less-militarized nations:

Indonesian Navy Holds Largest War Games Here

The games, which shall be held along 81,000 km of Indonesia’s coast line as far as the waters of the Ambalat block, were opened by Indonesian Navy Admiral Slamet Subiyanto just off the city of Surabaya on Monday (11/21/05). Subijanto said the war games were not meant as a show of force by the Indonesian Navy towards Malaysia although they were carried out near the waters of the Ambalat block.

Undiplomatic tensions can inspire war games as much as war games can generate tension:

War games in Venezuela gird for any U.S. invasion

Camouflaged soldiers jumped from boats into the surf and waded ashore in a mock assault Thursday, the latest in a series of Venezuelan military exercises preparing for a U.S. invasion that President Hugo Chavez warns could come.

Hundreds of men, women and children met the troops on the beach, some shouting “Gringos go home!” and “Freedom!”

The soldiers ignored them and hiked into their small fishing town, stone-faced as they spread out and took control. Smiling children ran after the troops on the beach, and a couple of burly men shoved soldiers back into the sea before an officer explained that wasn’t part of the drill.

“That’s what is going to happen to the Americans if they come here,” said Wolfang Pino, a 44-year-old electrician.
Many civilians said they were thrilled to be a part of the exercises, but a few found it alarming to have their town overrun by soldiers. “I’ve never seen anything like this in all my 56 years,” said Juana Brazon, who said the war games “bring fear” to the town. Several residents said they feared the U.S. government might try to take control of Venezuela’s oil fields given recent tensions between Chavez and President Bush.
“If Bush is in Iraq, in Afghanistan taking oil, he could do it here, too,” said Pino.
Chavez, a tough-talking nationalist who accuses the Bush administration of trying to overthrow him, says close cooperation between the military and civilian defense groups is key to resisting any U.S. attack. American officials insist there is no such plan, but Chavez says the South American country must be ready.

The attitude that Chavez displays toward American invasion isn't such a stretch for most of the world. Grenada and Panama certainly still remember when the Yanks were coming, and I'm still within the short period that most young conservatives were alive. Many nations remember our arrival with less than delight prior to that.

There are other ways to win the respect of the world without resorting to the drawn weapon as the first response. Make it clear that a weapon like our military can be used if needed, but do everything you can NOT to use it.

Once you do, all doubts are removed, and all bets of success are off.

That happened to King George with the spy plane incident. He drew his sixgun long before he had to, and when he was stood down, he looked like a fool that anyone - Al Qaeda, Iraqis, Talibani, etc. - could take. And did.

Just like what happened to Custer.

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pessimist :: 8:10 PM :: Comments (17) :: TrackBack (0) :: Digg It!