Sunday, November 23, 2008

Youtube Terry & the Viral Video from Hell

If you've been following the defence aviation grapevine for the past week or so, you'd have surely heard about the so-called controversial video (Part 1 & 2) and comments by Col. Terrance Fornof of AFB Nellis about the Indian participation at Red Flag Nellis. Bharat-rakshak also had a lively discussion about the videos. Vishnu Som of NDTV, who was present at the exercise then gave a rebuttal to some of the points raised by the good Col on another BR thread. The other Indian DDM's obviously had a field day trying to rake in the TRPs by piggybacking on some of Fornof's "offensive" remarks about the Exercise and IAF.

I just saw the video (2 parts- 18 min), and disagree with most of the hyperbolic hyperventilators on the Indian side. The video was clearly an informal dinnertime discussion (listen to the clinks and clanks in the background) about the exercise, and given the video quality, location and steadiness I'm pretty sure it was an official video for USAF posterity that unf0rtunately (or fortunately??) got out.

Pilots are known to be a spirited and frisky bunch, and the language and enthusiastic tone of the talk, and the racuous response by the audience are indicators of this. Given that, its wholly unreasonable to expect these pilots to speak among themselves with a drollness reserved for diplomatic banquet-parties.

I will not talk about the factual mistakes that the Col. made, namely about the Su-30's engines, the Bison Radar, datalink and a few others... they are small errors that any pilot can make about an unfamiliar aircraft, and make no difference to the discussion itself. We can hardly expect our pilots to know what engine or datalink the F-16 has.

The major thrust was on three issues:

1. Su-30MKI, MKI vs F-22.

  • TVC - Su-30 vs Raptor
  • Size - big aircraft, big RCS
  • Comparison with the F-15
2. Indian pilots and their experience with the Mig-21 Bison.

3. Issues faced during the exercise by both planes and pilots.

MKI vs Raptor:

I find this the most complimentary portion of the video itself, unlike most who saw it in negative light. The fact that a senior USAF pilot is acknowledging that the IAF has bridged a massive gap and is slightly better than the USAF itself is a big admission from a very gung-ho and egoistic bunch of people (pilots in general, and not the USAF itself. Just to clarify, Thats a good thing to be as a pilot).

More importantly, that Fornof was constantly comparing the Su-30 with the F-22 and talking about how reassured he was that the F-22 was a way better aircraft is amazing. We already knew that the MKI is nowhere close to the Raptor, which is really a revolution in aviation design, and to think that the USAF was worried that the Su-30 might be as good, or close to it till they saw it in action speaks volumes of the MKI's capabilities. Remember that the F-22's capabilities have been touted as much for its radar and sensors, and the American's have not got a look at the Su-30s 'tronics at all. So we still have a lot of hidden cards.

The major point that people found contentious was the "drill-his-brains-out" comment. Too bad they didn't see it for what it was - just a passionate and air-force way of describing tactics. Having faced and developed tactics for the F-22 (which again, Fornof pointed out, was really a very long shot), they were able to apply these tactics to the Su-30 against new pilots. And here, Fornof pointed out that this advantage was a long shot anyway, and you'd have to hope that the opposing pilot was dumb enough to do that. And some of the inexperienced Indian pilots did (according to Fornof) do that on an inferior aircraft (to the F-22) and got killed as a result.

The big thing is - Fornof himself states that the INDIANS WOULD FIX THIS FAST as they learnt and then, we'd beat the F-15s and F-16s "ON A REGULAR BASIS". Its a compliment to our pilot's, especially considering his disdain for the French and sympathy for the Korean's inexperience. Seems like there were only two real forces at Nellis - US and IAF. The fact that the only chink the USAF could find in our armor was a long shot that would be fixed anyway is a testament to our strength.

Of course, it has been pointed out that no 1vs1s were flown at Nellis. And the Cope-India thing also, there was no chest thumping by the IAF (Fornof does not mention the IAF, but only says Indians - the DDM and media obviously thumped their chests till it hurt, so Fornof could be referring to them as well, with good reason).

A small point about the TVC on the F-22 - Fornof points out that the F-22's TVC is only for Post-stall maneuvering, while the MKI's can be used for normal maneuvering as well... I'm no expert, but that does sound to me like an advantage to the MKI.

And if the USAF is saying that the only way to fight the Su-30MKI is the Raptor, god help the Pakistanis and Chinese who won't have either.

Indian pilots & the Mig-21 Bison

I'll start with the Mig-21 Bison, which Col. brought up to talk about the experience our pilots have come out of
. Given the admiration he had for the capabilities of this 50 year old jet against even the modern F-15s and 16s, I think is a compliment.

The 1-vs-1, Fornof correctly pointed out (and most ppl missed) took place at Mount Home (as mentioned by Vishnu Som as well), but his points about having been drilled out has been rebutted by Som. I guess its a matter of perception, but even Vishnu has agreed that "there were days when several Su-30s were shot down". No aircraft is invincible, but as I mentioned above, given that the only chink (that we know of) that they could find was in the temporary inexperience of our younger pilots should be reassuring.

Just to point out, even in Cope India, 1 on 1 wasn't the main focus, as both USAF and IAF have mentioned. Another point to note is that Fornof was almost certainly talking about the sustained non-TVC rate, and talked about the F-15 being able to follow the MKI better than against a Raptor, after which the Pilot engages TVC on the turn to get an advantage. Again a case of not hearing the good Col. closely.

More importantly, he is extremely respectful and amazed at our zero error rate, which again shows the respect IAF has earned among their pilots.

Issues & Random points:

The point about fratricide has been explained by Vishnu, and is clearly not a fault. Fornof has not talked about the Frats by their aircraft, but the fact that our pilots have taken this issue so seriously is obviously another pointer that Fornof also notes.

RF Nellis, as the Col. mentions, is not like Alaska, which is a goodwill pageant, but a serious exercise aimed at creating coalitions - anybody says we're not respected by the US?? Fornof does mention (in a somewhat brusque manner), that we are not yet integrated with their forces. No one on this side of the world disputes that.

The FOD point itself was not so much an insult, but a matter of fact way of putting the point across. Fornof has explained about our reasons for the 60" spacing, and does mention quite clearly that a satisfactory workaround was found. Quite clearly no insult to anyone.

The major thrust of the talk was about how professional our pilots were, how good the Su-30 and even the Bison is, and how the ONLY way to be better is to get the Raptor. Simple. Nothing more, nothing less. What Fornof has said does corroborate to a large extent with what is coming out from our side. If it was only the casual and spade-a-spade manner of talking, too bad people listening didn't know a pilot's get-together from the Miss World pageant.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The next time the IAF meets with the USAF in exercises, it should be the SU-30's against the Raptors, both with AWACS support. There should be 1 vs 1 as well as large force engagements. As of now,in theory, propaganda, hype or anything else one may want to call it, the Flankers dont stand a chance against the Raptors. But will the USAF ever bring the Raptors for such engagements!? Mark my words. THAT'S NEVER GOING TO HAPPEN for many years to come.This is because there is that huge possibility that the Raptors may not fare as well as they are
supposed to, which has repurcusions
for force morale, for strategic reasons(the USAF wants more, but politicians dont) for economic reasons(in case they want to sell them) and lastly for publicity sake(loss of its invincible status). I am sure the SU-30MKI will give the Raptor a fight (game)it has never seen as yet. I hope the IAF tries hard enough to persuade the USAF to get its Raptors to fight the MKI's, So that once and for all a whole lot of myths can be addressed.