October 8, 2005

US and Indian Air force dog fight

A recent training exercise with India has served as a "wake-up call" to the US Air Force, according to a top American general.
"We have to learn a lot of things from that," said General Hal Hornburg, head of the US Air Force's Air Combat Command, referring to the 'Cope India' exercise, conducted by the US and Indian air forces in Gwalior in February. "We have to learn if we want air superiority it doesn't come cheap and it's not automatic."
There are some specific reasons why the US air force lost
None of the six 3rd Wing F-15Cs was equipped with the newest long-range, active electronically scanned array (AESA) radars. These Raytheon APG-63(V)2 radars were designed to find small and stealthy targets. At India's request, the U.S. agreed to mock combat at 3-to-1 odds and without the use of simulated long-range, radar-guided AIM-120 Amraams that even the odds with beyond-visual-range kills.
These same U.S. participants say the Indian pilots showed innovation and flexibility in their tactics. They also admit that they came into the exercise underrating the training and tactics of the pilots they faced. Instead of typical Cold War-style, ground-controlled interceptions, the Indians varied aircraft mixes, altitudes and formations. Indian air force planners never reinforced failure or repeated tactics that the U.S. easily repelled. Moreover, the IAF's airborne commanders changed tactics as opportunities arose. Nor did U.S. pilots believe they faced only India's top guns. Instead, they said that at least in some units they faced a mix of experienced and relatively new Indian fighter and strike pilots.
However, in researching the exercise in greater detail, I came across some very restrictive parameters the F-15C pilots were "cuffed" with, so to speak. The cuffs in place were:
The scenarios were four versus 12 or a 1 to 3 ratio against the Americans (though this is standard training): "Generally the combat scenario was to have four F-15s flying at any time against about 12 Indian aircraft. While the U.S. pilots normally train to four versus 12, that takes into account at least two of the U.S. aircraft having AESA radar and being able to make the first beyond-visual-range shots. For the exercise, both sides restricted long-range shots."

The F-15Cs did not have their advanced AESA radars (see quote above)
The F-15Cs were not allowed to fire beyond 18-20 nautical miles: "The U.S. pilots used no active missiles, and the AIM-120 Amraam capability was limited to a 20-naut.-mi. range while keeping the target illuminated when attacking and 18 naut. mi. when defending, as were all the missiles in the exercise."

The IAF used advanced AA-12 Adder missiles that do not require continued pilot control and allow the attacking pilot to fire and fly away: "'That's what the Indians wanted to do,' Snowden says. 'That [handicap] really benefits a numerically superior force because you can't whittle away some of their force at long range. They were simulating active missiles [including] AA-12s. ' This means the missile has its own radar transmitter and doesn't depend on the launch aircraft's radar after launch. With the older AA-10 Alamo, the launching fighter has to keep its target illuminated with radar so the U.S. pilots would know when they were being targeted. But with the AA-12, they didn't know if they had been targeted. The Mirage 2000s carried the active Mica missile. Aerospace industry officials said that some of the radars the U.S. pilots encountered, including that of the Mirage 2000s, exhibited different characteristics than those on standard versions of the aircraft."

The US flew boilerplate defense formations that were based on having the long range ability and AESA radars: "By comparison, the U.S. pilots don't think they offered the Indians any surprises. The initial tactic is to run a wall with all four F-15s up front. That plays well when the long-range missiles and AESA radar are in play.
'You know we're there and we're not hiding,' Snowden says. 'But we didn't have the beyond-visual-range shot or the numerical advantage. Eventually we were just worn down by the numbers. They were very smart about it. Their goal was to get to a target area, engage the target, and then withdraw without prolonging the fight. If there were a couple of Eagles still alive away from the target area, they would keep them pinned in, get done with the target, and then egress with all their forces.
'All their aircraft seemed to be capable of breaking out [targets] and shooting at the ranges the exercise allowed,' he says. 'We generally don't train to an active missile threat [like the Mirage's Mica or the AA-12 for the Russian-built aircraft], and that was one of the things that caused us some problems.'"
The Politics of the F-22
On the political side, the war on terrorism has moved Pentagon and Congressional thinking towards fighting insurgencies and non-advanced terrorists on the ground. This does not look promising for future high-end weapons systems like the F-22. While the F-22 is a huge improvement over the F-15C, if the US sees its air missions as being supportive of ground troops in the Middle East, it is difficult to argue why scarce defense resources should buy even more sophisticated fighters. Secretary Rumsfeld often comments on the US needing to skip or "leap frog" a generation of high-end weapons systems to transform the current military away from a Cold War fighting machine to a more mobile, adaptable force.
The USAF needs a reason to buy 756 F-22s, not the lesser 336 number that some on Capitol Hill want. Any weapons system needs a threat for its existence. COPE India 2004, with its restrictions, may have been partially designed by the USAF to prove that "threat", that US air superiority is not what Congress thinks it is. Rep. Duke Cunningham's (R-CA) quote above, who received a classified briefing on COPE India 2004, is the only quoted loss statistic for the exercise in print that I could find.
I read about this somewhere else and it struck me. You need a really substantial reason to persuade Congress to approve the new F-22's with their development program touching 400billion $
And lastly, the Indian Air Force probably put out its best men to take on the US Air Force. The airmen who took part from the US side were from the Alaska fleet and therefore did not receive as much practice and were not the top among their peers. Put together the best US airforce pilots and they would handily beat the best of the Indian Air force.
Further reading:

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