Monday, December 05, 2005

Cope India 2005

I only have time for a quick post, so here's a link:

USAF vs. Indian Air Force -- Cope India 2005

The hype surrounding this event (as well as Cope India 2004) bother me. Here's what we know:

* Indian aircraft (Su-30MKI, Mirage 2000, upgraded MiG-21s and MiG-27s) are good, although the -21 and -27 are a bit short-legged.
* Indian pilots are reportedly excellent.
* India and the USAF get a lot out of these exercises.

Both years, I've heard reports that the USAF were "surprised" and "thorougly beaten", and that US technology and piloting skills are inferior and slipping.

What isn't always so obvious is that these exercises consist of many different engagements between each side. In fact, sometimes Indian and USAF pilots will team up against another (Indian, USAF or Indian/USAF) threat, to see how they can work together. Each mission has a different combination of airplanes, different goals and different rules of engagement.

In Cope 2004, the controversy was that India won 90%+ of the engagements. Well, I don't have all the information, so I can't really say - but I bet most of them were set up to be advantageous to their side.

For example, reportedly at Cope India 2005, the USAF didn't simulate the use of AIM-120 AMRAAMs at all. Anyone with a good familiarity with American jet aircraft knows just how vital a tool this weapon is. I can't imagine going into (simulated) air combat without it - it just wouldn't be the same. AIM-7 Sparrows are difficult to use effectively, prone to failure and jamming, and AIM-9 Sidewinders are very short range. The AIM-120 is the most versatile AAM the US aircraft carry these days. To judge the competence of the USAF by the results of combats which rule out the use of their most important weapon seems foolish to me.

I don't know if India simulated the use of the similar R-77 (AA-12) - probably not. But either way, this increases the change of the aircraft getting into close-range dogfights, where any potential electronics advantage of the US aircraft is much diminished.

Additionally, many of the exercises might pit, say, 4 F-15s again 4 SU-30MKIs and 8 MiG-21s. Is it any surprise that the Indian side tends to win more often than not?

Now, as I stated right at the beginning, the Russian/Soviet aircraft the IAF fly are good planes, and their pilots are reportedly excellent. Therefore, I'm not trying to impinge upon the quality of either. Rather, I think we need all the information before we can judge what the outcome of these exercises means.

All I'm certain of is that both participants gained valuable knowledge and experience!


At 8:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good point, although many people are a little overconfident of the abilities of American pilots. I would wager that there are at least 10 countries out there with overall better pilots, not that I'm dissing the American Air Force. By the way, the IAF is actually the acronymn for the Israeli Air Force.

At 1:33 AM, Blogger Nicholas said...

I've seen IAF used to refer to both. The first time I saw it, it was Israeli Air Force. Hopefully it was clear what I meant in the context.

I would be willing to believe American pilots are not, overall, the best. What I suspect is that they do have the best overall "system" though.

The "system" would be the aircraft, the pilots, the electronics, the weapons and the support (like AWACS). Put together, all that would be difficult to beat for any air force in the world. But likely the emphasis on the technology means that their pilots don't necessarily have the most comprehensive piloting skills.

It all depends on where your emphasis lies. Having the best pilots and good aircraft won't necessarily win the fight if they can't co-ordinate well with each other, for example. I also bet that each country's average pilot skills vary over time. I wonder if the US Navy pilots are in general better than US air force because they have to be so good at thier job to land on the carrier, in bad weather at night...

I'm curious, which ten do you think might be in that list? I can think of a few which might make it, but the only other countries which have a reputation for great pilots I can think of would be the former USSR states (Russia, Georgia, Ukraine etc.).


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