By Bijan Razzaghi
The US Air Forces F-35A and US Marine Corps F-35B will likely be employed in upcoming 2017 and 2018 deployments particularly in the pacific with the recent F-35B deployment to Japan as well as South Korea for the Foil Eagle exercise. There are also plans to base F-35As in Japan. With these deployments comes the possibly for these aircraft to come into contact with advisory aircraft. Defense & Security Today has made a list of todays top advisory aircraft these include the J-10, J-11B, SU-30 and Mig-29. All these aircraft are produced by Russia and China who in the past have evaded arms embargoes and sold these aircraft to US and NATO advisory’s, they are also affordably priced compared to their western counterparts, there for it is most likely the US will engage these types of aircraft in any future air conflict.
The F-35 is a very capable platform developed primarily as a strike fighter similar to the F/A-18 Hornet. This means flying into enemy territory to engage ground targets while being able to engage air threats by fighting its way in and out of enemy territory. This makes the F-35 very effective in air to air combat. The F-35 features two major characteristic’s that give it an advantage over its advisory’s. The first is situational awareness. The F-35 uses sensor fusion technology which combines data from the aircrafts Raytheon AN/APG-81 AEASA radar as well as the Northrop Grumman AN/AAQ-37 RWR (Radar Warning Receiver). The AN/APG-81 radar detects targets both air and surface while the RWR (radar warning receiver) detects radars from other aircraft and surface to air missiles systems, as well as marking launch locations and tracking incoming missiles. These two sensors than combine the data and provide a clear picture on a display and provide symbology to the HUD (heads up display). The updated target and threat information provided at the same time allows the pilot to fly the aircraft while keeping track of these threats. Pilots in past 4th generation aircraft would have to look at multiple displays in order to receive this information. The second advantage is low observable or all aspect stealth. This means that enemy aircrafts radars cannot detect, track or paint the F-35 when configured for stealth operation’s.
The first threat aircraft the Mig-29 is currently the most common enemy aircraft that is most likely to be encountered in an air war. It is priced between $11 million and $22 million per plane depending on the systems ordered making it readily available to countries trying to build up an Air Force. When it comes to beyond visual range combat the F-35 can detect and destroy the Mig-29 from 20 miles away using the AIM-120 AMRAAM missile. The F-35 can then turn away undetected and maneuver into position to engage further aircraft or withdraw and move on to a ground target. When the aircraft merge ,which is when two aircraft come within a mile of each other the fight then focuses on maneuverability. The F-35A can pull 9gs and has a thrust to weight ratio of 1.07 with 50% fuel while the F-35B can pull 7gs with a thrust to weight ratio of 1.04 with 50% fuel. The Mig-29 can pull 9gs and has a thrust to weight ratio of 1.09 giving it a slight advantage in maneuverability but lacks the situational awareness of the F-35. MIG pilots will have to use their eyes and their helmet mounted site for the archer to lock targets. It is likely Mig-29s will not have the opportunity to get close to F-35s while in the stealth configuration.
The next aircraft is the J-10 built by China it resembles design characteristic’s from the canceled IAI Lavi which is similar to an F-16. The J-10 features frontal canards and has avionics similar to Russia’s Mig-29. The J-10 can pull 9gs and has a thrust to weight ratio of 1.15. This gives the J-10 excellent maneuverability in close combat situation’s. Despite the high performance of the J-10 the aircraft does not have the situational awareness or the ability to be undetected by radar giving the F-35 an advantage from distances as far away as 20 miles. The J-10 can present a challenge in close combat. The J-10 is available on the international arms market for $27.84 million USD per aircraft.
The Su-30 which is one of the most common Russian produced aircraft is based on the older SU-27. The SU-30 has been exported to several countries among them China, Venezuela and Angola. The initial variant of the SU-30 has a thrust to weight ratio of 1.0 and can pull 9gs. The SU-30SM used by Russia features thrust vectoring nozzles giving it enhanced maneuverability which allows the aircraft to preform negative g maneuver’s which gives an advantage in close combat but also leaves vulnerability when in near stall situations. In these situations SU-30s would not have enough energy to evade attack if in this position which gives F-35s pilots an advantage in close combat. This maneuver was observed at exercise cope India in 2008. SU-30s do have beyond visual range capabilities with a more powerful radar and R-77 long ranger air to air missiles. The SU-30 is priced at around $37.5 million USD per plane.
The J-11B is another common aircraft encountered by US forces operating in freedom of navigation exercises in the South China Sea. The J-11B is a Chinese developed version of the SU-27. The aircraft can pull 9gs and has a thrust to weight ratio of 1.07 giving the aircraft equal performance to the F-35A. The J-11B will most likely to be encountered in any Pacific deployment around the South China Sea. The J-11B is available on the international arms market for $30 million a plane.
With these comparisons there is a common factor among all the Russian and Chinese designs, they focus on energy and maneuverability ,while the F-35 includes similar performance it adds stealth and the ability to detect and engage and destroy enemy aircraft beyond visual range and undetected this makes close combat unlikely yet in the case that the F-35 did merge with any of these threat aircraft it is likely it would be able to hold its own with the situation awareness provided something that is exclusive to the F-35 platform.