SOURCE: MANJUNATH REDDY/ FOR MY TAKE / IDRW.ORG Four Sukhoi-30MKI which had taken up Defensive positions when 3 Pakistani F-16 breached Indian airspace last month, saw the first aerial dog fight since 1971 war between two air-forces where Mig-21Bis managed to bring down one F-16 but the same Mig was also lost to another missile fired from another F-16 in the process, but the questions remain why IAF’s front-line Sukhoi-30s didn’t engage F-16s in the first place and also why not even a single missile was fired even when it was attacked 4-5 times by AIM-120C5 BVRAAMs in the process.

Well, the answer can be found in the statement made by the Indian air force where it mentioned that due to lack of firing opportunity for the Su-30s, it didn’t engage PAF F-16s in Beyond Visual Range and the only missile which was fired by India that day was Single Heat Seeking close range R-73 air-to-air missile fired by the ill-fated Mig-21.

As per IAF Statement, nearly 4-5 AIM-120C5 BVRAAMs were fired at a single Sukhoi-30 which was roughly 50-60km away from the F-16. Other Su-30s in the area where much further away and closest one Su-30 which was engaged not only managed to dodge incoming missiles with the help of On-board Jammers, flares and aggressive maneuvers that it also had a chance to fire a Beyond Visual Range at the aggressive F-16 after successful disengagement.

What stopped Su-30 is anybody’s guess but IAF statement that no single missile was fired by Su-30 due to lack of engagement opportunity suggests that the F-16 already had begun to flee from the area and tail chase range of any Beyond Visual Range missile which is usually on the lower side than on the head on chase of the missile might have prevented missile from being fired. Su-30MKI are only integrated with Russian Vympel NPO R-77 Beyond Visual Range missile, an Export variant of which called RVV-AE was first sold to India from 1999 on wards and was first integrated into its Mig-29A fleet and also later on Sukhoi-30MKI fighter jets.

RVV-AE Missile system has never seen much of the combat operations around the world due to limited operational availability in Russian air force its self and also with its export customers like India and China. India’s Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) had made an adverse observation about the missile’s serviceability in the air force first in 2005 and later also in 2011.

while RVV-AE is still considered one of the most lethal Russian long-range air to air missile but has suffered from obsolescence technology due to lack of major upgrades by the manufacturer from 1994 when compared to AIM-120 family of BVRAAMs which till now have received Seven major upgrades. According to IAF records, the last batch of R-77 was procured in 2002, later upgraded model R-77-1 which was made available only in 2015 but IAF instead decided to support Indigenous Astra Mk-1 BVRAAM Program which now has entered limited scale production and will replace older stock of RVV-AE from IAF’s arsenal. RVV-AE has a head-on range of nearly 80km and a tail chase range of close to 20km which could have been one of the reasons why it was never fired by Su-30s in the first place on the fleeing F-16s.

Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman who in his earlier career in IAF flew Sukhoi-30s before moving to complicated Mig-21s might have sensed why Su-30s were not able to engage F-16s and made the decision to move in within visual range of the F-16 to fire a Heat seeking R-73 Close Combat missile which brought down an F-16 but also allowed other F-16 in the vicinity to take down his own jet.

Three Su-30s were positioned mostly probably out of maximum head-on range of R-77 and one Su-30 which was engaged by F-16 got little or no time to fire the first shot due to which he had to disengage and carry out evasive maneuvers to escape the barrage of AMRAAMs fired by the F-16s which too were fired at their maximum operational range most probably by F-16 pilot to try his luck that day since it was clearly stretching missile’s operational range which always allowed plenty of time for the Su-30 pilot to defeat the radar lock. Availability of upgraded R-77-1 with 100 km range or Astra Mk-1 missile with improved seeker could have resulted in a different outcome that day and if Sukhoi-30s were armed with the missile in the class of European long-range Meteor beyond visual range missiles then it could have been game over for F-16s that day.    

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