Monday, January 27, 2014

Limited & Superficial Comparison of Air Assets of the PAF & IAF

This is a paper to provide a limited comparison of the JF-17 / FC-1 with the Su-30 MKI and to look at Sean O'Connor's analysis to see if in fact, it is a inferior plane that will not stand against the IAF. Sean is a USAF intelligence officer who does some analysis on the side as a hobby and can be found to frequent keypublishing forums as SOC.


 Here are some of the salients of SOC's analysis:

The FC-1 will be the primary aircraft for the PAF and the SU-30MKI will be the same for the IAF

This in my opinion is an oversimplification that really takes out the heart of any real analysis of assets. When all is said and done, Pakistan will have 250 FC-1s, Yes, BUT (and there is a big but):

  • Only the first 50 will have the basic configuration, later blocks will be significantly more advanced.
  • Even the first 50 will have a whole host of features, some of them SOC has underestimated. For instance, the radar can simultaneously engage 4 not 2 as SOC mentions. Also, detection range for something the size of an MKI are likely to be a good deal more than 75 kms. Further, data linking between the fighters and with the radar network and AEW assets means this is even greater, particularly as SOC admits, any such scenario would be over Pakistani territory.
  • The PAF is likely to have a 500 fighter airforce and 250 is merely 50% of its air assets. Other assets are perhaps projected to include 100 J-10s and about a 100 more F-16s. While 100 J-10s in my estimate, it makes historical sense as the PAF has typically placed a first order and if they liked the performance, almost always ordered a second batch. You would be hard put to find an aircraft that the PAF liked that they did not order at least (over its lifetime) 100 units of (or wanted to, in the case of the F-16).
  • If seems clear that the J-10 will be focused on countering the 230 odd MKI that India will eventually have. Various interviews indicate this. 100 J-10s reflect a good direct comparison to 230 MKI, given the over all exchange ratio between the larger IAF and smaller PAF. Further, in actual operational service this will actually be even better - the twin engined and maintenance intensive MKI, run by less qualified Indian technicians will generate markedly lower sortie rates than PAF's WS-10A fitted J-10s. This is not bias, but a fact based on the Indian maintenance record.
PAC JF-17 Thunder

Superiority of the MKI's PESA radar, with a detection range of 160 Km

  • AEW&C assets will also negate any advantages the MKI has over any potential encounter with the FC-1 / JF-17. When both sides have this, it levels the playing field for the FC-1 / JF-17
  • SOC admits later in his comments section that in fact, detection range of the Bars is (according to Janes, for a 2m squared target), 80-100 km head on. About half what was first estimated, and that assuming a 2m squared target. More probable would be a calculation for 1 meter squared target, and that is being generous, given that the JF-17 is smaller than the F-16, and hides its blades AND has RAM coating.
  • Meanwhile, SOC sticks with 75km as the detection range of the JF-17, for a "fighter sized target". Clearly, for the MKI, specially loaded out for offensive operations, this will be way bigger. Again, assuming that what was originally MY estimate of the detection range is in fact accurate (I actually never said 75 kms but > 75 kms, implying a minimum of, rather than a typical range. Further, given revelation of info on the KLJ-7's surpising modernity and the increased radome size on the JF-17, the point becomes even less arguable).
  • Later blocks of the JF-17 are likely to have an AESA radar

The Bars radar has Jet Engine Modulation (JEM) technology, allowing for a target to be identified at range by simply analyzing the radar returns from the target's engine compressor face.

  • Point is moot when its clear that the FC-1 / JF-17 does not expose its blades AND uses RAM coating, as has been discussed in interviews with officials.
There is also the passive engagement option for the MKI, something else speculated for future FC-1 blocks.
  • One must understand the nature of passive engagements, very useful in less sensor rich environments. Its like putting your torch light off in a dark room. However, of limited importance in a well lit room (sensor-rich environment), one that is likely to be the case given the sheer number of radars, AEW assets and fighters on air in the Indo-Pak scenario. Lets not forget its a lot harder to hide, being the size of an elephant.


Some other issues:

  • The PAF is actively acquiring an aerial refueling capability. Loitering is significantly lengthened for the FC-1 / JF-17 with aerial refueling.
  • Later blocks are likely to be significantly more advanced.
  • The Pakfa and the J-13 are not as far away as some people imagine.
  • Pakistani J-10s will be a step up from the present J-10s and would easily act as force multipliers.
  • Indian MRCA is also to be very seriously considered and countered, so are the present fleet of M-2000s and MiG-29s.
  • Many IAF airbases are within easy range of Pakistani cruise missiles. Remember that the best place to destroy an enemy air force is on the ground..

Ultimately, success in the air will be determined by not only system effectiveness and capability, but by pilot skill, and the parameters of the engagement. That being said, it doesn't help to voluntarily go into a fight with one hand already tied behind your back, does it?
  • As with the above analysis, it seems clear that nobody is going to a fight with their hands tied behind their back, at least not to me.
  • It also does not help going into a football match with half the number the other team has.
  • It also does not help if you never build an industrial base, and are forever tied to importing something vital like a fighter plane from abroad. And being dependent on a backstabbing "ally" that will make you pay for every purchase in blood.

Some other thoughts:

Building the right mix is important. Otherwise one ends up with spending billions of dollars on "some fighter" that is a technological miracle but can only afford - even after being the world's super power - less than 200 of them. Yes, the PAF could have afforded perhaps, 250 J-10s and had 100 F-16s and maintained a 350 plane fighter force against a foe having approximately twice that number. However, numbers do count, as has been observed in virtually every major sustained air war thus far, and the ability to take punishment and continue operating after the typical 2 weeks becomes a major issue, specially in a grand-and-classic scenario like the Pakistan - India duo. This is particularly true, now, given the better coordination, control and the rich sensor environment. All of which allow larger formations to engage on both sides. Imagine titanic clashes to take out major enemy air assets such as AWACS, and massive formations to protect the same.

It must be noted that when I say that the J-10s will be earmarked to counter the MKI, it does not mean that the FC-1 cannot handle the MKI. It is an unlikely scenario that in combat, the FC-1 will shy away from the MKI. However, aircombat exercises in China have shown that the J-10 is ideal at close combat against the MKI. Rather than the argument that the JF-17 is an inferior plane, its really quite a different matter. It is hoped that the J-10s, acting as force multipliers. As in the army, you have the regulars and then you have the elites, it does not mean that your regulars are useless inferior cr@p, nor that you build an army of elites only. Numbers surely count, and its always a general's art in knowing the right balance, knowing how valuable each asset is, and employing them optimally.

The best part of SOC's analysis is the consideration of long range SAMs, these might make things a bit more interesting, particularly for the IAF. This will be particularly true if they are well layered and linked to the overall airspace picture. However, present long range SAMs seem prohibitively expensive and this inevitably means something else might need to be left out.

Continuation of the Debate:

The range for the present Chinese radar is very likely to be more than 100 kms; considering that the PAF chief was comparing with PAF F-16s. The PAF F-16s underwent OCU which increased their range and made it close to MLU (see this)

"The Pakistan Air Force currently has the Block 15 F-16A/B model in operation, which has an upgraded APG-66 radar that brings it close to the MLU (Mid-life Update) radar technology. The main advantage is the ability to use the AIM-7 Sparrow and AIM-120 AMRAAM missiles if they were ever to be released to the PAF. Furthermore, the radar is capable of sorting out tight formations of aircraft and has a 15%-20% range increase over previous models. All the earlier F-16s were brought up to OCU standards and have received the Falcon UP structural modification package."

Consider this bit of information, and also that the APG-66 later modification values are against 1m^2 targets which will be further increased against a significantly greater RCS for the MKI.

Now consider statements made by the PAF Chief about the KLJ-7: is *much better* than their APGs (and these are the upgraded OCU APGs).

Secondly if you visit SOC's old post on FC-1 and see the exchange of comments, one poster pointed out that KLJ-7 beat the Grifo- S and PAF did not lowered their requirements (this includes a link that PAF did not lower it's requirement, and on that is by none other than Richard Fischer :D). SOC in fact commented that it is a very potent radar looking at some mentioned features.

Clearly, the KLJ-7 was chosen over this "very potent radar" and clearly the PAF Chief mentions that the KLJ-7 is "much better" than the present APGs.

One would also want to ask what is the detection range by JET modulation when intakes are hidden and treated with RAM. Why does one poster think it is more important and potent than detection by using returns from the airframe when clearly returns from airframe of a non-stealthy aircraft will be in abundance.

Another assertion made is that the MKI has phased array and JF-17 has Pulse doppler and MKI can avoid JF-17 lock by using doppler notch where as MKI will have no problems with locking on as it's radar is not PD.

This is what is common knowledge at various forums:

1)Doppler notch has been known since time ancient and tactics against Doppler notch were known by USAF even back in Vietnam Era.

2) According to one of the viper pilots at the F-16 forum, they have way more modes on their radars and just by switching to different mode of detection and maneuvering your aircraft so that there is no 90 degrees between both aircrafts this dopler notch could be taken care of.

3)Another aviator said "no modern AI radar is worth it's salt if it can't resist doppler notch"

All of the above should be on F-16 forums if you search "doppler notch"

Here is a link to the dicussion regarding beaming/doppler notch tactic to break lock of a pulse doppler radar.

To me it seems some bloggers out there find it easy to feed garbage to folks thinking they know nothing. With a small Pakistani online community it becomes a recurring problem, yet it seems one would never try this on Chinese posters.

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