F-16’s smaller nose cone allows the Su-35 to blind Viper’s radar

Of late, the American F-16 fighter jet and the Russian Su-35C fighter, rulers of the sky, have been appearing with increased frequency in the airspace of Eastern European countries. This occurrence, contrary to the optimistic expectations of some fervently patriotic citizens, is far from tranquil.

F-16V and a 50-year-old fighter operate in an interception combo
Photo credit: Taiwan

It is therefore not uncommon to find numerous military analysts, embodied by the multi-star generals of the US Air Force, asserting with greater frequency that the role of the so-called “fighter falcons” in altering the trajectory of prevailing events is diminishing.

These observations stem from the thorough analysis of numerous personal encounters between aircraft, a phenomenon that has significantly escalated over the past five years. In the United States, these precarious interactions between the F-16 and the Su-35 have been termed as an “undeclared air war”. This characterization emerges from the audacious maneuvers of Russian and Chinese fighter pilots, who have initiated a pattern of actively challenging the operations of the United States Air Force [USAF] aircraft.

In recent times, the spectacle of a Russian-manufactured combat aircraft soaring over the Taiwan Strait has become a routine occurrence, rivaling the frequency with which they are observed over Russian territories. Interestingly, these Russian jets are sighted just as frequently as their Chinese counterparts, which are developed from the same Soviet T-10 platform.

Taiwan is upgrading its F-16s

In the geopolitical landscape of Chinese harbors, the Su-30MK and Su-35SE consistently participate in demonstrative activities, subtly communicating China’s aspiration to reintegrate Taiwan. The People’s Liberation Army Air Force, for the first time in 2018, deployed these aircraft in the Taiwan region, predominantly designating them as naval fighters, tasked with the duty of patrolling the periphery of Taiwan.

Furthermore, the potent electronic warfare canisters, which are a prominent feature of the Sukhoi fighters, equip Russian aircraft with an additional task. This consists of bewildering the air defenses of Taiwan, strategically positioned on adjacent islands and coastlines.

Egyptian Su-35 Flanker-E fighters are going to Iran in March
Photo credit: Wikipedia

Though it may initially strike as implausible, the assertion might indeed materialize in times to come. The basis for this claim lies in the consistent affirmations from Ukraine and the Western nations in recent months, attesting to the remarkable advancement and notable success of Russian Electronic Warfare [EW] systems on the Ukrainian war front.

Despite the gargantuan disparity in resources and might, the Taiwanese persistently strive to project an image of solidarity with the United States. This determination is most conspicuous in their continuous endeavors to modernize their military capabilities. A case in point is the agreement to upgrade the antiquated F-16A to the cutting-edge Blok70 Viper version, a model that is currently making waves in the global military marketplace. This modern variant boasts a myriad of advancements, spanning from state-of-the-art radars and enhanced avionics to a broad array of weaponry and high-tech electronic warfare equipment.

According to the Indians

Currently, it embodies the pinnacle of modernization and advancement of the esteemed American veteran. Intriguingly, the incident took place between the 2nd and the 11th of August, 2022, a period that can be considered relatively recent in historical terms. The Chinese, in their typical brevity, reported the incident succinctly. However, Indian sources, harboring no particular affinity towards China, meticulously unearthed and laid bare the intricate details.

In the narrative provided by the relevant authorities, a squadron of four F-16 Vipers had been deployed on a routine patrol mission within the vicinity, but they reportedly failed to detect the incursion of a Chinese aircraft into Taiwan’s designated “air defense control zone”. This unexpected appearance of a duo of Su-35s caught them off guard. It is posited that the underlying reason for this oversight can be attributed to the advanced electronic countermeasures systems embedded within the Sukhoi aircraft.

With an air of composure, the PLA Air Force’s Su-35 seamlessly penetrated the combat course. The Taiwanese pilots left with no alternatives, were compelled to vacate their self-declared, yet internationally unrecognized, “air defense control zone”.

Girish Lingana says

Insight into this matter is furnished by one of India’s preeminent aerospace intellectuals, the erstwhile Colonel of the Indian Air Force, Girish Lingana. His written discourse on the subject is as follows:

“The F-16V of Taiwan outfitted with an active electronically scanned array [AESA] radar, represents a relatively modest advancement over its predecessor, the original F-16. In contrast, the Su-35, a robust 4++ generation fighter, exhibits a multitude of sophisticated attributes, including thrust vectors, which are notably absent in the F-16V.

Moreover, the F-16V continues to exhibit the limitations inherent in its original design, most notably the considerable radar cross-section. While the introduction of the AESA radar significantly broadens its capabilities, the compact, single-engine structure of the F-16V imposes constraints on the size of the nose cone that it can feasibly accommodate.

Iran buys 24 Sukhoi Su-35 Flanker-E fighters produced for Egypt
Photo credit: UAC

Contrastingly, the Su-35 is armed with the technologically advanced Irbis E radar system. Despite both aircraft having ostensibly similar ranges on paper, the F-16B’s performance is constrained by the limitations of its airframe. This particular drawback significantly impairs its situational awareness and maneuverability during confrontations with the Su. Consequently, Taiwanese pilots, despite their numerical advantage, were compelled to retreat under the duress of a disabled radar system.”

Smaller nose cone on the F-16

The smaller nose cone of the F-16 affects the radar’s ability to steer the radar beam. AESA radars use electronic beam scanning, which allows fast and precise beam steering to track multiple targets simultaneously.

However, the smaller nose cone restricts the physical movement of the radar antenna, limiting the scanning range and flexibility of the radar. This could result in reduced situational awareness and target tracking capabilities for an F-16 aircraft.

Additionally, AESA radar technology relies on a larger number of smaller transmit/receive modules to generate and receive radar signals. These modules should be tightly packed into the radar antenna to achieve high-resolution imaging and effective target detection.

However, limited space in the F-16’s smaller nose cone makes it difficult to deploy a sufficient number of these modules, compromising the radar’s overall performance.

Increased radar cross-section

Additionally, the F-16’s smaller nose cone may also result in an increased radar cross section [RCS]. RCS refers to the measure of detectability of an object by radar.

F-16's smaller nose cone allows the Su-35 to blind Viper's radar
Photo by Staff Sgt. Sarah M. McClanahan

A larger nose cone would provide more space to incorporate radar-absorbing materials and shaping techniques to reduce the aircraft’s RCS. With a smaller nose cone, the F-16 can have a larger RCS, making it more easily detectable by enemy radar systems, compromising its invisibility and survivability in combat situations.


Follow us everywhere and at any time. BulgarianMilitary.com has responsive design and you can open the page from any computer, mobile devices or web browsers. For more up-to-date news, follow our Google News, YouTube, Reddit, LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook pages. Our standards: Manifesto & ethical principles.