F-16 and Su-30SM’s chances in the confrontation over Ukraine

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For quite some time, the Kyiv government, led by President Zelensky, has been requesting American F-16 fighters from Western allies. The Western coalition answered the call, promising to deliver these aircraft. 

Photo credit: Reddit

These pledges came to light in the summer of 2023, with Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Norway committing to provide F-16 fighters from their own fleets. Additionally, other coalition countries, including the United States, have begun training pilots for this new type of aircraft. 

Kyiv is eagerly anticipating the arrival of the first F-16s, expressing confidence that these Western jets could change the course of the conflict in Ukraine’s favor. Many Western media outlets share this viewpoint, often describing American planes as a “miracle weapon.”

Photo credit: NATO

Meanwhile, several international analysts and high-ranking military officials assert that supplying F-16s will not drastically alter the current situation in Ukraine, providing minimal assistance overall. 

Fascinating insights on this topic were shared by the Eurasian Times. Retired Air Marshal Anil Chopra, a former Indian Air Force fighter pilot, evaluated the F-16’s effectiveness against Russia’s Su-30SM and Su-35. Chopra emphasizes that comparing the Su-30 to the F-16 is not entirely appropriate. He equates it to comparing apples and oranges. The Su-30SM’s features should be compared to those of the F-15, while the F-16 should be measured against the MiG-29.

Given the potential for this kind of confrontation, it’s crucial to draw comparisons. When equipped with the right gear, Ukrainian F-16 pilots might find themselves up against Russian Su-27, Su-30SM, and Su-35 fighter jets in aerial dogfights. 

Photo credit: Irkut Press Office

Reflecting on this, an expert quoted a Ukrainian pilot with hands-on experience flying the F-16. This pilot, who previously flew the Su-27, pointed out that his former aircraft had excellent characteristics and could readily contend with the American F-16 in combat. Interestingly, an Indian analyst appears to concur, suggesting that pilot skill will be the decisive factor in close air engagements. 

It’s worth noting that the Su-30SM is a larger aircraft compared to the F-16, making it easier to detect both visually and via radar. However, in a showdown, the Russian fighter has the edge in maneuverability at high angles of attack and faster weapon targeting. With greater thrust and prolonged power endurance, the Su-30SM can stay airborne longer, exhibits more agility, and carries a heftier weapon load.

Both fighters boast long-range air-to-air missiles in their arsenals. Currently, the American AIM-120 outperforms the Russian R-77 in terms of range. However, the Russian R-37M surpasses all Western missiles of this class. Additionally, Ukrainian F-16s will face threats from MiG-31 interceptors, each equipped with six ultra-long-range missiles. 

Photo credit: USAF

The F-16s sent to Ukraine lack advanced radars and systems found on the Block 70/72 modifications. Their electronic warfare capabilities are also not cutting-edge. This is mainly because the US wouldn’t risk providing Ukraine with technology that could potentially fall into Russian hands. 

Despite their radar and avionics shortcomings, the Ukrainian F-16s may still have a fighting chance against Russian Sukhoi aircraft. This chance lies in a single, specific strategy: approach quickly, launch long-range missiles, and then retreat swiftly to the base. Even then, success is far from guaranteed. In most scenarios, Russian Su-30SM and Su-35S jets have higher odds of downing Ukrainian F-16s. 

It’s worth noting that experts from India speak quite firmly about the superiority of Russian aircraft. The mainstay of the Indian Air Force’s tactical fleet is the Su-30MKI fighters, which are well-trained and have consistently showcased their capabilities—not just in training but in real combat, too. 

Photo credit: Soldar

Take 2019, for instance, when Pakistani F-16s couldn’t keep up with a group of Indian Su-30MKIs. The Su-30MKIs were executing a diversionary tactic, prompting the Pakistani pilots to unleash three or four AIM-120 missiles, all of which the Indian pilots skillfully evaded. 

According to Anil Chopra, the performance of the Su-27/30 series is among the most remarkable ever seen in aviation. With their immense power and extraordinary agility, Russian designers have used the basic design for various models, right up to the Su-35.

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