Air-to-Air Warfare Isn’t Dead

A couple of items involving Russian defense procurement lately caught our eye here at the DT World Headquarters.  UPI ran this item a few days ago:

The Russian government said it contracted with an aircraft maker for delivery of 30 fighter jets — in addition to the 30 for which it contracted in March.  The Irkut aircraft manufacturer will provide the Defense Ministry with the additional 30 Su-30SM fighter jets by 2016, RIA Novosti reported in Moscow Wednesday.  The Russian Air Force got its first two Su-30SM planes on Nov. 22, the newspaper said.  The Su-30SM is one of the air force’s most important planes. It boasts an improved radar, communications and friend-or-foe identification system, and new weapons, among other updates, the newspaper reported.

And this yesterday from UPI:

Russian air force Commander Lt. Gen. Viktor Bondarev said Sunday tests are under way on a fifth version of the T-50 stealth fighter jet.  Bondarev said three of the planes are undergoing factory testing at the Zhukovsky airfield near Moscow and all will be flown to Akhtubinsk in the Astrakhan region in March for more extensive examination, RIA Novosti reported. Bondarev said the air force hopes to deploy the planes, also known as protect PAK-FA, by 2015 or 2016.  Sukhoi, which made the fourth prototype T-50, said the plane flew for the first time last week, a 40-minute flight at the Komsomolsk-on-Amur factory in Siberia. The T-50 was first unveiled in 2010 and shown publicly for the first time at the 2011 Moscow Air Show. RIA Novosti said the plane features stealth technology, super-maneuverability, supersonic flight without afterburners and advanced avionics. The Russian Defense ministry said it plans to buy 10 evaluation aircraft and then contract for 60 production models after 2015.

And then AP reported this today:

Russia and India signed weapons deals worth billions of dollars Monday as President Vladimir Putin sought to further boost ties with an old ally.  Putin and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh hailed cooperation between their countries as officials signed a $1.6 billion deal for 42 Sukhoi Su-30 fighter jets that will be license-built in India from Russian components and a $1.3 billion contract for the delivery of 71 Mil Mi-17 military helicopters.  “We agreed to further strengthen the traditions of close cooperation in the military and technical areas,” Putin said after the signing.

 Holy dogfights, Batman!

So as we pivot to the Pacific and marvel that the X-47 is able to taxi around a carrier’s flight deck and label the JSF “the last manned fighter,” maybe we outta consider whether one hundred and eighty-some F-22s is gonna be enough for the air war to come.

And you know how you defeat a stealthy unmanned strike aircraft?  You shoot it down with a piloted aircraft.

(And Merry Christmas to all of our loyal readers.  You guys remain the best.)

41 Comments on "Air-to-Air Warfare Isn’t Dead"

  1. Yes, but how do you deal with hundreds of unmanned strike aircraft? The benefit of using drones is their relative low cost, in dollars, obviously, but also in lives. How many UAVs can we buy and build for the same cost as one over-engineered boondoggle like the F-22? How many drones can one Su-30 pilot take on at once? 3? We will send 10.

  2. Oh ye Gods. Exactly the same scare tactics were used in the 1990s to sell the F-22. Russian planes in testing or being ordered were held up as the new scary threat. None of them actually shipped in any numbers. When the Russians have a squadron or two of these on active duty and flying, then let's talk.

  3. In the 1970s fighters were supposed to be obsoleted by missiles. With bombers replaced by ICBMs fighters were supposed to become obsolete. Now the talk is about drones. However, just like in the 1970s, people will find that fighters still have their uses and are not obsolete at all. A Su-35BM with Irbis-E can track up to 30 targets and attack up to 8. Most current drones are neither supersonic nor can they fire modern air-to-air missiles. Even when drones get good enough quite likely there will still be several 2-seater fighters with long range weapons in use. Communications can be intercepted, jammed, the only way to solve the problem is to put some brains inside the plane. AI weapon fire control is neither advanced enough nor considered a viable option at this point.


    "brain in a jar" since this 2004 tech, I wonder what they are doing now.

  5. Marcellus Hambrick | December 24, 2012 at 12:12 pm | Reply

    We should be worried about the Chicoms and not the Russkies!

  6. OK PEOPLE. I am going to write this post for YOUR INFORMATION.

    The Facts of Drones.

    Drones when they started were cheap. At just a few million they were as cheap as fighters of the 60's. They have little capability but that was accepted.

    Today the MQ-9 Reaper cost 36.9 Million per aircraft a new F-18F cost around 60mil. It can carry more, Faster and also do air superiority. Drones can fly to a target release a bomb and return. PERIOD. Anything else is atleast for a decade or more scifi. And then i guarrante they will cost as much as any manned fighter if not more.

    Their cost also doesnt include the satelites that are required to provide their links back to the stations they are controled from.

    Reality shes a bitch. She cares nothing for your power point presentations. Nothing for your wants, and wishes or feelings.

    Now can we get back to reality

  7. i have a question.

    why dont we do like the russians. the russians order in multiples of 10, (20, 40 70) why are we ordering in multiples of 100s or even thousands.

    short production runs of increasingly improved and advanced 1st rate weapons. and dont gimme that "economically viable " BS. irkut is using the same damn factory

    the continued lobbying for a vastly increased production run of the 10 year old F22 is really just an idictment of cheaply bought politicians on both sides.

  8. Well that is if the Russian economy holds.

  9. I say forget the jets. More money for Stargate technology…..

  10. Since the 20th Century the Russians have usually been the only ones able to compete with us in terms of making proficient warplanes, air combat weapons, and making quality fighter pilots. They still have the infrastructure to do it. The Chinese are still trying to build the infrastructure and just because they can copy the F-35 and make the J-31 doesn't necessarily mean that they know how the make all the systems for it nor that they will know how to use it as well in combat.

    I've said this before but right now and at least for the near future Russia is still more of a military threat than China. The Russians have more combat aircraft of better quality. They have more tanks and more armored vehicles. They also know how to use the equipment inside and out where as the Chinese only know how to copy the machines. On top of that the Russians are almost as innovative as us. The one thing the Chinese lack in supply is innovation. I think the only place that China will be a threat in the near future is the Pacific and their surrounding borders.

    Then again, being able to militarily defeat these countries is useless if your economy is in shambles and you're broke. I think we should focus more on getting a healthy economy rather than focus on improving our air combat capability.

  11. Wow, thirty. Now maybe they can take on tiny little Georgia.

  12. Pray tell why would Russia build infrastructure to deliver gas to Europe and lobby the US for trade agreements only to go to war with us? Russia’s coming demographics issues preent them with the same challenges ad China. We use old adversaries for justifications of failed systems like the F22 &35. Over priced POS’ S that are falling on their faces technically and financially.

    The focus needs to be on maniacs like lran an the Norks an the other failed nations or close to failed nations that have or are close to having nukes. We are at the point in history where countries other than the traditional east an west power blocs might unleash nuclear armageddon on Earth an never ask DC, Moscow or Beijings permission to fuck the planet up for the rest of us.

  13. Ait-to-Air isn't dead, it just evolved into Air Dominance warfare.

  14. The problem with the JSF was that the designers were forced to use the same mold line for both the conventional and STOVL version. If that wasn't the case the JSF would be a kick ass plane and probably already in service.

  15. Jake, sorry ;but the F-35 specs are lower than the F-4 in speed carrying capacity and maneuverbility. The F-35 is only 1/10 th as stealthy as the F-22 from the front and quickly looses stealth from other anbles. This means that it can easily be targetd by a networked defensive system which can be totally airborne and the Su series aircraft ar all Mach2+. vs the F-35's Mach 1.6 design speed which is only attainable without external arms.

  16. Just how big would our F-22 fleet be if we had spent the money wasted o the F-35 on building F-22s?

  17. Trying to imagine the disaster if we had pre-planned the High-Low program in advance and gave Lockmart both ATF and JSF at the same time.

    "Look, we can integrate technologies!"

    "Look, both programs integrated together cost twice as much as they would separately!"

    "If you don't buy it, the Chinese will overmatch us!"

  18. If advanced Lasers and Rail Systems existed, one could argue the days of air borne threats (manned or unmanned) would be pushed back. >Until that happens a stealthy manned fighter-bomber (or AI fighter of equal abilities) has the best chance to penetrate defensive lines and deliver larger advanced missiles to their targets. >Until drones can equal this, the idea manned craft are obsolete is wrong as several people here have already pointed out.

    Fighters under various situations do have less clout these days, but to argue the most advanced stealthy and super cruise ones don't have a real advantage is also wrong. I wonder how many critics have noticed that drones can get hacked (and so can manned air craft). The DEW environment ahead is going to present some serious manned hazards, but again drones will be effected too. If the military makes a fighter bomber that is too fast for humans to ride, or a stealth technology that limits human space, I could see the point of putting a bigger emphasis on robotics. Still, if the US can field a stealthy manned air craft that is fast and situationally aware, a hypersonic missile is more likely to surprise an advanced enemy at close range than present drones could deliver. Well, that's just a layman talkin, but consistent with much that is post at DT.

    Also cost? Apart from the human cost, I think it takes seven pilots on a weapon carrying drone. The drone capable of covering the missions an F-22b could, would be very expensive. Without an AI system that doesn't exist yet, the cost would be more expensive and we would have to let a machine make decision of life and death, another problem the article doesn't take up.

  19. In Viet Nam we got F4's with no guns. Guess what the figured our real quick that we needed guns on the birds. No matter how good your unmanned birds are there will always be a need for a manned aircraft to take out the trash at the end of the day. No computer system or remotely piloted vehicle can ever replace the man at the controls of the weapon and his ability to identify a target when it gets thick out there either on the ground, in the air or on the water.

  20. First, let me admit to a rather limited perspective. Aardvarks and Warthogs. Been shot at a few times. I figure that the very pretty, fast and glamorous jets will kill each other off early on. Then there's going to be the long, embarrassingly drawn out slug fest that will take at least about as much time as it takes to get a college degree. Who the enemy is does not even matter. Vietnam, anyone? It'll be up to something as ugly and omnivorous as a Warthog to finish the job. Drones are for the weak of heart, and more often than not end up killing the wrong people. That will lose the war for hearts and minds, and the rest doesn't matter. Remember the movie Terminator? In the end, those with the reputation for fair and honorable dealing will come out on top.

  21. It just seems that we continue putting all our faith, dollars and planning in ever higher tech stuff. I keep remembering Nam all over again, a dirt simple enemy with dirt simple tactics dragged a supposedly high tech air force into beating the bushes for used prop jobs that could actually counter the threat. Just think what would happen to all our wonderful toys if a couple of the current crop of crazies gets even a crude ASAT capability or just pops a nuc with an EMP. Like it or not, a smart military still has to be able to fight KISS basic: beans, bombs, guns, and talent. This type of argument brings to mind a small pearl of wisdom: The more complicated they make the plumbing, the easier it is to stop up the drain." (Cmdr Montgomery Scott, Starfleet Command.)

  22. I can remember my dad telling me that fighters were obsolete in the 1950's because of missiles. This is an old story for me. I'm worried that we will be in the state that we were in 1940 — the P40's and Brewster Buffalo's against the Japanese Zero. Here we go again.

  23. Heres the deal. The missiles work perfectly (?) but someone decides you have to first see the whites of their eyes before you kill them.

  24. Along with building more F-22's, we should upgrade all of them with the latest Tech. We should also move forward and build the B-1R which would have the capability of shooting down whole squadrons of manned or unmanned opponents. We could also immediately replace all of our old F-16s with the latest F-16s that we are trying to sell to India and Israel, and replace all of our old F-15Cs with F-15SEs. While doing this we work on 6th generation fighters. Dogfighting will NEVER die!

  25. he jsf is certainly not the last manned fighter, right now drones are no match for an air war, in the nexxt 30 years it would still be unlikely. software is just not their, I use ardupilot as im into my drones, i cant be done. a pilots skill is better over a computer program, and even is we had the software they would still need manned aircraftto beat the skill of enemy pilots

  26. Ward, you wouldn't be one of those guys that thought the world was gonna end because the Myan calendar ran out would you? Russia building a new jet is nothing new, H-ll, I expected it sooner. We built the F22 and 35, they counted it with this bird. Knowing it was going to happen anyway, why should we be worried about it???

    A belated Merry Christmas to you too…..and have a Happy New Year!

  27. grandadfromthehills | December 27, 2012 at 10:51 am | Reply

    The F22 can handle anything flying – turn inside it and wax it. Now how is that a fail? I do not think so. Costly, but the best flying.

  28. And while we are at it, instead of spending money on a new design tanker, just build some more KC-10s (upgraded) and then use the money to build more F-15Es and F-22s.


  30. The age of new aircraft, and other military is definitelly coming to an end, we are now going to spend our resources on welfare, foodstamps and other give away benefits. We don't have to worry about a future military force to defend this country, another country would just offer better gov benefits, and take over this country without a fight. dino

  31. What we need is a fighter that can fly Mach 2+ , shoot down air to air targets at a range of 100 miles and have the ability to cruise at supersonic speed without using afterburners… The F14 Tomcat has all of those capabilities… LoL

  32. i agree that A2A isn't dead, that we need more than 187 F-22s, and that drones are not nearly ready to handle the role (not an expert here, but a few issues i see: what is the fastest that a drone has ever flown or maneuvered? how resistant are drones to jamming? how much does control latency affect high-speed maneuvering? how close is AI to controlling drones autonomously (my opinion – not close)?). that said, the maintenance costs of the F-22 are a concern – maintaining the stealth coating is quite costly per flight hour. with the never-ending saga of the f-35 (and no guarantee that its costs will be much lower), maybe we need a high-low mix with the f-22 at the high end and a non-stealth fighter at the low end?

  33. Big deal. This story shows both the sorry state of the russian air force and their manufacturing capability.
    The russians always design world class equipment and build shit. So the air force is ordering 60 planes. Add that to the 5 backfire bombers putin ordered years ago and that will bring their new plane purchases since the fall if the soviet union to 65. I'm really scared.
    Also as demonstrated before with the T-90 sales russia is allowing india to manufacture the entire order in india. Usually the ratio is 30/70% but russias ability to actually manufacture these planes in country is next to zero. Just as the US was a paper tiger under Carter, Russia is a paper Bear. Only its nukes keep the chinese at bay.

  34. There are no drones currently out that can stand up to a modern, or even an older, fighter jet.

    However, there is currently no real push to build such drones. We've never seen a real fighter drone.

    If that push comes, I personally am unconvinced that manned aircraft will prevail. Perhaps for a while, perhaps 20 years, perhaps 100.. but forever? In the context of moores law, materials advances, advances in AI, communications, encryption, etc.. forever?

    Yes we've seen the argument before that fighters will disappear, and they haven't yet. But other military technologies took their time to die as well. Cavalry, the sword, the walled fort, the long gun, the battleship.. all of these things had their proponents right up to their retirements.

  35. Boy! you guys both crack my up and piss me off at the same time.
    you have to keep in mind that you go into battle with what you have available right now-not what you plan on having. that means FA-18s and F-15s and F-16s. the F-117s are scrapped. F-22s outsmart their pilots when they arn't asphixiating them and the JSF/F-35 program is still just a pipedream about to get terminated. Macnamara showed us in the 1960s that the one size does all fighter doesn't work. So now we spend how many billions of our dollars to relearn this lesson?
    As far as buying the technology to do the battle goes, we would be better off investing in training, maintenance and upgrades for our solders, airmen and sailors sake.

  36. Shoot it down? I want nothing of the sort. I'm more fearful of China than of Russia. I think we should continue to work on our diplomacy with Russia and create a stronger bond there. Continue to work on reforms in both our government and in theirs. Freedom for all, and let's stand against the stronger gulf/eastern powers together if we must. We need to embrace unity and trade, and stop trying to escalate things into another cold war. That's not good for anyone on earth, as modern militaries have the capability to wreck the ecological balance of the entire earth in a heartbeat.__It seems we have a LOT of bloodthirst in the US these days (video games be damned) but we need to ask ourselves if we want the whole world to go up in smoke or if we would prefer peace and enjoyment of life. I for one dislike living in fear. Strong allies means that we don't need to maintain as strong of a military force, and that also means more wealth for humanity. Let's raise our standards of living and realize that war is only good for the capitalist pigs that profit from it.

  37. Not seeing the Boogie Man Russian threat here- look at a map- what is there to fight with Russia over? Georgia? Hell- let them have Estonia if they really want it.

    If they were anything lie a threat Germany wouldn't be downsizing their army to meter maid status. If Russia gets threatening- let the Germans buy some more Typhoons- they are ready to mothball the ones they have now-

    Russia has to build some new fighters- and yeah- they have enough tech to roll something out that looks competitive- just like the Su-27 was/is.

    No reason to maker 1000+ F22's or build a bomb shelter.

  38. Quarlo Kobrigny | January 7, 2013 at 2:36 am | Reply

    No way is the PAK FA actually entering service in 2015. Russian statements regarding procurement schedules are orthogonal to reality. Since the end of the Cold War, their production and R&D schedules have been pathetically long by Western standards, yet somehow the PAK FA will go from first prototype flight to IOC twice as fast as any Western fighter of the past two decades?

    I doubt they'll ever procure and operate much more than 100 of the things. We're talking about a country with ~10% of the US's GDP and defense budget — and that gives a much larger chunk of that to corruption and nukes.

    Besides, if anything, improvements in the PAK FA line are good news. The only country that might operate them effectively in large numbers is America's most important ally of the 21st century. The few idling on the ground, gathering rust in the belly of Communism's corpse simply don't matter.

    And, yes, air-to-air warfare isn't dead yet. But it will be soon unless hardening, concealment, and dispersal can keep the cost of smashing a shiny 5th gen fighter on the ground with ever-more accurate cruise/ballistic missiles higher than the cost of the fighter.

  39. Steve Jacobson | March 10, 2013 at 9:27 pm | Reply

    Without air superiority, or preferably air dominance, the troops on the ground cannot do their work effectively. We cannot simply concentrate on a recidivistic Russia as our only future enemy. China is manufacturing a navy and air force with one purpose, to deny the US Navy access globally, and to be able to outnumber and outmaneuver American aircraft. Our F-15 force is fatigued and a 1970's design, and our F-16 fleet is not much better. The F-35 Lightning II will never have the full dogfighting capability of the F-22. One of my friends, an F-22 Pilot, and my cousin who worked on the F-22 program for Lockheed Martin agree with me and the many pilots and outspoken Air Force personnel ( including my daughter) realize that we are no longer equipped to win air dominance as we have been able to in the past. The only real answer is to reopen the F-22 production line. How do we pay for this? Easy, we use the natural resources that America has in abundance, oil, natural gas, and coal. We approve the Keystone pipeline for the interim, then begin to develop our massive oil and natural gas reserves. I have sent a plan to our traitorous Commander in Chief outlining how to provide a balanced budget within 10 years, rebuild our military technological and numerical edge, and save America's economy. Of course he won't listen, because his loyalty lies with his Hollywood money bags, and his environmental lobby. In 2014, if we do not return to a Republican controlled House and Senate, and boot men like John ( I'm the only veteran ever) McCain, America's reign as the global superpower is over. Obama should be impeached, imprisoned, and his whole gaggle of freedom hating socialists need to go with him.

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