Much was at stake of its reputation, when for the first-time-ever, the Royal Air Force’s (RAF) Eurofighter Typhoon, developed by a consortium of European manufacturers and recently inducted into the RAF, was to engage in any kind of an aerial combat with any non-RAF/NATO fighter. The Indian Air Force’s (IAF) Sukhoi-30 MKI ‘air superiority fighter’, which are at Waddington, UK for the bilateral air ‘Exercise Indradhanush-2007′, had an opponent for the befitting duel.
The operational part of the ‘Exercise Indradhanush-2007′ began with a series of 1 vs 1 air combat sorties. Both variants landed with their much-touted reputations intact as each side tested their potentials with their adversary in the air to their limits. These sorties were premised not entirely on having winners or losers – but more for their evaluator and training values as encapsulated in the objectives. Both sides ended-up sharing an enhanced respect for each other’s capabilities – both in terms of training values, and combat potentials of the diverse aerial platforms.
While the RAF fielded some of their most-experienced and highly-qualified pilots, some of them being very senior performance evaluators in active service, the IAF pilots were a mix of ‘young to middle-level pilots’ from the ‘Rhinos’ squadron. The RAF pilots were candid in their admission of the Su-30 MKI’s observed superior manouevring in the air, just as they had studied, prepared and anticipated. The IAF pilots on their part were also visibly impressed by the Typhoon’s agility in the air.
While it does not imply to say that the 1 vs 1 air combat sorties were meant for backslapping each other, it may be understood that in today’s aerial combat scenarios of ‘beyond visual range’ (BVR) capabilities of air platforms, it is highly unlikely that any of the modern-day fighters will ever get into a situation that warrants extreme close air combat, as in the situation simulated in the 1 vs 1 sorties. With a ‘kill’ criterion of front-gun ranges being mostly under 1000 metres and a visual tracking envelope behind the target for only up to a 60-degree cone mostly for most fighter aircraft of the world, the unlikely scenario gets more exemplified.
But the irony also lies in the fact that while there is a number of counter and counter-counter measures to make the modern missiles with claims of inescapable parameters redundant by using ‘chaff’ and other active/passive measures, a ‘gun kill’ is invariably a most certain kill. The pilots invariably begin honing their tracking and combat skills under such close combat situations.
The exercise constitutes mostly mixed missions where RAF F3 Tornados, Hawks and Typhoons are packed together with IAF Su-30 MKIs. The sorties include combat situations of 2 vs 1, 2 vs 2 and upward combinations. The raiders are tasked ‘High Value Asset’ (HVA) busting on the ground and ‘High Value Airborne Asset’ (HVAA) busting in the air with the defensive elements designated to counter their ambitions.