Home >> The IAF Today >> Exercise >>

Red Flag 2008-4 : Lecture by USAF Col. Terrence Fornof

[v1.1][03.Jul.2012][© VayuSena]


After participating with the USAF in a number of exercises in Cope India and Cope Thunder series, the Indian Air Force sent its top of the line Su-30MKIs to Exercise Red Flag in August 2008. Red Flag is world famous for its complex and realistic war gaming and is a coveted training opportunity for pilots.

Red Flag 2008 saw USAF’s first encounter with Su-30MKI – the most advanced Su-27 Flanker derivative is service anywhere in the world. The results of the exercise were highly anticipated. Following the exercise, a two part video of a USAF officer delivering a lecture to a knowledgeable, but unknown audience emerged on youtube creating a sensation of sorts among watchers on the internet given that the pilot was sharing firsthand experience unhindered by official rules which limit the detail that is to be shared with media.

An inexact transcript and the video follows, followed by comments and analysis. Most of the words have been paraphrased so do look at the video as well.


Youtube Video

Part 1 of 2

Discussion on the Su-30MKI. I stands for 'Indian', 'Su-30M' is the Russian designation for theie newest fighter and 'K' means that its an export version. These were version five airplanes, they had vectored thrust, canards, all the advanced weapons the Russians build, including the AMRAAMSKI – their active radar missile, and the R-73 which is there IR missile, which has a 30 mile range on it. Nothing classified, everything I say can be found in Janes website.

We had them here at Mountain Home for two weeks where we told them how to fly for Red Flag. And a couple of things happened.

Firstly, the Tumansky engines are very suseptible to FOD (Foreign Object Damage). Now the reason thats a big deal is because they asked for a 1 minute spacing between take offs. At Red Flag with nearly 50-60 aircraft supposed to take off, if you have one person who will wait one minute between each take off to launch these six aircraft... yeah.... right, they can go find some other place to fly. So we trained with them, worked with them, and got them to shorten that down to 45 seconds, still not acceptable. But what we did was send these guys out first and ask them to wait for everyone else, since they had enough gas fuel, they would go up and wait for everyone else. They were very concerned about FOD and how Russian engines are not nearly as reliable as Americans. One of the things the Indians were very disapointed in, if an engine breaks down because of FOD, the Russians make them send the engine back to Russia, then you'll send you back a new one. So its not the ideal situation for them here in the United States because they have no spare engines here.

Youtube Video

There's a great video on youtube, where somebody shows the F-22 flying its demo, and the Su-30MKI, side by side, and he does the exact same demonstration, as the F-22.

How did they Fly? There is a lot of stuff on the subject in the newspapers and magazines about this airplane. There's a great video on youtube, where somebody shows the F-22 flying its demo, and the Su-30MK, side by side, and he does the exact same demonstration, as the F-22. And an airshow, then can do the same demonstration. The reality is, that's about as close as the airplanes ever get. When you compare it with US airplanes; where does it stand up against the F-16 and F-15, it's a tad bit better than we are. And that's pretty impressive, it has better radar, more thrust, vectored thrust, longer ranged weapons, so it's pretty impressive. The Sukhoi is a tad bit better (holds arm at chest level, and the other arm signifying the Sukhoi a wee bit higher). But now compare with the F-22 Raptor, the raptor is here. (holds palm way above his head - signifying that the aircraft is much better). OK, next.

F-15, F-16 vs Su-30MKI

When you compare it with out airplanes, the F-16 and F-15, it's a tad bit better than we are

F-22 vs Su-30MKI

But now compare with the F-22 Raptor, the raptor is here.

Now coming to the maneuvering. We did a lot of 1 to 1 fighting with it.... and we were very concerned, because in Cope Indias when we went over to India and fought them, they always had their best pilots. We always fought them at the 'Indian Nellis' and they always had their best pilots flying. We always had our operational unit based out of Kadena where the experience ratio is 80% inexperienced guys with less than 500hrs flying time and 20% experienced. The 20% were fairly experienced but they came back from a staff jobs so they really hadn't had a lot of time flying. Anyway at Cope India, we held our own, but the Indians pounded their chests - they said we beat them more than they beat us – and that was true there.

Now they come to Mountain Home, and the Su-30 unit that they bring was a regular operational unit – with an experience mix of about 50-50 (experienced vs inexperienced). Their experienced guys had all come off the MiG-21 Bison.. The MiG-21 bison is a pretty neat airplane. It is based on the MiG-21 as many of you guys know from the Vietnam (War) era, but upgraded with an F-16 radar built by the Israelis in the nose, active radar missile, and they carry an Israeli jammer on it would practically make them invisible to our legacy radar in the F-15 and F-16.

Remember days in 4477th (4477 Test and Evaluation Squadron)... MiG-21 had the capability to get into the scissors with you, 110 knots, 60 degrees nose high, go from 10,000 feet to 20,000 feet, very manoeuvrable airplane, but it didn't have any good weapons. Now it has high off bore sight Archer missile, helmet mounted sight, active missile, and a jammer that gets it into the merge, good radar, so that's the plane the SU-30 experienced pilots came out of and they were pretty good in the engaged fight.

Well we get them to Mountain Home and we let the operational guys fight... and then a couple of things happened. Amazingly, we dominated - not with a clean F-15 i.e. Without any wingtanks and other stores, but we dominated with an F-15 in wartime configuration i.e. 4 missiles onboard, wingtanks, and they're sitting there in clean Su-30s except for pylons which did not have anything on it except a ACMI pod. They were amazed, matter of fact they were floored to the point after the first 3 days, they didn't want any more 1 vs 1 stuff. Lets move on the something else (laughs). Funny 'cause in India, they wanted only 1 to 1 - cause they were winning at that.

A quick word on the airplane. Vectored thrust. The Raptor has vectored thrust, but its two dimensional and works only in the pitch mode. When the airplane pulls, and it gets past a certain AoA (Angle of Attack), the vectored thrust kicks in and drives the airplane around. In the Su-30, instead of having it in the pitch, it has TVC in a V. It doesnt have to be in a post stall manoevering.... the TVC would kick in and push the aircraft the direction when the pilot engages the switch on the stick. All this is formidable on paper but what you would know is that with the TVC kicking in, its a huge aircraft, and thrusting such a huge aircraft in that direction creates a lot of drag. It's a biiig airplane. A huge airplane. So what happens is when it moves its nose around, its sinking. We had enough experience with the F-22. which has up/down TVC nozzles.

What would happen is that the in a merge with the F-22... From our experience, that's the only way you would get the F-22. and the only way - this happens only if there is an inexperienced pilot because the experienced ones never make the mistake. You would be pulling in scissor fight hoping you would get the F-22 in your sights (laughs ). The F22 can sustain a turn rate of 28 deg per second at 20,000 feet while the F-15 can get an instantaneous rate of 21 and a sustained rate of 15-16 degrees. So you are pulling and hoping. Post stall, maneuver, the ass end drops and instead of going up, it just drops in mid air and the airplane will rotate with its nose up. This is where the Eagle or Viper pilot would pull up vertical, switch to guns, then come down and take a shot at the F-22. Of course you have to first get in close to do this, most probably the F-22 will kill you before that.

The Su-30? No problem. Big airplane. Big cross section. Jamming to get to the merge, so you have to fight close... he has 22 - 23 degrees per second sustained turn rate. We've been fighting the Raptor, so we've been going oh dude, this is easy. So as we're fighting him, all of a sudden you'd see the ass end kick down, going post stall - but now he starts falling from the sky. The F-15 wouldn't even have to pull up. slight pull up on the stick, engage guns, come down and drill his brains out.

Youtube Video

Part 2 of 2

While on paper, he has vectored thrust, all these great weapons and everything, he looks the same as a Raptor, he's nowhere near the same. So that was a really good thing for us to find out, that we really didn't know until this last excercise. Now, what I'm scared of, is congress is going to hear that and go 'great we don't need to buy any more airplanes... no no no, we used to be way ahead of them, now they're right up close to us and just a little bit higher. I say that they're just a little bit better than us, is because when there pilots learn how to fly, they'll be able to beat the F-16 and F-15, on a regular basis. Right now, they use TVC and just go into post stall.... so it's only a matter of time before they learn.

As far as the Red Flag went, we also had the French out here. The French were going to get the Mirage 2000 dash 5, one of their older airplanes, but the moment they knew the Indians were getting the Sukhois they decided to send the Rafales - their latest, advanced jet. 90% of the time, they followed the Indians in, but they never really came into the merge. Like anyone of you who has flown in Desert Storm (Iraq) and Afghanistan, they would do local flights over Bagram, Bahrain and Alseraj and say we participated, but what they were really doing is just sniffing electronically and finding out how our radars work. And that's really all they did out here.... came out here with all the electronic receiving equipments and sucked out all the trons in the air.

One thing about the IAF - they learnt their lessons very well at Mountain Home, they were extremely professional - they never flew out of the airspace which we were very concerned about. They had zero training rule violations. And that in itself was incredible. We were very impressed and thanked them so much because they were very very professional.

Where they had problems was they killed a lot of friends. Red Flag has changed now, the first week of Red Flag is basically large force deployment and the second week is about a campaign.... where the surface to air missiles come up. What was happening was that they did not have combat I.D capability.

The Koreans bought in their brand spankin' new F-15Ks. beautiful aircraft, with AESA radar and all like on the F-22. Had Israeli targeting and jamming pods on them. Incredible airplanes. Very professional also. But they had less than 50 hours total on the F-15 it and none on the airplane, they were still learning the aircraft. So it did not have any significant impact.

You know what was happening is that they didn't have the datalink with the Awacs. Big internet data links. The Koreans, the French and us could see the complete picture on the HUD, but the IAF had to ask the AWACS. they would ask about a target ahead, "Contact on my nose 22 miles, friendly or hostile?" Awacs would say "No hostile within 40 miles of you" then "Fox2." (laughs) The first two days they got hit bad, they were getting shot down while waiting for answers so they decided to kill the other guy fast without knowing.. better you die than me. So they had a fairly high number of fratricides. But they took the fratricides very seriously.

So while Nellis is about training with people who we will go to war with, Red Flag Alaska: This is different from Red Flag Nellis. In Alaska we exercise for friendship building. Most countries that fly there are in a conflict with each other. The Indians really wanted to participate in Red Flag Nellis, so they could mix right in and be a part of the coalition, and they learned, in a big way, that, that, wouldn't happen.

Was the AESA radar in the Indian aircraft...? Well the Indian is PESA which is not active but passive, as opposed to AESA. Huge difference, because and actively scanned AESA pings more, and sees more, and is more accurate, than just a passively scanned radar. PESA is good but ends up having more technical problems in discriminating, and finding the right guy.

Some guy said F-15 was last dog fighting airplane, he discounted the fact the F-22 was really terrific in the fight...? I think the Raptor is the next great dogfighter we have. Reason is, electronic jamming, and not only electronic jamming, but we don't carry enough missiles. We're going to have to go in with guns. Gonna happen and thank god the Raptor still has a gun on it. It's fast, its manoeuvrable, .... and the Block 50 (and 52 EHRM P&W FTW), is pretty good dogfighter also, so these aircraft, the F-15, Block 50 F-16, and the Raptor, are still very capable aircraft, because when the Bison MiG-21 that gets in unseen with the small RCS and a big jamming pod.... going to need manoeuvrability.

What about the F-35? Let's save that for another discussion. We do too much work on it at this moment, but we'll save that for another time.


About the speaker

Colonel Terrence Fornof (Colonel is equivalent to a Group Captain in the IAF) is an F-15 pilot and the Director of the Requirements and Testing office at the United States Air Force Warfare Center, Nellis AFB, Nevada. The lecture above is a private briefing in August 2008 to a group called the “Daedalians”. The Daedalians are a local group of retired military pilots.

Per the press statement handed out by Nellis AFB: “Col. Fornof did not mean to offend any U.S. allied forces, as he knows firsthand the importance of training with allied forces and the awesome firepower they bring to the fight. His comments during this briefing were his personal opinions and not those of U.S. Air Force Warfare Center or of the Air Force."

Comments and Analysis

Despite Col. Fornof having observed Red Flag up close, his comments should not be treated as the gospel truth - there is a possibility that he is ‘playing to the gallery’. His comments are noteworthy since he is an operational pilot with the USAF but he certainly cannot cover the entire exercise and has no inside knowledge of the way IAF ‘fought’. The comments initially appear to be negative about the IAF to the uninformed listener; overall he has actually praised the IAF and its performance.

Observations by Vishnu Som

Mr. Vishnu Som is an Indian journalist who was reporting on the exercise.

As the only Indian journalist who spent a lengthy period of time at Nellis after being granted permission by both the Indian Air Force and the US Air Force, I was granted access to impeccable sources in both forces.

Whats more, I was able to independently corroborate this information with reliable, alternative sources.

For starters ... and this cannot be stressed enough ... the Red Flag exercises were a brilliant learning experience for all the participants, not least of all the Indian Air Force which, over a period of time, has earned the reputation of being one of the world's finest operational air forces.

This was a reputation which was reinforced at Red Flag 2008, the world's most advanced air combat exercises where the Indian Air Force fielded a number of state of the art Sukhoi 30 MKI jets in addition to IL-76 transports and IL-78 mid air refuellers.

For other participants at the Red Flag exercises ... namely the South Korean Air Force, French and US Air Force ... the opportunity to train with a platform such as the Sukhoi 30 MKI was an opportunity which just couldn't be missed. This has a lot to do not just with the jet but also with the air force operating the fighter, a force which has made a mark as an innovative operator of fast jets. The US Air Force … the host of these exercises … was singularly gracious in its appreciation for the Indian Air Force contingent which came into Red Flag having trained extensively for the exercises not only back home but also at the Mountain Home Air Force base in the US.

Contrary to unsolicited remarks by certain serving US personnel not directly linked to day to day operations at the exercises … the Indian Air Force and its Su-30s more than made a mark during their stint in the United States. For starters … not a single Sukhoi 30 MKI fighter was `shot down’ in close air combat missions at the Mountain Home air base. In fact, none of the Sukhois were even close to being shot down in the 10 odd one on one sorties which were planned for the first two days of the exercises at Mountain Home. These one on one engagements featured USAF jets such as the F-15 and F-16 in close air engagements against the Su-30 MKI. The majority of the kills claimed in these engagements were granted to the Indian Air Force with the remainder of these being no-results. Indian Air Force Sukhois did use their famed thrust vectoring in these one on one engagements. Contrary to what may have been reported elsewhere … the Su-30 has a rate of turn of more than 35 degrees when operating in the thrust vector mode. In certain circumstances, this goes up substantially.

By the time the exercises at Mountain Home had matured … the Indian Air Force had graduated to large formation exercises which featured dozens of jets in the sky. In one of these exercises … the blue forces, of which the Indian Air Force was a part … shot down more than 21 of the enemy jets. Most of these `kills’ have been credited to the Indian Air Force.

By the time the Indian Air Force was ready for Red Flag, the contingent had successfully worked up using the crawl, walk, run principle. At Red Flag though, they found themselves at a substantial disadvantage vis a vis the other participants since they were not networked with AWACS and other platforms in the same manner in which USAF or other participating jets were. In fact, Indian Air Force Sukhois were not even linked to one another using their Russian built data links since American authorities had asked for specifics of the system before it was cleared to operate in US airspace. The IAF, quite naturally, felt that this would compromise a classified system onboard and decided to go on with the missions without the use of data links between the Sukhois.Neither was the Indian Air Force allowed to use chaff or flares, essential decoys to escape incoming missiles which had been fired by enemy jets. This was because the US FAA had visibility and pollution related concerns in the event that these were used in what is dense, busy air space in the Las Vegas region.

The Red Flag exercises themselves were based on large force engagements and did not see the Indian Air Force deploy thrust vectoring at all on any of the Sukhoi 30 jets not that this was required since the engagements were at long ranges. Though it is true that there were 4-5 incidents of fratricides involving the Indian Air Force at Red Flag … it is important to point out the following: In the debriefs that followed the exercises … responsibility for the fratricides were always put on the fighter controllers not the pilots. Its also important to point that unlike in Mountain Home, none of the Indian Air Force’s own fighter controllers were allowed to participate since there was classified equipment at Nellis used for monitoring the exercises. The lack of adequate controlling and the fact that Nellis fighter controllers often had problems understanding Indian accents (they had problems understanding French accents as well) resulted in a lack of adequate controlling in situations. Whats more … given the fact that the availability of AWACS was often low … the bulk of fratricides took place on days when the AWACS jet was not deployed. Whats important to remember though is that US participants in these exercises had a similar number of fratricides despite being fully linked in with data links and the latest IFF systems.

So was the Indian Air Force invincible at Red Flag. In a word … no. So yes, there were certainly days in which several Sukhoi jets were shot down. And there were others when they shot down many opposing jets. Ultimately though … the success of the Indian Air Force at Red Flag lay in the fact that they could meet their mission objectives as well, if not better, than any other participant. Despite the hot weather conditions, the IAF had a 95 per cent mission launch ratio, far better than some of the participants. And no one went into the exercises thinking the score line would be a perfect one in favour of the IAF. In fact … the IAF went into these exercises with an open mind and with full admiration of the world beating range at Nellis with an unmatched system of calibrating engagement results.Perhaps the most encouraging part of these exercises comes from the fact that the Indian Air Force’s young pilots … learnt from their mistakes, analysed, appreciated and came back strong. Mistakes were not repeated. In fact … the missions where the IAF did not fare well turned out to be immense learning experiences. At the end of the exercises … its more than clear that the IAF’s Su-30s were more than a match for the variants of the jets participating at the Red Flag exercises. Considering the fact that the central sensor of the Sukhoi, its radar … held up just fine in training mode …despite the barrage of electronic jamming augurs well for the Indian Air Force.

The complete article is available here.

Observations by Pushpindar Singh Chopra.

Mr. PS Chopra is the Editor of Vayu Aerospace Review.

The IAF did not undertake any IvIs at Nellis during Red Flag, nor did they engage thrust vectoring during the Exercise. IvIs were flown only at Mountain Home AFB. In none of the IvIs were the Su-30MKIs ever vulnerable, let alone shot down. As all exercises were flown with ACMI, the situations are recorded and available to substantiate this aspect. Additionally, the MKI's behaviour with thrust vectoring is dramatically different from that described by the Colonel. F-15 and F-16 aircrew were well appreciative of IAF manoeuvres with thrust vectoring.

Colonel Fornof's statement on Su-30MKI rates of turn with thrust vectoring (20o/ sec) is grossly 'out' but apparently gives away actual F-22 performance (28o/sec). Pitch of the talk seemed as to whether thrust vectoring was important or not. As all sorties were with ACMI, entire profiles are recorded, can be analysed and surely would have been replayed to drive the point home and make the 'chest thumping' sound more real. Apparently this was not done. Perhaps, as the Colonel is aware of F-22 data, he has tried to down play the Su-30MKI in comparison. Surprisingly, while there was no systems / avionics / comparison between the two types or with any other type of 'legacy' aircraft, the speaker does admit that radar of the MKI is 'superior' to that of the F-15 and F-16, however 'inferior' to AESA of the F-22 (a correct assessment). However, the IAF used the Su-30's radar in the training mode, with downgraded performance vis-à-vis operational mode, as they could hardly participate without this primary sensor

Fratricide by IAF fighters : this is correct, the IAF did 'shoot down' some 'friendlies' and that was assessed and attributed to the IAF not being networked. However, what the Colonel did not bring out were the two essential reasons for this. Firstly, this occurred mainly when the AWACS was not available (unserviceable) and controlling was done by GCI. More significantly it happened during extremely poor controlling by their operators, this fact being acknowledged during debriefs and the controllers being admonished accordingly. 'Accents' were perhaps the main culprit here, which very often led to American controllers not being able to understand Indian calls.

Now hear this : the F-15C and other USAF fighters had the same number of fratricides as the IAF ! Considering they are well networked, yet their pilots shot down the same number of 'friendlies'. This was not only a major concern but also turned out to be a major source of embarrassment as the USAF had everything -- Link 16, IFF Mode 4 etc and the IAF had nothing. Under the Rules of Engagement, they did not even permit the IAF to use data link within themselves. All cases of USAF fratricide were covered in the next day's mass briefing as lessons learnt by concerned aircrew. In the IAF, the incidents were covered by concerned controllers, and attributed to lack of adequate integration, excessive R/T congestion and poor controlling. Gloating on cases of IAF fratricide is frivolous and unprofessional.

However, Colonel Fornof did appreciate IAF 'professionalism' and that the IAF were able to dovetail with USAF procedures within short time. There was not a single training rule / airspace violation. This is a most important aspect.

Since the Colonel could hardly tell his audience that the IAF had given the USAF good run for their money, they downplayed the Su-30's capability. It is correct that the IAF aircrew included some very young pilots -- nearly 70 percent - but they adapted rapidly to the environment (totally alien), training rules (significantly different), airspace regulations etc but to say that they were unable to handle the Su-30 in its envelope (something that they have been practicing to do for four to five years) is just not credible ! If young pilots can adapt to new rules and environment within a short span of two weeks, it is because they are extremely comfortable and confident of their aircraft.

The IAF's all round performance was publicly acknowledged during, and at end of the Exercise, specifically by those involved. Not a single TR / airspace violation was acknowledged. Mission achievement rate was in excess of 90%. The drop out / mission success rates of all others, inclusive of USAF, were significantly lower. This is of major significance considering the fact that IAF was sustaining operations 20,000 km away from home base while the USAF were at home base. (The 8 Su-30s flew some 850 hrs during the deployment, which is equivalent to four months of flying task in India over 75 days). IAF's performance at Mountain Home AFB was even better that that at Nellis AFB.

FOD : At Mountain Home, IAF had reduced departure intervals from the very beginning (30" seconds) considering that operating surfaces were very clean. However, a few minor nicks were encountered and it was decided to revert to 60 seconds rather than undertake engine changes. This was communicated by the IAF at the very start (IPC itself).

There is no need to go in for 'kill ratios' as that would be demeaning. However, the IAF had significant edge throughout and retained it. In fact the true lesson for the USAF should be : 'do not field low value legacy equipment against the Su-30MKI' !. (demeaning or otherwise, it is understood that the kill ratio (at Mountain Home AFB) was 21 : 1, in favour of the Su-30MKIs).

The complete article is available here.

Under the glare of the world’s attention the IAF pilots, crew and their aircraft have clearly acquitted themselves well in Ex Red Flag 2008. This exercise was the most complex environment IAF worked in, even more than the Cope Thunder exercise in Alaska where Jaguar IS fighters had participated. The challenges faced were because of the operational environment, training rules and airspace restriction where the IAF is not expected to fight a war in any case. Shortcomings must have come up – but then that is exactly why IAF is training for.

Acknowledgements :

The transcribe is a improved version of the one posted on Bharat Rakshak Forum by George J, Jagan and gogna.

Revision History :

[v0.1][15.Feb.2009] – First draft
[v1.0][16.Feb.2009] - Debugged the text, added external links
[v1.1][03.Jul.2012] - Added commmentary by Indian journalists

Cope India 2005. IAF MiG-29 taxies on ramp - the intake doors are shut to protect the engine from Foreign Object Damage (FOD).

Su-30MKI intake. Note the anti-FOD mesh in lowered position - the mesh is hinged at the rear and lifts up to cover the engine.

© Bharat Rakshak

Su-30MKI nose wheel has a anti-FOD guard installed on the nose wheel to prevent pebbles picked up by the wheel entering the intakes.

© Bharat Rakshak

MiG-21 Bison. The Isareli EL/L-8222 ECM pod is visible.

IAF Su-30MKIs on ramp at Exercise Red Flag 2008 at Nellis AFB, Nevada.

Cope India 2004. USAF F-15 and IAF Su-30MKs (now retired) formate for a photo shoot.

IAF Today : Cope India 2004 - A "Staged Dogfight"?
IAF Today : 3rd Wing Explains 'Cope India' Exercise
IAF Today : USAF: Indian Exercises Showed Need For F/A-22, Changes In Training
IAF Today : Su-30MK Beats F-15C 'Every Time'
IAF Today : Su-30MKI and F-16C and F/A-18E/F
IAF Today : Su-30MKI Info
IAF Today : Su-30 gallery

military-heat.com/46/black-ops-american-pilots-flying-russian-aircraft/: “Black Ops: American pilots flying Russian aircraft during the Cold War”
milavia.net/specials/redflag08-4/: Flankers in Eagles Realm
bharat-rakshak.com/media/RedFlag08/: Picture gallery
prometheus.med.utah.edu/~bwjones/C1311122445/E20080905155317/: Good report on Red Flag 08-4

Go Back

Comments or Questions? Contact Us

[Home] [The IAF Today] [Other Ops & Incidents] [Kargil 1999] [1980s] [1971] [1965]

This site is best viewed in Internet Explorer 5.5+ at 1024*768
AVIATION TOP 100 - www.avitop.com Avitop.com


Centre for Indian Military History