MOSCOW, RIA Novosti's military analyst Viktor Litovkin

The American military amazed Moscow and the Russian media by saying that Russian-made fighter planes were superior to their American equivalents. How can these flattering revelations be explained?

General Hal M. Hornburg told USA Today that India's Sukhoi Su-30 MKI multi-role fighters have been successful against F-15 C/D Eagle aircraft in mock combat. In fact, the Indians won 90% of the mock combat missions.

USA Today reported: We may not be as far ahead of the rest of the world as we thought we were, said Gen. Hal Hornburg, the chief of the Air Combat Command, which oversees U.S. fighter and bomber wings...The F-15Cs are the Air Force's primary air superiority aircraft...[and] the results of the exercise [were] wake up call.

The Inside the Air Force official newsletter also discussed the "Russian victory," and reported even more details. F-15 C/D Eagle fighters were pitted against not only Su-30 MKI fighters but also MiG-27s, MiG-29s, and even the older MiG-21 Bisons, which also performed well. The fighters not only defeated the F-15s but the French-made Mirage-2000 as well. According to the Washington ProFile Web site, the results of the exercises surprised the American pilots.

Meanwhile, Russian military experts and aircraft designers did not seem surprised by these victories. The Sukhoi general designer, Mikhail Simonov, has repeatedly told RIA Novosti and other news agencies the Su-27 Flanker and the Su-30 MKI, a modified version of the Flanker, which are now in service in the Indian Air Force, were developed in the 1980s in response to the F-15 Eagle. Moreover, Soviet designers had stipulated far superior specifications. Consequently, Russian experts were not particularly surprised that the performance of the fighters matched their specifications.

Why did an American general publicly admit this fact four months after the exercises?

India's Su-30 MKI fighters and F-15 C/D Eagles from Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, engaged in mock combat exercises in February 2004. However, no one mentioned that India won three of the four exercises at the time.

Russian fighters first defeated their US rivals when Sukhoi and MiG fighters had just started being shown at international aerospace shows in the early 1990s. At that time, several Su-27 fighters, under the command of Maj.-Gen. Alexander Kharchevsky, the head of the Lipetsk center for retraining air force pilots, went to Canada to demonstrate their impressive potential. (President Vladimir Putin flew in a Su-27 to Chechnya.)

Instead of missiles and artillery shells, Russian and American fighter planes used aerial cameras to record their mock air-to-air battles. American fighters were disappointed to learn the results of exercise - their cameras had not captured any Su-27s. The Russians, however, had filmed their rivals' vulnerable points from just about every angle.

Russian pilots owed their impressive success to the Su-27's spectacular performance and its substantial thrust-to-weight ratio. The fighter's unsurpassed performance has already become well known throughout the world because no other fighter (except MiG fighters) can execute such impressive stunts as Pugachev's Cobra and others.

The F-15, the F-16 and the F-18 have wide turning radii. Russian fighters, on the other hand, can turn on a dime by merely switch on their afterburners.

Apart from in Canada, MiG-29 fighters also fought mock air battles with South Africa's Mirage-2000s. Again, the Russia planes defeated their enemies.

Chief designer Arkady Slobodskoi, the supervisor of the MiG-29 program, said, "if our plane is within range of an opponent and has a direct shot, the enemy can be considered destroyed. It only takes 5-6 machine gun bursts."

The United States, which is aware of the impressive combat potential of Russian fighters, had even purchased a squadron of MiG-29s from Moldova after the Soviet Union disintegrated. (That squadron was deployed at an airfield near Chisinau.) Germany, which had obtained a number of MiG-29s after reunification, helped repair the Moldovan fighters. Both Germany and the United States now use these aircraft to train their pilots, so that the pilots can cope with the 7,000 Russian fighters in the world. Britain's Military Balance magazine estimated that India had more than 500 Russian-made fighters. It was therefore not surprising that Indian pilots could defeat their American rivals, despite the U.S. Air Force's intensive combat-training programs.

On the other hand, American pilots have not confronted any serious adversaries for a long time. The U.S. Air Force dominated the skies over Yugoslavia in 1999 and in Iraq in 1991 and 2003. Iraqi planes were grounded during both campaigns. Therefore, mock combat is the only way to amass experience.

The long standing American Air Force mentality prevents its pilots from confronting their Russian counterparts because any possible setback would be detrimental to morale. An American Air Force pilot must be convinced that he can and must defeat the former "theoretical enemy." At the same time, these problems do not exist for mock combat exercises against Indian pilots because any defeats can be explained by inadequate training.

Why did the United States inform the world about its setbacks? Neither Russian, nor U.S. generals like to do this.

The explanation lies on the surface: The U.S. Congress discusses defense spending for the next fiscal year every June and therefore, top American military officials started talking about events in February 2004 now.

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