The technical features of the air battle in the sky of Syria became the reason for the appearance of the article “Why the mighty warrior of America does not always dominate the battlefield” in the American edition of The National Interest. The article, authored by well-known weapons specialist Dave Majumdar, was published on June 25 under the heading “Security”. As is clear from the title, the subject of the article was the incomplete correspondence of the statements of officials and the actual characteristics of existing weapons.
The American author began his new article with a reminder of recent events and a statement of obvious facts. So, a few days ago, an American carrier-based fighter shot down the Sy-22 Su-XNUMX fighter-bomber over the Syrian province of Rakka. According to D. Majumdar, this incident perfectly demonstrates the truth of the modern war: not always weapon It works exactly as it says in its advertising.
Two fighter-bomber Boeing F / A-18E / F Super Hornet, taking off from the deck of the USS aircraft carrier George HW Bush (CVN-77) met the Syrian Su-22 aircraft and entered with it into a dogfight. The battle was fought at short distances, and American aircraft used missiles of the appropriate class. As reported by CNN, for the first time in stories F / A-18E / F aircraft engaged in combat with the Su-22 and used the AIM-9 Sidewinder guided air-to-air missiles. It is noteworthy that American journalists used the epithets “vintage” and “antique” to describe the Su-22.
D. Majumdar notes that the US military has not yet published any details regarding the course of the air battle and the material part used in it. Nevertheless, there is every reason to believe that the US aircraft used AIM-9X missiles - the latest model of the “long-playing” Sidewinder family, which has a high potential in the context of a close air combat.
The pilot of the F / A-18E / F aircraft launched a missile with an infra-red homing head from a distance of about half a mile, which is not enough even by the standards of the early AIM-9 missiles. Despite this, the rocket shifted to the false heat targets released by the Syrian aircraft. After that, the pilot of the United States Navy was forced to use the Raytheon AIM-120C AMRAAM rocket - an incomparably more expensive weapon with a significant superiority in range and active radar seeker. Only the launch of the second rocket led to the defeat of the target.
Based on the available information, the author of The National Interest wonders how it turned out that the air battle looked that way? Why was the outdated Su-22 aircraft able to use not the newest false thermal targets, which successfully “lured” the latest model AIM-9X guided missile, equipped with the most modern homing head?
D. Majumdar recalls that one of the goals of the AIM-9X project was to create a new homing vessel capable of working even in the face of serious opposition from the enemy and using false thermal targets. Similar capabilities appeared in Sidewinder rockets as early as the eighties of the last century, but in the case of the project with the letter “X” we are talking about a significant increase in such protection. However, there are still some serious problems. First, technology is never perfect. In addition, the opponent can always have "aces in the sleeve."
However, as the author notes, the American air-to-air missiles have always demonstrated rather high rates of combat effectiveness and the probability of hitting the target. During various tests and exercises, such as the Combat Archer, high performance has been confirmed repeatedly. However, the indicators of rocket weapons during real conflicts differed in the most noticeable way from those obtained during the exercises.
D. Majumdar calls the war in Vietnam the best example of such an unpleasant phenomenon. At that time, the main air-to-air missile of the air force and the sea aviation The United States was an AIM-7 Sparrow. During tests and checks, the probability of hitting the target at the level of 80-90% was obtained. Later, during operational tests in the armed forces, this parameter was reduced to 50-60%. Thus, as the author notes, the actual deployment results were literally disastrous.
The situation was no better with the early versions of the AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles. The first products of this type were used at the beginning of the Vietnam War, during the operation of Rolling Thunder. Then the success of the entire 16% runs. Of the 187 missiles, only 29 hit their targets. As for the AIM-7 Sparrow rocket, its real effectiveness was lower than the worst expectations. 340 launches were conducted and only 27 targets were hit - only 8% success. By the later stages of the Vietnam War, the situation had changed slightly. Thus, during the operations of Linebacker I and Linebacker II in 1972-73, the probability of hitting the target with AIM-7 missiles increased to 11%, and AIM-9 - to 19%.
According to the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Analysis, by the start of the Persian Gulf War in 1991, the probability of solving a problem increased markedly. The latest AIM-7 modifications now hit the target in 51% of cases, and the AIM-9 missiles showed an 67-percent probability of solving the problem.
The probability of hitting a target with AIM-9X and AIM-120C missiles is classified, although it is well known that such weapons, in general, show themselves well during tests and exercises of the armed forces. However, like some of the previous models of rockets, the AMRAAM product has not yet been used in battles in large quantities, and therefore sufficient statistics of its combat use is missing. For the first time, AIM-120 rockets were used during Desert Storm. Subsequently, such weapons were equipped with aircraft participating in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Total American pilots used against targets that are out of line of sight, 13 missiles. Of these, 6 hit its targets. Also on account of AMRAAM rockets recently there is a Syrian Su-22, but in this case the weapon was used at a short range, i.e. in fact not according to its purpose.
D. Majumdar does not have information about previous cases of the use of AIM-9X missiles. At the same time, he suggests that the recent incident over Tabka became the “debut” of such weapons in the fight against manned aircraft. However, during the air battle, the newest American rocket was "deceived" by the heat traps of the old model, still of Soviet manufacture. If we take into account the advanced technologies used in the creation of the latest model Sidewinder rocket, the “ancient” false thermal targets still remain a serious problem. This situation can be shocking.
Interestingly, this problem is not new and has been taking place since at least the eighties. At that time, a new modification of the AIM-9P rocket was developed and put into service, which initially had the opportunity to work in conditions of the use of false targets by the enemy. However, it soon became clear that the homing heads still prefer to be directed not at targets that imitate airplanes, but at heat traps. As an illustration of this problem, D. Majumdar cites the story of John Manklerk - the former commander of the 4477 Squadron, who was responsible for conducting tests and evaluating new samples. The officer’s story was recorded in 2012 by aviation journalist Bill Sweetman.
In the mid-eighties, the CIA provided the 4477 squadron with a device for ejecting false heat targets, shot from a Su-25 aircraft shot down in Afghanistan. Mastering this device did not take long - the specialists needed only to deal with the wires going outside. Within four hours after the commencement of work, the squadron had the MiG-21 aircraft equipped with the most modern Soviet defense equipment.
In 1987, the Air Force experts received for testing missiles AIM-9P Sidewinder, who had some protection against false targets. When used for testing traps made in the United States and American projects, experienced missiles ignored them and successfully aimed at the target. At the same time at the disposal of the testers there were a number of similar products of Soviet manufacture. The Soviet goals were dirty, none of them was like the others. However, the AIM-9P rocket literally said “I like this trap!” The results of such tests made a great impression on the specialists and made them pay attention to a serious problem.
J. Manklerk explained the reasons for such unpleasant phenomena. The AIM-9P rocket was developed and tested using American false heat targets. Analogs of the latter, produced in the Soviet Union, had a lot of differences. They differed in time, intensity of burning and other parameters. A similar situation occurred when attempting to create simulators of anti-aircraft missile systems: having received real samples, American experts saw the most serious differences. The former commander of the test squadron noted that he can tell similar things about the AIM-9P rocket only for the reason that it is being decommissioned. At the same time, similar things happened with other American products, which are still in service and which cannot be talked about yet.
Summing up his article, D. Majumdar suggests that one of the models of promising weapons, which showed ambiguous results, but still being commissioned, may well be the newest AIM-9X Sidewinder rocket. That is what explains the results of the recent air battle in the sky of Syria. The article ends with a free quote from a poem by Robert Burns “To the Field Mouse”: “The awesome definition” - “Oh, dear, you are not alone: rock deceives us, and it falls through the ceiling through us need ”(translation by SJ Marshak).
18 June in the airspace of the Syrian province of Rakka Su-22 aircraft carried out a blow to the positions of one of the terrorist groups. According to American reports, fighters from one of the opposition armed structures were hit by a fighter-bomber, as a result of which the United States decided to attack the strike aircraft. A pair of carrier-based fighters engaged in an air battle with a Syrian aircraft and soon hit it. At the same time, according to available data, the air battle was noticeably protracted, and even the most modern rocket weapons did not allow to solve the assigned combat missions in the shortest possible time.
The air combat took place with a clear advantage of American aviation, but it was not possible to realize superiority. As it became known, the main reason for this was the use of the Syrian pilot is not the most new and sophisticated means of protection, which, however, completed the task. Because of this, the US Navy pilots had to misuse the medium-range missile, protected from infrared interference.
This incident is really worth commenting on with a quote from R. Burns or a Russian proverb about paper and ravines. The real indicators of rocket efficiency turned out to be noticeably lower than the calculated ones, and for the most strange and unexpected reasons. The possibility of effectively using the old Soviet false thermal targets against the most modern air-to-air guided missiles is a serious cause for concern. It leads to the fact that American airplanes with the newest weapons will not be able to guaranteedly destroy even outdated aviation technology of technologically backward countries. Worse, such problems did not appear today or yesterday, but have persisted over the past few decades.
If the information of D. Majumdar on the unsuccessful use of the AIM-9X Sidewinder rocket, published in his article "Why America's Mighty Military Doesn't Always Dominate the Battlefield", is true, then you can roughly imagine what the American missile developers . They will have to re-engage in the problem of protecting infrared GOS from false thermal targets. Without solving this problem, the real effectiveness of fighter aviation in close combat would be significantly lower than desired and required. Whether it will be possible to create a new air-to-air missile that really ignores the traps, and whether a mighty American warrior can again dominate the battlefield becomes known in the future.
The article "Why America's Mighty Military Doesn't Always Dominate the Battlefield":