Russian Su-35 is no match for Turkish F-16s supported by Peace Eagle AEW&C says Chinese defense expert

Boeing Peace Eagle AEW&C (Source Boeing Defense)

On March 1, the Turkish Ministry of Defense announced that the Turkish Air Force F-16 fighter jets shot down two Syrian Air Force Su-24 fighter bombers, a move that suddenly escalated the already tense situation in Idlib.

The GDC previously reported that the Turkish Air Force dispatched E-737 early-warning aircraft and F-16 fighters during the air combat. Under the command of E-737, F-16 fighters launched AIM-120C air-to-air missiles to shoot down Su-24 fighter-bombers.

Turkish F-16 used AIM-120C missiles and shoot down Syria’s Su-24

The most surprising thing about this air battle is that the Turkish Air Force first verified the concept of “cooperative engagement”. Cooperative engagement means that the fighter does not turn on its own radar and uses external information to provide target data to offer relay guidance for the missile. This has the advantage that the other party cannot provide effective early warning, and therefore cannot interfere and avoid, which increases the probability of successful missile attacks and greatly increases the attack range.

LINK-16 data link played an important role.

According to Chinese military analyst Xiao Feizhu, the Turkish Air Force F-16 fighter might not turn on the airborne APG-68 fire control radar during air combat. The Syrian Air Force Su-24 fighter bomber was detected and tracked by the E-737 early-warning aircraft, and then these data were passed to the F-16 fighter aircraft through the LINK-16 data link. After receiving the data, the latter was handed over to the airborne MMC mission computer for the fire control solution.

The AN/APG-68 engages targets at greater ranges, up to 184 miles, and with more accuracy than legacy radars. The AN/APG-68 has Synthetic aperture radar (SAR) capabilities, which enables high resolution ground mapping for the F-16 to become a day or night, all-weather, precision strike aircraft. The AN/APG-68 enabled the F-16 to become even more formidable due to its compatibility with newer air-to-air and ground attack missiles, including Global Positioning System (GPS)-aided precision weapons.

After the attack conditions were reached, the AIM-120C air-to-air missile was launched. Since the Su-24 attack aircraft were always detected by the E-737 early-warning aircraft in this process, and the radar warning system of the former also showed that it was the E-737 early-warning aircraft that detected the Su-24 jets, the Su-24 pilots might have relaxed, and then it became too late to interfere or maneuver. And as the Su-24 fighter bombers have poor maneuverability, it wouldn’t require too much target refresh rate for LINK-16 data link to handle them.

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Xiao pointed out that the Turkish Air Force has formed a complete joint network combat system at the Turkish-Syrian border, which isn’t available to the Russian Air Force in Syria, and the number and quality of the Russian Air Force’s early warning aircraft are insufficient.

Russia’s A-50U is inferior to E-377 AEW&C

The latest A-50U early warning aircraft of Russia is just an improved version of the A-50 early warning aircraft, equipped with a mechanical scanning radar, and its detection capability is no match for E-737. In addition, its number in service in small.

Lack of early warning aircraft support, Su-35S alone cannot save the situation

Therefore, the Russian Air Force has not been able to establish a complete joint network combat system in Syria. In most cases, it can only rely on the command and guidance of ground air defense radar. As long as the Turkish Air Force F-16 fighters stay low, they can avoid Russian ground defense radar detection. In 2015, the Turkish Air Force successfully ambushed the Russian Aerospace Forces Su-24 fighter bomber with such tactics. This time, they could have just repeated the same trick.

That is probably why the Russian Air Force is being restrained with Su-35 flights over Syrian airspace. The Su-35 fighters is no match to F-16 fighters in terms of overall combat capabilities, without the support of early-warning aircraft, the Su-35 fighters is unable to handle F-16s of Turkey.

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