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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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