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The New Arms Race


Putin warned about an arms race, and the Hedgemony missed the clues, again. Ellroon of Rants from the Rookery has the gory details about the arms sales. Iran with 250 fourth generation fighters is not a good thing. No one in the region needs any more weaponry. They are quite capable of killing each other with their hands and rocks.

Putin has learned to love money, but a 250 aircraft order doesn’t happen overnight. He has been sitting on this, and the Saudi arms deal gave him cover. Needless to say this will not promote peace in the region, nor get us out of Iraq.


1 The Culture Ghost { 07.31.07 at 10:40 pm }

Damn if that isn’t a sweet looking fighter aircraft, though. How does it stack up against the F16 and the F18?

2 Bryan { 07.31.07 at 11:15 pm }

The MiG-29 was designed to take on the F-16 and F/A-18, as all are primarily ground attack aircraft first. The Su-30 was designed to oppose the F-15, air superiority weapons, primarily fighter aircraft. On this level it’s pilot skill and tactics which will determine the outcome. It’s a very good aircraft in the right hands.

The US has always had the edge in avionics, but the Russians, as opposed to the Soviets, have access to better equipment now. It’s not a battle I want to see.

3 The Culture Ghost { 07.31.07 at 11:34 pm }

Okay…next question. How good are the Russian pilots who will no doubt be training the Iranians?

4 Bryan { 08.01.07 at 12:41 am }

The Iranian Air Force doesn’t need outside help, the US established their training system, and they still fly F-4s, F-5s, and are the only air force still using the F-14. They have a wide variety of aircraft types and their own homemade trainers. They obviously are familiar with US tactics from the days of the Shah, and will still have people in their air force who trained in the US.

Their last war experience was 20 years ago in the Iran-Iraq war, but the US hasn’t faced a real aggressor force since Vietnam.

The Russians will supply instructors for the specific aircraft, but they could also go to school in India if they wanted, or in Vietnam, both of whom fly Su-30s.

The Shah also bought KC-135 tankers from the US, so the Iranian air force has aerial refueling experience.

We went into Iraq with Air supremacy guaranteed. The Su-30s mean the US is actually going to have to fight for air superiority. It’s been a long time since that was necessary.

5 The Culture Ghost { 08.01.07 at 1:58 am }

Oh, that’s not good.

6 Badtux { 08.01.07 at 4:28 am }

Don’t forget China. China now has a couple of squadrons of Su-30’s.

That said, the Su-30 isn’t magic. It’s a good sturdy combat airframe and suprisingly nimble for such a big bird, but it’s the quality of the weapons load and AWACS support that determines victory in modern air wars, and the U.S. has better shit there than the newest not-yet-in-production experimental Russian stuff, much less the stuff the Russians are actually shipping. There’s a *reason* why the Indians strip the Russian avionics out of their Su-30’s and replace it with Israeli gear, and it ain’t because the Russian gear is technologically on par with Israeli gear :-).

Airframe-wise, the Su-30 was developed from the Su-27 air superiority fighter, which was developed to take on the F-15, but today’s Su-30 is roughly equivalent to the FA/18 Super Hornet insofar as range, payload, and mission goes. It’s a good all-around bird useful for both tactical air support and air superiority missions. But really, the quality of the airframe is almost irrelevant in modern air war. It’s all about the quality of the weapons load. And the U.S. and Israel have a technological advantage there that the Russians can’t hope to match.

As far as the numbers go, they don’t compute. The most jet fighters that Sukhoi has managed to build in any given year since the fall of the Soviet Union was one year when they managed to deliver a total of fifty fighters to India and China. They haven’t repeated that feat since. Maybe Iran has signed a five or ten year deal to buy 250 fighters with delivery of the first ten fighters by the end of this year, but ain’t no way that Russia can deliver 250 fighters by the end of this year. And I notice that AWACS isn’t mentioned as one of the things Russia is selling Iran. If one air force has AWACS support and the other doesn’t, the air force without AWACS support is just target practice.

Hmm, looking at other weapons deals, it appears that Russia is pricing the Su-30 at about $40 million dollars apiece nowdays. That means that the $1B that Iran purportedly is paying would buy 25 Su-30’s. Meaning that this contract is actually just a down-payment on the total shipment of 250 Su-30’s, and likely the Russians have committed to delivering 25 Su-30’s by the end of the year — a doable feat, unlike 250 Su-30’s.

-Badtux the Air Penguin

7 Bryan { 08.01.07 at 10:16 am }

The Iranians have a couple of IL-76 based AWACS, and you have to wait to see which model of SU-30 is delivered as they may be buying the anti-shipping version developed for the Vietnamese.

Frankly, getting 10 out the door for Iran may be it, because Sukhoi has existing orders from Venezuela, among others, and I can’t see them being able to ramp up production all that much.

The key is the avionics in these birds. There are a lot of possible sources, and they could be buying through India or China. The old lines no longer exist, and the Iranians have internal capabilities to copy anything they get their hands on, or have the Chinese copy it for them, as there are now so many US manufacturing facilities in China.

A short while ago an F-16 scored a shootdown of an F-22 in a Red Flag at Nellis, so the pilot’s ability counts.

8 Badtux { 08.01.07 at 11:25 am }

The one thing that could get 25 Su-30’s into Iran’s hand quickly is the fact that India and Russia are squabbling over payment for their next batch, and Sukhoi may be able to divert some birds from that direction. The Iranians definitely have capabilities, but at the moment their capabilities avionics-wise appears to be limited to making replacement parts for their F-14 Tomcats and F-5 “Freedom Fighters”, which are 1970’s vintage fighters with 1970’s-vintage avionics. Weapons-load-wise, they inherited a lot of technology from the Shah that they have reverse-engineered which is why Israeli tanks were taken out in Lebanon by American ATGM’s and why their fighters are generally carrying Sidewinder infrared missiles (another clone job). F-14’s observed flying in recent years have only been carrying the Sidewinders though recently a couple have been spotted with what appear to be reverse-engineered Phoenix missiles (but they may have been useless leftovers from the Shah’s time intended to confuse people about Iranian capabilities). Any radar-guided missile in the Iranian inventory would be useless against our jets since they are 1970’s-vintage and our ECM is quite capable of scrambling their reception hopelessly (just ask the Syrian Air Force… oh you can’t, because the IAF largely shot it out of the sky!).

In short, if Iran took delivery of ten fighters and spent a lot of time sorting out avionics and weapons load from the Russian, Chinese, Indian, and indigenous sources available to them (as in, years, not months), they might be able to put together a formidable fighter using the Su-30 platform. But the Su-30 platform by itself is no more a threat than other ex-Soviet fighters already in the Iranian inventory (mostly ex-Iraqi fighters flown there in 1991). Even the antique MiG-21 will do well in a dogfight against everything in the U.S. inventory except the F-16 (the F-16 is a damn good dogfighter, originally purpose-built for that application — it’s small, and its inherently-unstable flight characteristics mean it’ll change direction with no lag or argument, it is no surprise to me that the F-16 will whip a F-22 in a dogfight), the only reason why nations flying the MiG-21 are retiring them is because the MiG-21’s nose cone is too small for a modern radar and thus it can’t operate effectively at night or haul a modern weapons load.

9 The Culture Ghost { 08.01.07 at 1:38 pm }

What strikes me as amusing ,in a “I dropped a cinder block on my big toe” sort of amusing way,
is the way in which this thread has automatically assumed that the Iranian and U.S. fighters will be going at it sometime in the near future. Until this comment, it’s just been implied without even a second thought.

Are we just pre-conditioned to the coming inevitable? Are we hopelessly cynical? Or just world weary?

10 Bryan { 08.01.07 at 2:40 pm }

CG, the Gulf States, Pakistan, and Israel all use US equipment, so, even if common sense prevails, that is the threat in the minds of Iranian air force planners and trainers. No matter what language is used in the cockpit, it will primarily be US vs Russian equipment, if nothing else. Welcome back to the surrogate conflicts of the Cold War.

The best deal for the Iranians would be the Indian avionics package, but parts of it are Israeli. They may want to see what the French have, they did get some Mirage F1s from Saddam during the first Gulf War.

The real problem at this point, ‘Tux, is we don’t know who is cuttings deals, because there have always been Iranians as major players in the arms market, including the Israeli arms market, so anything could show up in Tehran.

The Chinese have been doing a lot of recent work, after stagnating for decades, and some of their work has been effective. They have benefited greatly from sending people to US universities, and contracts with US high tech firms. Too many of the components used to build military hardware are made primarily in China. If you build it there, they will copy it.

All in all, this is a pointless waste of money that has been initiated by a small group of paranoids in Washington and Tehran. They all need a time out.

I’m not inclined to forget that a World War I marine mine was responsible for disabling a US warship in the first Gulf War. Sometimes we outsmart ourselves.

11 Badtux { 08.01.07 at 3:18 pm }

I’m aware of Chinese capabilities in the high tech industry (sorry, cannot explain further there). Let us just say that they aren’t all there yet, but with some help and guidance manage to get the job done most of the time. China has reverse-engineered several Russian radars and integrated with more modern components to produce some interesting prototype systems that are roughly on par with what we sent into battle in 1991 against Saddam. They’re still hopeless when it comes to starting from scratch and coming up with anything innovative but give them some examples and they can generally re-engineer it into something workable. That said, their stuff is utterly untested, unlike the Israeli war-fighting equipment.

I think the Indian Su-30’s come with French war-fighting gear and Israeli avionics but frankly haven’t followed them much lately. Probably the most terrifying use of the Su-30, from a Saudi/US perspective, is as a long-range anti-shipping missile platform. Load those big birds down with Exocets and send them in at low altitudes with tanker support on the way out and on the way back, and there’s nothing safe within a thousand-mile radius of the Iranian coastline. They could shut down not only the Straits of Hormuz, but pretty much everything else in the region too, including the Red Sea ports, if only by the pucker action of insurance companies everywhere.

12 Bryan { 08.01.07 at 5:06 pm }

From an Iranian perspective, attacking shipping is their most effective defense and their trump card. The Vietnamese SU-30s were modified for this purpose specifically, and there are a number of air-to-ship systems available.

If the insurance carriers get rattled, nothing moves, no matter what guarantees are made.

A friend worked for DEC out of Hong Kong. He said when the Chinese sent a class for training they grabbed every piece of paper in the training center and shipped it back to China.

Give them a few years to develop a little individualism and they will produce some pretty scary stuff. I don’t know why East Asians don’t seem to deal well with software, but they make up for it in hardware.

13 hipparchia { 08.02.07 at 12:50 am }

on weapons… y’all don’t really want to know how many iranians were in my advanced nuclear chemistry class, back in the day.

14 Bryan { 08.02.07 at 2:57 pm }

The Shah was extremely interested in all things nuclear, so that’s not surprising. You would be surprised about the number of “Taiwanese” students didn’t seem to know much about the island.