The F-16C Block 50/52+ Viper versus the SU-30MKK/MK2 Flanker-G

A Hellenic Air Force F-16C Block 50/52+. Photo courtesy of Chris Lofting thru Airliners.net
A Hellenic Air Force F-16C Block 50/52+. Photo courtesy of Chris Lofting thru Airliners.net

I’ve noted on my blog “The FA-50 Golden Eagle versus the SU-30MKK/MK2 Flanker-G” the apparent shortcoming of the FA-50 Golden Eagle in Beyond Visual Range (BVR) combat against China’s current premiere fighter aircraft, the SU-30MKK/MK2 Flanker-G. So the question is, what kind of aircraft would be needed to match up individually against the Flanker-G? The F-16C has always been on the radar of the Philippine Air Force (PhAF) to be its main combat aircraft, and plans were in fact under way to acquire second-hand models of it from the United States before being eventually abandoned due to the projected high costs of maintenance of the used aircrafts.[1] Despite this, let’s take a curious look at how the F-16C Block 50/52+ would fare against the Flanker-G.

‘Aircraft Backgrounds’
The F-16 was made by the American company “General Dynamics”, and first entered service with the United States Air Force (USAF) in 1978. It is described as an all-weather Multi Role Fighter (MRF) and one of the most successful modern aircraft designs as eventually over 4,500 were built and went into service into more than 26 countries worldwide.

The F-16C Block 50/52+ is the latest mass produced version of the aircraft first introduced into service in 2006 with a dorsal compartment for the 2-seat versions, conformal fuel tanks, advanced avionics like better radar and helmet mounted sight, and a more powerful engine. The official name of the F-16 is the “Fighting Falcon”, but its pilots preferred to call it the “Viper” after the fighter spacecraft in the Science Fiction TV series “Battlestar Galactica” back in the 1970s.[2]

The SU-30 is an improved version of the SU-27 Flanker made by the Russian company “Sukhoi JSC” and entered service with the Russian Air Force in 1996. It is described as a heavy, long-range, all-weather strike fighter and around 400+ aircrafts have been built so far in service with 9 countries around the world. The SU-30MKK is the special export version to China of the SU-30 which went into the Chinese Air Force service in 2000. China ordered 76 aircraft which were delivered between 2000-2003, and in case of any war, it will be China’s main frontline aircraft as it is its most capable combat aircraft right now.

The SU-30MK2 is the maritime version of the SU-30MKK intended for use by China on its carrier fleet if ever they do get to finally field them. It differs from the SU-30MKK mainly because it uses Chinese-made avionics. China has 24 of these, first delivered in 2004. The official NATO code name for the SU-30MKK is the “Flanker-G”.[3]

‘Evaluation Notes’
For the “Maneuverability” and “Payload and Range” sections, the following considerations were made:
– Weights with 100% internal fuel was used to try to simulate the aircrafts going into combat with full internal fuel after dropping their external Fuel Tanks.
– The weights of the armaments were not included as the RATIOS and DIFFERENCES BETWEEN BOTH AIRCRAFTS will remain the same if they will be armed with the same type and same number of armaments.
– Data for each aircraft was derived from various websites at [2][3][4][5].

The F-16C Block 50/52+ uses Conformal Fuel Tanks (CFTs) which allows it to carry more fuel (approximately 1,363 kg more) without allocating less SPACE for weapons (i.e., doesn’t have to occupy a pylon). These will also not increase F-16’s RCS significantly since they are “blended” into the aircraft’s body. The only penalty for using these CFTs is that less WEIGHT will be allocated for weapons. Data highlighted in bright yellow refers to the F-16C with CFTs.

‘Manueverability’
For both aircraft’s maneuvering capability, I am looking at their WING LOADING* and THRUST TO WEIGHT RATIO.* I would’ve wanted to take a look at more aspects like Stalling Speed, Maximum Alpha, etc., but those data are hard to come by for both aircrafts. Hence, these should suffice for now. Remember that a lower Wing Loading means the aircraft can turn tighter and vice-versa, and a higher Thrust-to-Weight Ratio means the aircraft can go faster going straight up or straight down and vice-versa.
Viper-FlankerG_Maneuverability

* SUMMARY
– WING LOADING: About the same for both aircrafts if the F-16 doesn’t use its CFTs, but favors the Flanker-G by about 10% if the F-16 uses its CFTs
– THRUST TO WEIGHT RATIO: Favors the F-16 by 9-22% whether it uses its CFTs or not.

A Chinese SU-30MKK Flanker-G. Photo courtesy of the fyjs.cn Website
A Chinese SU-30MKK Flanker-G. Photo courtesy of the fyjs.cn Website

+++ It is a testament to the Flanker-G’s design that it can turn as well or better than a plane weighing around half of its empty weight in the horizontal plane. Subtracting the differences in Wing Loading and TTWR, overall the F-16C would have a decisive advantage over the Flanker-G if it doesn’t use CFTs, but both would be even if the F-16C uses CFTs.

‘Payload and Range’
For Range, I am using INTERNAL FUEL FRACTION (INTFF)* as a rough indicator how far each aircraft can go based on the internal fuel available to them.
Viper-FlankerG_Payload_and_Range

* SUMMARY
– INTFF: Favors the Flanker-G by 24-68% regardless of whether the F-16 uses its CFTs or not
– PAYLOAD: Also favors the Flanker-G by 7-30% regardless of whether the F-16 uses its CFTs or not

+++ Here the Flanker-G’s ability as an OFFENSIVE aircraft shines as it shows it can carry more load and carry it much farther than the F-16 even if the F-16 uses CFTs, making it an ideal strike aircraft to complement its air superiority role.

‘Air Combat-related Avionics and Weapons’
Here I am comparing the capability of both aircrafts in terms of Within Visual Range (WVR) and Beyond Visual Range (BVR) air combat thru their Avionics and Weapons available to them. Just some notes, though:
– RCS data are for “clean” aircrafts, with no armaments or fuel tanks
– Radar detection ranges for specified radar cross sections were taken from these websites: [6][7]
Viper-FlankerG Avionics

* SUMMARY
– WVR COMBAT: Pretty even as both aircrafts have the avionics and weapons to be competitive in WVR combat
– BVR COMBAT: The F-16C’s RCS is lower than the Flanker-G by 733%, but the latter’s more powerful radar still enables it to detect the F-16C 7% or 8 km sooner. The Flanker-G also has the advantage of an IRST sensor which is useful in certain tactical situations.

+++ The F-16 has a better radar than the FA-50 Geagle for air combat enabling it to keep up with the Flanker-G. Despite that the Flanker-G still gets the “first-look, first-shot” advantage by about 10 seconds (based on its 8 km radar advantage and assuming that both aircrafts are closing in on each other at the combined speed of 3,000 kph).

+++The Flanker-G’s IRST is useful in a limited number of situations as it will enable the Flanker-G to sneak up on its opponents without using its radar (whose emissions can be detected) and fire the first shot if necessary. However it does have limitations, it has a much shorter range than the Flanker-G’s radar at only around 35 km for head on targets,[8] which can be further reduced under certain atmospheric conditions.

‘Parting Shot’
The F-16 will have the slight advantage over the Flanker-G in a maneuvering WVR combat, but the Flanker-G has a slight advantage over the F-16 in BVR combat, so that would put both aircrafts at just about even. Hence the F-16C Block 50/52+ would be a good deterrent for the PhAF … against the current threat, which is the SU-30MKK/MK2.

However, China is currently negotiating to buy the even more formidable SU-35 Flanker-E whose Irbis-E radar dwarfs the detection range of even the SU-30MKK’s Zhuk-MSE radar with its ABSOLUTELY INSANE detection range of 454 km for a 5 m^2 radar cross section target,[9] not to mention its other improvements like thrust-vectoring nozzles, etc. Then again, for an aircraft like the SU-35, nothing short of an F-22 or F-35 will be able to match up with it one on one.

The F-16C Block 50/52+ aicrafts are quite expensive at between USD 77 to 133 million each, depending on the package deal.[10][11][12] Refurbished second hand aircrafts would be a lot cheaper, but like I said with my blog about the Kfir Block 60, these types of aircrafts will need more frequent replacement of parts which our slow procurement system will not be able to keep up and keep them flying in the air.[13]

An F-16C Block 50/52+ of the Hellenic Air Force in Flight. Photo courtesy of Spyros Nannos thru Flickr
An F-16C Block 50/52+ of the Hellenic Air Force in Flight. Photo courtesy of Spyros Nannos thru Flickr

SOURCES:

[1] PH junks plan to buy ‘ageing’ F16s, http://www.interaksyon.com/article/31456/ph-junks-plan-to-buy-ageing-f16s

[2] General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/F-16_Fighting_Falcon

[3] SU-30MKK, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sukhoi_Su-30MKK

[4] Su-30MKK Specifications, http://www.sinodefence.com/airforce/fighter/su30specifications.asp

[5] F-16C/D Block 50/52 Plus, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_Dynamics_F-16_Fighting_Falcon_variants#F-16C.2FD_Block_50.2F52_Plus

[6] Which Fighter Plane is the No:1 in the Indian Subcontinent in the BVR(Beyond Visual Range) arena?, http://www.angelfire.com/falcon/fighterplanes/texts/articles/bestfighter.ht

[7] Zhuk-MSE, http://www.deagel.com/Aircraft-Warners-and-Sensors/Zhuk-MSE_a001457003.aspx

[8] OLS-35 IRST option for Su-30 family, http://igorrgroup.blogspot.com/2009/10/ols-35-irst-option-for-su-30-family.html

[9] SU-35, http://www.sukhoi.org/eng/planes/military/Su-35/

[10] Greek F-16 & Weapons Buys Taking Off, http://www.defenseindustrydaily.com/greek-f16-weapons-sale-clearing-for-takeoff-01397/

[11] $5.1B Proposed in Sales, Upgrades, Weapons for Pakistan’s F-16s, http://www.defenseindustrydaily.com/51b-proposed-in-sales-upgrades-weapons-for-pakistans-f16s-02396/#new

[12] Egypt to Spend up to $3.2B Adding to F-16C/D Fleet, http://www.defenseindustrydaily.com/egypt-to-spend-32b-in-updating-f-16cd-fleet-05860/

[13] Kfir Block 60 for the Philippine Air Force?, https://rhk111smilitaryandarmspage.wordpress.com/2013/10/24/kfir-block-60-for-the-philippine-air-force/

* GLOSSARY

–> WING LOADING = is the amount of weight the wing supports during flight, and is expressed in weight per area, or in the metric system, kg/m^2. This is computed by: (Wing Area divided by Weight). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wing_loading

–> THRUST TO WEIGHT RATIO = means how much power the aircraft has compared to its weight, and is expressed by a simple number. This is computed by: (The maximum thrust of the aircraft’s engine divided by weight). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thrust_to_weight_ratio

–> INTERNAL FUEL FRACTION = is the weight of the internal fuel the aircraft compared to its maximum take-off weight, and is expressed by a simple number. Formula used is: (Maximum internal fuel capacity divided by maximum take off weight). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fuel_fraction

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11 thoughts on “The F-16C Block 50/52+ Viper versus the SU-30MKK/MK2 Flanker-G”

  1. Since both are similar, i would say it may boil down to the AMRAAM VS. AMRAAMski (AIM-120 vs R-77). Looks like Adder has a longer range and better maneuverability. Not unless the Viper is fitted with an AIM-120D then I’ll favor the F-16. Nevertheless, F-16 Viper will provide deterrence because of the Su-30’s slight margin and a pilot error could easily tip the scale on the other side.

  2. i still believe american technology and pilot experience is far better than the russians. so many times russian propaganda or advertisement will always mesmerized us. just like the mig-21 it was advertised that it could beat the f-4 but kill ratio is 3-1. and when the mig 29 and su-27 were introduce, they will outmaneuver and its technology can beat the f-16 and f-15s..but till now no reported mig 29 and su 27 shotdown f-16s and f-15s…f-15s is still 100+-0 record and f-16 60+-0 record. now comes the su-35, it was advertised to defeat the f-22 and the f-35??
    but whatever these russian new technologies and quality of their aircrafts, question can they withstand the rigors of real warfare. it was noted that russian fighters cannot withstand high G maneuvers
    and lot weapon system failures?? well, is good to see russian jets in airshows…
    but i still appreciate the comparison of f-16 block 50s and su-30 i learned a lot.

    1. The F-22 and F-35 are still much better than the SU-35, of course. But other than those two, it doesn’t seem like there are any other western fighter capable of defeating it on a one-on-one in a radar battle. I have crunched the numbers, and even the Typhoon or the Rafale won’t be able to match up with it …

      1. i agree with your assessment…but the only advantage with the americans the f-22 and f-35 was introduce due to the success combat experience of the f-15 and f-16 that enhances more the technology of the f-22 and f-35, which the russians and french do not have.

      2. The Americans are one step ahead of everybody else in the world in terms of fighter technology, and everyone is just trying to catch up, including the Europeans …

  3. if we cant really afford to buy MRF, i still firmly believe even with the fa-50 as our main fighter jets (at least 2 squadrons) for our airforce is just fit for us…a small fighter but with a punch.. if the fa-50 is really inferior…then why china is now pressuring s. korea not to supply us with fa-50. hmmmm there is something in the fa-50 china seems uneasy.

  4. very interesting to hear that. ok rhk111 will keep in touch…the information is very interesting we learned a lot from you even amateurs like me is now educated cause guys like you care..many thanks

  5. Hi. I’ve been following your blog for a little while now. Not to derail the subject at hand, but was wondering if you are planning any articles on the cargo/airlift fleet of the Philippine Air Force? Both fixed & rotary winged.

    1. Thanks for following my blog, Duane. I admit I haven’t been following closely the Cargo/Airlift Acquisition Project by the PhAF as I didn’t find them to be too interesting. However, with the dearth of new developments in the AFP Modernization recently, I may look into soon. I can’t promise an blog, though, not sure yet if I can contribute much to the discussion about them now. But we’ll see …

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