I have already discussed my reservations about the Kfir Block 60 aircraft in a previous blog,1 but the Kfir will always be a darkhorse for any plans for the Philippines to buy a main combat aircraft because of its low price, a huge consideration for a budget-conscious air force like ours. This blog will focus more on how it matches up with the main threat that it would be facing in our air force as of now, the SU-30MKK, if we do end up buying the Kfir in the near future.
The Kfir is based on the Mirage III/5 delta-winged aircraft whose blueprints were stolen by the Mossad (as is now detailed in various spy books and articles2), and is described as an all-weather, Multi-Role Fighter aircraft. It was made by the Israel Aircraft Industry (IAI) and first entered service in 1975, seeing extensive combat duty with the Israeli Air Force (IAF) before finally being retired in 1996.
A total of 220 Kfirs were built, and currently the air forces of Colombia, Equador and Sri Lanka are still operating the aircraft. All Kfirs being sold now are taken from the mothballed stocks of the IAF, but are refurbished and upgraded with advanced avionics plus a 40-year manufacturer’s guarantee. The latest version in the market is the “Block 60″ equipped with an Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, the EL/M-2052.3
The SU-30 is an improved version of the SU-27 Flanker made by the Russian Federation’s “Sukhoi Company” 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 to 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 official NATO code name for the SU-30MKK is the “Flanker-G”.4
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 aircraft 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 AIRCRAFT will remain the same if they will be armed with the same type and same number of armaments.
– Fuel density of 0.81 kg/l was used to convert fuel capacity to kilograms
– Data for each aircraft was derived from various websites at 5 6 7.
For both aircraft’s maneuvering capability, I am looking at their LIMIT LOAD FACTOR*, WING LOADING* and POWER TO WEIGHT RATIO.* I would’ve wanted to take a look at more aspects like Stall Speed, Maximum Alpha, etc., but those data are hard to come by for both aircraft. 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.
– POSITIVE LIMIT LOAD FACTOR: Favors the Flanker-G by 20% as it is rated up to 9G at all flight envelopes while the Kfir is only limited to 7.5G in most flight regimes
– WING LOADING: Favors the Kfir with a huge 50% lower wing loading compared to the Flanker-G
– THRUST TO WEIGHT RATIO: 9% advantage for the Flanker-G in terms of TTWR
+++ Typical of pre-F-15/F-16 fighter designs, the Kfir has maximum G-Limit of 7.5Gs, 20% lower than the Flanker-G. However, its large delta-wing design gives it a huge 50% advantage in wing loading over the Flanker-G. Even if you factor in the Kfir’s 9% deficiency in TTWR, it will still be ahead by 21% in terms of overall maneuverability compared to the Flanker-G.
‘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.
The Kfir’s IntFF value was multiplied by 0.87 to reflect the estimated 13% more fuel consumption of its J79 Turbojet Engines as compared to the FA-50’s more efficient F404 Turbofan Engines. For more explanation of this, refer to a special section at the bottom page**
– INTFF: Favors the Flanker-G by a huge 71%, indicating it can travel 71% farther for the same engine fuel efficiency.
– PAYLOAD: Also favors the Flanker-G as it can carry a commanding 21% (1,412 kg) more load than the Kfir.
+++ 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 Kfir, 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” aircraft, with no armaments or fuel tanks
– No solid references for the RCS and detection ranges for the Kfir B60. RCS is taken from an obscure internet reference, while detection range is just estimated to be 25% higher than the detection range of the EL/M-2032 Radar
– Tracking range is assumed to be 85% of the Detection Range
– Closing velocity of 3,000 kph (equally divided to each aircraft) used to compute for First Look, First Shot advantage
– Other data were taken from this website:8 9
– WVR COMBAT: Advantage for the Flanker-G because of its Fly By Wire (FBW) system
– BVR COMBAT: Overwhelming BVR (both radar and missile) advantage for the Flanker-G as it can track the Kfir 76 km sooner than the Kfir can track the Flanker-G, and allowing also for maximum BVR missile range it will give the Flanker-G a First Look, First Shot advantage of 52 seconds over the Kfir. The Flanker-G also has the advantage of an IRST sensor which is useful in certain tactical situations.
+++ The Flanker-G’s FBW system means its control reactions are faster which will be more pronounced during successive maneuvers, and it also makes the plane safer as it will be more resistant to stalls and over stressing of the airframe. This will enable the Flanker-G to fly closer to its maximum flight envelopes without exceeding them, while the same thing can’t be said of the Kfir with its mechanical flight control system.
+++ 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,10 which can be further reduced under certain atmospheric conditions.
‘Price, Availability and Other Options’
The Kfir’s main advantage really is its price of only USD 20 million per airframe,11 which is a LOT cheaper than most fighter aircraft available in the world right now with at least similar capability. In terms of AVAILABILITY, IAI commits to be able to ship the first Kfir Block 60 aircraft within a year of an order12 which may be lower than the 1 1/2 year delivery schedule of the FA-50 Golden Eagle, but still not soon enough for me in case we do go into some sort of armed conflict with China.
If we are going to get second hand aircraft from the Israelis, I feel the F-16A Netz will be the better alternative for the Philipppine Air Force (PAF) as at least it will be SUPERIOR to the Flanker-G in WVR combat, but there are also doubts about their ability to carry BVR missiles, their condition and their possible cost.
The Kfir Block 60 can turn tighter than the Flanker-G, but is hampered by its mechanical Fly by Wire system, and IMHO losing that advantage and making it only roughly equal to the Flanker-G in WVR combat. In BVR combat, it is severely deficient against the Flanker-G. It may be possible to negate the Flanker-G’s BVR capability using jammers (which, as it turns out, the Israelis themselves are some of the best in world at making) and force the Flanker-G into WVR combat where the Kfir can have around a 50-50% chance against it.
I think that IF the Philippines does go into conflict with China within the next 5 years, the Kfir will be one of our main options because of its affordability. It may not be the best aircraft to face China’s SU-30MKK, but if you look at the glass half full, the Flanker-G does represent the most capable fighter aircraft available to China as of this writing, meaning MAJORITY of China’s aircraft are LESS capable than the Flanker-G and thus the Kfir can match up better with MOST, if not the REST of them.
But then there is, of course, the LCA Tejas which is similar or at the same level of capability and pricing to the Kfir Block 60. It would be interesting to compare it with the Kfir Block 60 and how it fares with the Flanker-G, which is what I plan to do soon …
- LIMIT LOAD FACTOR = is the maximum amount of stress load on its structure an aircraft is rated for, and is expressed in number of “G”. The “stress load” refers to the ratio of the Lift of an aircraft to its weight. https://web.archive.org/web/20141104062756/http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Load_factor_(aeronautics)
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).
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). https://web.archive.org/web/20150324084348/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). https://web.archive.org/web/20140616134341/http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fuel_fraction
** The F404 engine was developed from the J79 engine. They have the same thrust rating and specific fuel consumption, but the F404 Turbofan engine is 1,470 lbs. lighter than the J79 Turbojet engine, hence the F404 is more efficient as it will need less thrust for the same amount of weight to fly in the air. To reflect this efficiency, the weight savings is divided by the dry thrust or non-afterburning thrust rating (10,900 lbs) of the engine as the aircraft operates most of the time in dry thrust. Values were taken from the book, “An Introduction to Aircraft Performance” by Mario Asselin p. 51, http://books.google.com.ph/books?id=kaqvC4e_EKcC&pg=PA51&lpg=PA51&dq=f404+compared+to+j79&source=bl&ots=BJI4siX03v&sig=Xj2mtSqwqJFCDEZQUIXxVvf9UCU&hl=en&sa=X&ei=km1iUoG-H-6eiAfHnYHoDg&ved=0CDkQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=f404%20compared%20to%20j79&f=false
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