"Most of us here would give anything to fly a Flanker"

Candid words from a top gun instructor, who now commands roughly half the airborne striking force that the US Navy has over the Pacific. More than that, these are words of any American pilot who's heard all the Sukhoi stories. Captain Hal Murdock, commodore at Lemoore Naval Air Station, California, is a Tomcat ace who now spends his time effecting the foundations for the next generation of American naval aviation, a.k.a. the F-35 Lightning-II.

To be honest, I'm yet to find a US pilot (and most defence correspondents have met a whole bunch in the last three years) who wouldn't give something really valuable to get behind the stick of a Su-30MKI. The young US Navy lieutenant Matthew "Bloody" Stoll, who flew me in an F/A-18F Super Hornet in February last year at Yelahanka, said, "Hook me up with a Flanker ride, and I'll get you another F/A-18 flight!"

Anyway, during the briefind we got from Captain Murdock at the Lemoore base, the discussion inevitable shifted to a comparison between the Super Hornet and the Su-30MKI. You can always trust a real pilot to be honest about his gear, and stuff used by his purported adversaries. For starters, he was candidly and unambigiously clear that if a Super Hornet and Su-30MKI went head to head, one on one, it would be an incredibly good fight.

One thing he said outright -- it would be imperative for the Super Hornet to keep the engagement BVR to keep its advantages peaked. The Super Hornet, he said, would be able to paint the MKI with its AESA minutes before the reverse could happen, giving it precious minutes to act. Secondly, in a BVR engagement, the electronic warfare environment made possible by the Super Hornet's integrated EW systems are "far superior to anything known to exist on the best Russian fighters". But, he said, you allow the Su-30 to get into a close-combat engagement with the Super Hornet, and "it's gonna be a very different story, I'm afraid."

For starters, the Super Hornet will be almost hopelessly outmanouvered by the MKI, Murdock says. "We've seen these fellas at air shows. It ain't funny. That thing can swing." Even the Super Hornet's turbo nose-down feature (something pilots love) wont allow it to dodge. And probably most importanty, Murdock indicates that in any engagement, if the Super Hornet doesn't make its kill quickly, it's going to almost ruin the odds of winning. The Su-30 has immensely more endurance and survivability in the air than a Super Hornet, and by the simple virtue of being able to stay in the air longer, has a critical one-up.

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