Checking out a Known Unknown

Losing a Battle to Win a War

The majority of this good post from last month on By Dawn’s Early Light concerns the theory (which I am 99% sold on) that the USAF intentionally lost the COPE 2004 air exercises against the Indian Air Force primarily to justify the purchase of the F/A-22. If the Indians, for cripes sakes, can beat our F-15s, we need something better. And a lot of them. Blah blah blah.

But something that I hadn’t thought of was the opportunity to do a little wargame research on the Su-30, the best plane in the Chinese air force.

This presented the USAF with a treasure trove of intel on its capability over a long exercise. Why wouldn’t the IAF and USAF want an equal balance of attack and defend scenarios instead of the constant IAF attack versus American defense? Since Pakistan is a primary threat to India, one would think they would be interested in the defense, unless the IAF wanted to convey the message to Pakistan that if it can overwhelm the American F-15C, it can surely overwhelm the Pakistani Air Force. Sometimes the best deterrence is a good offense. India also would have conveyed a similar message to China.

The USAF has been far more on the attacking side of the equation over the past, say, 60 years with aircraft, so why the focus on defense? It all comes down to defending Taiwan against a Chinese attack. The ability for the US to train and fly against the SU-30, a massive and sophisticated Russian attack aircraft, for the first time was too good to pass up. The Indians were reluctant to utilize the aircraft in the scenarios but ultimately decided on it. The benefits the IAF received were worth giving up valuable intel on a plane that is in India’s adversary China’s arsenal.

We used standard, well-known tactics and handcuffed ourselves with unrealistic restrictions in order to see how the Su-30 performed without tipping our hand too much.

The US used boilerplate tactics to not give away how the pilots of the F-15Cs from their briefing and intel room meetings would really plan a solid defense. They instead focused on watching the capability, studying it, and preparing for not another exercise, but the real deal. Someday soon, those pilots may be facing Chinese SU-30s over the Strait of Taiwan defending a new democracy from a Chinese invasion.

And if we gave the Indians a chance to look good and make a good impression to the Pakistanis and the Chinese, so much the better.

Anyone who’s looked at the real story can tell that the deck was stacked against our guys, and intentionally so. Neither side had their top packages out there, but we went in with one hand tied behind our back. I think the Indians really and truly did outperform expectations, but we’d also “leak” that story if we had ulterior motives, so who really knows? (via WoC)


  1. Rantburg had a good discussion on this. The rules were intentionally stacked against the Americans. For example, the Indians were allowed to use an air to air missle with a range of about 10 km more than the American missles. And so on. This was, I believe, an NG unit put against India’s best.

  2. Sure it was, Chuck. Do you guys have any solid evidence or background to back up this conjecture? Im assuming you have a source other than Pulitzer prize winning blog ‘By Dawns early light.’ Who we all know has the inside track on all such intel. Or is it just that it really is impossible that any aircraft can be superior to the dated F-15?