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Su-27 Flanker: The Truth

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posted on Jan, 3 2007 @ 03:54 PM
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I have watched long and hard the many debates that have exploded on this section of ATS and admitedly, I get sick from the kind of bilge thrown around here. You have the near-fascist role-playing game space cadet drivel coming from the Seekerofs and WestPoints, all the way to the childish nationalistic chest-thumping of the StealthSpys and chinawhites. I really didn't want to trash anybody here, but I feel like somebody has to maintain some rationality here. I will specifically address the Su-27, since it seems to generate a lot of pride and anger among people around here.

Now, I am no aerospace engineer, my math abilities are fundamentals-only, and my area of specialty is institutions, society, and tactics, not physics. However, I will share some very basic, fundamental knowledge of the Su-27. By the end of this reading, you will lose a lot of respect for the Su-27 but also gain a lot of admiration for it as well.

Most of the time, the point is well-reserved for the end. However, I will make the point right now: the Su-27 IS NOT the F-16. The F-16C is the best fighter in the U.S. inventory, and that is why the Su-27 is not the F-16. Vice versa, the Su-27 (or the entire Flanker family) is the best fighter in the Russian inventory, and that is why it is not the F-16. The space cadets would love to compare the two, but adult wisdom says that the only commonality the two fighters have is that they are both fighters. Now that its been established, here are major points to consider when evaluating the Su-27's effectiveness as a fighter jet:

- The Flanker is mythically considered an outstanding dogfighter. It may be an outstanding fighter jet, but it is in no way an outstanding dogfighter. Again, it is not an F-16 and it simply does not have the aerodynamic capability to spin on a wingtip and outmaneuver the enemy every time. It is much like the retired F-14 and the current F-15, in that has a huge airframe that, if not supported with sufficient amounts of thrust, will lose energy very quickly and end up in a very precarious position. What advantage it does have is its thrust, but you can't always fly with the afterburners lit. This is not to say the Su-27 is a flying truck, like the F-14. The Flanker is very manueverable, but its maneuverability is a complement rather than a defining characteristic. The most it will do is hold its own, but the Su-27 is not a wonder bird capable of summoning magical acts at will (such as the Cobra).

- The Flanker, as is all combat aircraft, was built around the military doctrine dominant at the time. The Su-27 is a C4ISR-dependent aircraft, and it depends on C4ISR HEAVILY. This means that the Su-27 is very much an incomplete fighter unless it has sufficient GCI coordination. While the reliance on GCI is slowly coming out to be a myth, one cannot deny the fact that the Su-27 is a challenging fighter to both fly and manage unless the pilot recieves significant support from the Command & Control.

- The Su-27's avionics are rather limiting, if not limited. As powerful as its systems are, they are not geared to handle more than one threat at a time and are not the most user-friendly systems around. This again reflects somewhat of a reliance on C4ISR in order to fly and fight with the Su-27 effectively. As is everything Soviet and Russian, The Flanker's avionics sacrificed simplicity for raw power.

- The Helmet-Mounted Sight is another example of the limiting nature of the Su-27s systems, as well as the overrated nature of high technology. HMS is a superb idea and it certainly is nice to have. However, fundamental understanding of air-to-air combat will do away with the myth that the HMS is a bread-and-butter capability. It is not that two-seam fastball that a pitcher can slip on the inside corner when he really needs a strike-out. At most it expands the launch envelope of a missile, allowing the pilot to take shots across the circle. But unless it can save the pilot from a position of complete disadvantage (an enemy fighter on his six), it is as useful and useless as just about every other capability on his plane or the enemy's plane. Technology is not a substitute for combat skill (this applies to Western pilots as well). At most, the HMS is a "last-gasp" capability.

I stated my point at the outset, I will make my conclusion here. The Sukhoi Su-27 "Flanker" is an incredible aircraft. It has some unparalleled, extraordinary capabilities that are exclusive to the Flanker. At the same time, its got a great number of shortcomings. On a one-for-one basis, the Su-27 would require an extraordinary fighter ace for it to defeat an F-16C, even if that F-16 is manned by a pilot of lesser skill. At the same time, remember that this works the other way as well, and that the victory would then still come from pilot skill, not technology. So love the Su-27 all you want, but at the same time recognize it is not a swift. sword, it is more like a sledgehammer. For the seekerofs and WestPoints, get this: the Su-27 can be a superfighter on a perfect day, but for the most part, it will always be an aircraft that excels in some areas and fails in others. It makes no sense to trash it, its makers, or its fliers. They are as dedicated to their duty as our people are and I'm sure they understand its limitations and its advantages. Its all a matter of what the fighter was designed to do. You can't criticize a fish for not being able to fly. Because it can't.




posted on Jan, 3 2007 @ 05:37 PM
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If I may ask, was this inspired by something as I do not think the Flanker was 'trashed' by anyone recently. On the whole I agree with you but the F-16C IMO is not the 'best' fighter in the US inventory.



posted on Jan, 3 2007 @ 05:54 PM
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Originally posted by WestPoint23
On the whole I agree with you but the F-16C IMO is not the 'best' fighter in the US inventory.

Me either. I consider both F-15 versions to be superior to the F-16 in most aspects expect for maybe Wild Weasel or very close-in dogfighting.



posted on Jan, 3 2007 @ 07:50 PM
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Address my original post. I am not looking forward to a new discussion where we blast each other for thinking the F-15 is better than the F-16.

This thread is not about the F-16, so I ask we drop it now and concentrate on the Su-27.



posted on Jan, 3 2007 @ 10:56 PM
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Someone said earlier that F-16 can beat an Su-27 (An early model) .. well u r wrong.An F-16 tangles with a pure Cold War Killer it will lose.The Su-27 is built for Speed and extreme manouverability.The F-16 cannot match the Su-27/30/33/35 T2W Ratio and it certainly is not capable of killing it.The Flankers can do souch manouvers like the Cobra ( Puts you 6 o'clock on the plane chasing you), Hook Manouver.This aircraft beats the F-15C, the USA's primary Interceptor.

People, you should do your research befor starting a thread about how a short-medium range fighter can defeat a supermanoeuverable long range fighter/interceptor.



posted on Jan, 3 2007 @ 11:02 PM
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Last time I checked, the F-16 was still a pretty manueverable aircraft, and with the latest block avionics, engines, HMS, and missiles, I don't think it would be as one sided as you make it sound.



posted on Jan, 3 2007 @ 11:33 PM
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Originally posted by Oplot84
People, you should do your research befor starting a thread about how a short-medium range fighter can defeat a supermanoeuverable long range fighter/interceptor.


Oh brother, here we go again about super duper maneuverable this and that, that game lost most of it's significance and well defined capabilities some time ago guys. Time to realize that F-16's weren't killing Mig-29's with gun's on their 6 in Allied Force. In WVR both fighters are dead, in the BVR and SA game I know where my money goes.



posted on Jan, 4 2007 @ 12:51 AM
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Originally posted by sweatmonicaIdo
I will specifically address the Su-27, since it seems to generate a lot of pride and anger among people around here.


Actually, most of the discussions here concern the Su-35 and modified Su-37 Super Flankers. The Su-27 does have all the traits you've listed, your research is quite decent.

However, the Su-37 (and also Su-30 MK) have exceptional thrust vectoring systems on their engines. These aircraft are very similar to the Su-27 in all aspects except top-down (because of the canards). It would be an easy thing to mistake one for the other. The Su-27 is indeed capable of maneuvers like the Cobra. However, these stunts are performed even more by the Su-35/37 Super Flankers and I have seen a couple videos of the Super Flankers being labelled as Flankers (Su-27s).

Now. The Su-27 is a HEAVY aircraft. It is large, and has quite a few hard points, used for taming the skies. The F-16 is a medium/light multirole craft. While the F-16 is in no way lacking AA capabilities it is not made to excel in such an area as was the Flanker. In a standard BVR combat the Su-27 is the superior craft.
HOWEVER
. In WVR combat the F-16 has an advantage. The Fighting Falcon possesses phenomenal roll rates as well as pitch rates that are nothing to sneeze at. The Flanker is a significantly heavier aircraft (particularly with a full weapons load). While the Flanker does possess a greater TtW Ratio than the Falcon, ultimately I must give the F-16 the theoretical win for the dogfight mainly because of the maneuverability of the airframe (attributable to the light weight).

An issue I will also explore as it is related is a scenario between a Su-37 and an F-16. BVR, I must also give the win to the Su-37. It is, once again, made for taming the skies and is far more built towards AA combat than the F-16. Thus at range the Super Flanker takes the win.
Now.
Concerning the dogfight. If we compare the capabilities of the Super Flanker to the Flanker we see a couple major differences. The first is that the Super Flanker possesses Thrust Vectoring on both of its engines. Not only does it possess both pitch AND yaw thrust vectoring, they are independent, allowing also for good roll and yaw rates.
We also have the canards on the Su-37. While seemingly minor, they allow the exploration of a somewhat new concept. Vortex Lift is a concept applied by modified Su-37 aircraft. This is induced by the canards and can result in extreme pitch-ups which allows for advanced maneuvers in WVR combat. Now, I am aware that the use of this concept is limited, but if it comes down to gunfighting this is very likely to cause problems for the F-16 while trying to gain an elusive gun kill.

I am willing to concede that the Su-37 has flaws. Its Radar system has been upgraded, but a fundamental problem lies within the airframe. The aircraft is heavy, plain and simple. The F-16 is light and can change its direction of flight accordingly. The Su-37 is heavy and more massive. Its control surfaces and TVC allow for heading change, but direction of movement is somewhat less instantaneous. The reason the Su-37 can complete maneuvers like the Boomerang and Kulbit is because its inertia carries it in the same direction longer than it would a lighter aircraft. For example, an F-16 attempting a kulbit would not remain at the same altitude, but would very likely end up failing a very tight loop by stalling because its direction changes and airspeed is lost while climbing and pitching. But, more relevant to WVR maneuvers, this makes the Super Flanker turn sluggishly and loosely. It will not move in the direction it faces, but rather the directional change will be several degrees behind. Thus, if the F-16 does manage to get behind the Super Flanker it will have a much better chance of scoring a gun hit (on the significantly larger and more sluggish airframe) than the Super Flanker would the F-16.

I apologize for having carried a bit far in my analysis (particularly with the exploration of the Su-37 scenario), but I felt it was relevant.



posted on Jan, 4 2007 @ 01:05 AM
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I'd like to explore why an Su-27 would have a advantage over the later block models of the F-16 in BVR and in the SA realm, can anyone be specific?



posted on Jan, 4 2007 @ 03:49 AM
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I don't mean to sling dirty diapers around, but as a former mechanic for F-15C/D's, I can honestly say this fighter IS the absolutely best there was and ever will be. This aircraft can single-handedly take out big green city-stomping monsters in Japan, improve your marriage, destroy city-killing alien spaceships, and dissipate flatulence in an enclosed area! Many times, an F-15C substained so much battle damage that only the pilot and control stick was left; STILL able to return to base!
The other day, driving to work, I seen a row of Su-27s parked in front of the arboretum. Of course, they were being used as flower pots.

................I certainly hope I don't start any arguments in this thread


[edit on 4-1-2007 by CreeWolf]



posted on Jan, 4 2007 @ 04:54 AM
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For a start, I'd compare the Su-27 to the F-15, and the MiG-29 to the F-16.


A Flanker will never roll with a Falcon, and an Eagle will never with a Fulcrum - end of. AKA - in a dogfight, the F-16 holds the aces over the Su-27, and the MiG-29 over the F-15.

It is generally agreed that the F-16 has better high energy manouvering than the MiG-29, but at low speeds, the Fulcrum murders it.

With its lifting fuselage, the Su-27 is meant to be superior to the F-15 in almost all manouvering aspects.


However, both the MiG-29 and Su-27 have a common major shortfall - the straight and short duct length to their exposed fan blade rows. The F-15 and F-16 has similar problems (although not to the same extent).

The Avionics on the F-16 and F-15 are more user friendly than those on the Flanker and Fulcrum (modern prototypes aside).


I'm not gonna say which is "better", as it will only generate arguments, each aircraft has its strengths and weaknesses, and it will be the pilot that brings his strength to bear on the other's weakness that wins.



posted on Jan, 4 2007 @ 10:18 AM
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Better or worse is not the argument, never should be the argument. I made it clear from the outset, all planes were designed differently with different roles in mind. Every plane excells in some areas and fails miserably in others.

First, lets leave BVR out of the discussion. It has been the most overrated concept in aerial warfare since high technology. Your ability to shoot at long ranges means absolutely nothing if you cannot positively identify your target. You can make guesses as to who and what it is, but until you actually see the aircraft, all you have is a hunch. This is not a recent concept either, it has been a real concern ever since air-to-air missiles were first invented.

WVR combat is largely about maneuverability. Speed becomes less important if your aircraft cannot maneuver very well to avoid radar lock-on and missiles. We saw how fast the FOXBAT was, yet it was so not manueverable.

Also, forget the Coba. It is simply not a realistic or efficient tactical maneuver, and it is also a very dangerous one at that (for its pilot). Improperly conducted, it will literally give the victory to the enemy pilot. I am not too familiar with the Su-35/37 "Super Flankers," but my guess is that they are not too far removed from the Su-27 in terms of aerodynamic performance. Or are they?

I know I am speaking in very rudimentary terms, but unless one understands the basics of air-to-air warfare, you cannot explain who wins and who loses.



posted on Jan, 4 2007 @ 11:11 AM
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Originally posted by sweatmonicaIdo
You can make guesses as to who and what it is, but until you actually see the aircraft, all you have is a hunch.


Correct, but if the aircraft is not showing a friendly transponder or is being reported to have aggressive behavior it's a fair assumption.


WVR combat is largely about maneuverability. Speed becomes less important if your aircraft cannot maneuver very well to avoid radar lock-on and missiles.

I wasn't necessarily speaking of speed, but rather Thrust to Weight. Speed isn't so much an issue in WVR combat, if you're trying to go max speed WVR you're doing something wrong. Thrust to Weight Ratios allow you to see how well you can sustain speed in the process of high-G maneuvers. An aircraft with a low TtW Ratio will lose its speed quickly in a high G turn, even at maximum thrust. An aircraft with a high TtW ratio will be able to keep its speed up for a longer time which allows it to come out of the maneuver while having maintained velocity to maneuver with.



Also, forget the Cobra. It is simply not a realistic or efficient tactical maneuver, and it is also a very dangerous one at that (for its pilot). Improperly conducted, it will literally give the victory to the enemy pilot.


Yes, but I wasn't speaking of the Cobra, I was speaking of pitch-ups. It doesn't necessarily have to be in a Cobra-like fashion. It could very well be used while rolling sideways to match an opponent's flyby and catch the tail.



I am not too familiar with the Su-35/37 "Super Flankers," but my guess is that they are not too far removed from the Su-27 in terms of aerodynamic performance. Or are they?

Su-27 Flanker

Su-35 Super Flanker

Su-37 Super Flanker


Between the Su-27 and the Su-35 you will probably notice the canards. This is the main difference between the two (aside from the standard "upgrade" performance increases in most areas).

Between the Su-35 and Su-37, you won't see a whole lot of difference. The Su-37, in its current modifications, has an excellent Thrust Vectoring Control system. This allows for maneuvers at lower speeds, and advanced maneuvers in WVR. As far as comparisons go, the Su-37 is a great deal more maneuverable than the Su-27.



posted on Jan, 4 2007 @ 11:38 AM
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Did you know that the f-15 has two f-16 engines? I would take the f-15c over the f-16 any day. Sorry. I would also take the su-35 over the f-15.



posted on Jan, 4 2007 @ 12:16 PM
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Darkpr0,

I certainly appreciate what you're saying. I want to address the issue of G forces which you brought up by talking about TtW. I dunno about the Super Flankers, but the Su-27 was not an aircraft designed to sustain 9 Gs for an extended period of time. I can do it, but it will bleed thrust if it is forced to operate under high-Gs for too long. The pilot of the Su-27 must ensure that he does not have to push it to 9 Gs. The F-16 may not have the brute power of the Flanker, but it is far more manueverable that it can sustain high-Gs for longer periods of time.

In short, the Su-27 requires smarter flying.



posted on Jan, 4 2007 @ 12:32 PM
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Originally posted by CreeWolf
I don't mean to sling dirty diapers around, but as a former mechanic for F-15C/D's, I can honestly say this fighter IS the absolutely best there was and ever will be. This aircraft can single-handedly take out big green city-stomping monsters in Japan, improve your marriage, destroy city-killing alien spaceships, and dissipate flatulence in an enclosed area! Many times, an F-15C substained so much battle damage that only the pilot and control stick was left; STILL able to return to base!
The other day, driving to work, I seen a row of Su-27s parked in front of the arboretum. Of course, they were being used as flower pots.

................I certainly hope I don't start any arguments in this thread


[edit on 4-1-2007 by CreeWolf]


CreeWolf I have to say that that is the single best piece of commentary I have even seen
. It's both informative and quite humorous...
.



posted on Jan, 4 2007 @ 03:11 PM
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Originally posted by sweatmonicaIdo

I certainly appreciate what you're saying. I want to address the issue of G forces which you brought up by talking about TtW. I dunno about the Super Flankers, but the Su-27 was not an aircraft designed to sustain 9 Gs for an extended period of time. I can do it, but it will bleed thrust if it is forced to operate under high-Gs for too long. The pilot of the Su-27 must ensure that he does not have to push it to 9 Gs.


Very true. This is true of all aircraft, but the Su-27 is hit particularly hard. The Flanker is a large, heavy aircraft with huge wings. I talked about (before) the sluggish handling of the aircraft. When the Flanker executes a turn like that it bleeds loads of thrust because the huge surface area of the wings is exposed to airflow which causes mass drag on the aircraft. This is the operating principle behind the Cobra and is, effectively, why the Flanker does the maneuver so well. The TtW Ratio of the Flanker does not fix the problem, but rather alleviates it. High-G turns with the Flanker will exponentially increase the drag as more surface area is exposed, and around 9 Gs not even the TtW ratio of the Flanker is likely to help very much other than getting it back up to normal combat speed.



The F-16 may not have the brute power of the Flanker, but it is far more manueverable that it can sustain high-Gs for longer periods of time.


This is quite true. The F-16 does possess that capacity (namely because of its lightness). Also, its wings are significantly smaller than the Flanker, so during high-G turns far less surface area is available for drag.

In the Su-37 Super Flanker (the Su-35 is not significantly different from the Su-27 in this aspect), the TVC further alleviates the problem, but once again, does not actually fix it.


One thing I'd like to bring up here with the Su-35 and Su-37 is the presence of the Rear-facing radar (also present in some variants of the Su-27 I believe). This allows for the capitalization on all-directional fire of short-range missiles. This is an aspect not present on the F-16, so if we are speaking of short-range missiles at all in WVR combat I'd like to point out that advantage in the Super Flanker's arsenal.



posted on Jan, 4 2007 @ 03:19 PM
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Short range missiles are heat seeking, radar does not operate in that spectrum. An F-16 with an AIM-9X and HMS can also fire missiles 'backwards' using the "over the shoulder" technique since the AIM-9X has that type of HOB capability and a LOAL feature.



posted on Jan, 4 2007 @ 08:30 PM
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Originally posted by sweatmonicaIdo
I am not too familiar with the Su-35/37 "Super Flankers," but my guess is that they are not too far removed from the Su-27 in terms of aerodynamic performance. Or are they?
This is the most telling comment in your monolgue. Whilst you are making some valid points, I think you are also missing some of the context.

Labels like "Su-27" can mean any of a number ofd Flanker or even Fullback varients, just as "F-16" comes in many varients. The more recent varients and capabilities differ greatly from the oldest versions.

So if you compare the older Su-27 varients (which evidently you are), then you ought to compare them against older F-16 varients.

If we stop the clock at 1988 and look at the main in-service versions of both, we find a slightly different picture than what you are painting:
USSR Su-27S Flanker-B -vs- USAF F-16C

In BVR combat the Su-27 has the advantage because it has slightly more versitle BVR missiles and carries more of them. The F-16C of this time would have carried a pair of Aim-7 Sparrows with about 70km range, whereas the standard fit for the Su-27 was 4 AA-10 Alamo-B (70km range) and 2 AA-10 Alamo-A IR fire-and-forget missiles (aboutt 30km range). Given that both the Alamo and Sparrows would typically be ripple fired, that gives the F-16 one shot whereas the Su-27 has three, plus they include fire-anf forget and multiple wavelength attack (both radar and IR). The F-16C's radar is better mind, and the Sparrow has probably got a slightly better kill ratio than the Alamo, but probably not enough to give the lightly armed F-16 the edge.

In the WVR world the Su-27 has a MASSIVE adavantage over the F-16C of the late 1980s, namely the AA-11 Archer missile and associated IRST/HMS targeting. The F-16C may be more agile, but it has 2 (maybe 4 in a 'heavy' load) AIM-9L or AIM-9P Sidewinders which have a maximum range of just 18km and an engagement envelope of only about 15 degrees (going by memory, look it up). Whereas the vastly superior AA-11 had a range of about 30km and an engagement envelope of up to 60degrees off-boresite. The superiority of the AA-11 was proven when former East German Mig-29s joined the Luftwaffe and NATO got a first hande experience of the missile.

It's worth noting that whilst the Sidewinder has some merits, only the latest AIM-9X really compares to the AA-11 and that is not very widely deployed even now - in fact even the F-22s still have old model AIM-9s.

Since the late 1980s, both aircraf tand their resprctive weapons fits have evolved. In general the F-16, though increasingly capable, is really turning into a bit of the Dolly Parton of the skys and recent developmemts have more to do with leveraging US international influence and established production lines than it still being the optimum aircraft.

But anyway, the main changes are:
* The Su-27 family gained the really long ranged (130km!!!) AA-10 Alamo-C missile in the early 1990s.
* Recent Su-27 versions also sport vastly improved radars
* Both types have gained a true fire-and-forget AR medium range missile (AMRAAM and AA-12 Adder)
* Some F-16 varients now have IRST and HMS, but few have AAMs that compare to the Flanker's AA-11 - this will change as missiles like the IRIS-T and AIM-9X enter survice on F-16s.
* More recent Su-27 varients (usually called Su-35/37 and some Su-30 varients) have 3-D thrust vectoring which gives them superb agility, as has been discussed by others)
*Both types are increaingly employed as two-man aircraft, where the Flanker has a natural advantage due to its great size and power.
* Both sorts have evolved into multi-role and dedicated attack versions, in general the Su-27s carry more bombs. The Su-32 Fullback version of the Su-27 is the mutt's nuts in that match-up and the F-16 can only dream of getting anywhere near it in that respect.



posted on Jan, 4 2007 @ 09:38 PM
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Originally posted by planeman
It's worth noting that whilst the Sidewinder has some merits, only the latest AIM-9X really compares to the AA-11 and that is not very widely deployed even now - in fact even the F-22s still have old model AIM-9s


I think you will find, if you look, that the F-15, F-16 and F/A-18 have all gone operational with the AIM-9X and they do deploy with it. The Reason why it's not yet carried by the Raptor has more to do with priority. They wanted the legacy fighters to get the HMS and AIM-9X first since they need it more than the F-22 does, however the AIM-9X and HMS will be integrated in the F-22 in 2008. Perhaps along with the AIM-120D which should reach IOC during that same period.


Just to add, the only other variant of the Sidewinder in use by the US is the AIM-9M, carried at this time only by the F-22, and perhaps some A-10's if the need should so arise.

[edit on 4-1-2007 by WestPoint23]




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