Comparing a Sukhoi Su-24 Fencer to a Lockheed-Martin F-16 Viper (Fighting Falcon for the nerds at home) is like comparing a heavy duty, ¾-ton pickup truck to a Corvette on a road course. The results just aren’t pretty.
On Tuesday, a Turkish F-16 shot down a Su-24 after a pair of Fencers trundled into Turkish airspace during a mission in Syria. They were warned multiple times, but continued on until one of the aircraft made its way into Turkish airspace and was shot down by a flight of two Vipers in a Combat Air Patrol (CAP) nearby.
In the fighter community, we call that “Hubcapping.” It’s a reference to the old days when cars had hubcaps – a sharp turn would often times send a hubcap wheeling off into the curb as the car itself disappeared around the corner. So too is what the wingman did here. As the lead kept going into Turkish airspace, he “Hubcapped” his flight lead with a turn to the south to avoid taking a ride in the chute.
So the lone Fencer ended up just over a mile into Turkish airspace, where it reportedly stayed for seventeen seconds. That also means the Turks were calling “Fox 2” or “Fox 3”–reports are unclear as to whether it was an AIM-9X or AIM-120C–while the aircraft was still in Syrian airspace.
Was this ever a fair fight? Not really.
An Su-24 is an all-weather bomber. It was primarily designed for low altitude bombing, but upgraded versions can do electronic attack, reconnaissance and other missions. The aircraft in question, the Su-24M, features digital maps, helmet-mounted cueing, advanced navigation, and color multifunction displays (MFDs). It incorporates a swing-wing design and carries either AA-11 Archer or AA-8 Aphid air-to-air missiles, should it need to defend itself.
These two missiles are close-range, IR-only weapons. The Su-24 has no air-to-air radar, effectively eliminating it from the Beyond-Visual-Range (BVR) arena. Its missiles must lock on to a heat source on the opposing aircraft in order to be effective.
The Aphid was designed in the Vietnam era, sporting limited range and aspect capabilities–meaning the shooter must be fairly close and offensive to be considered a viable threat. The Archer, on the other hand, is a much more formidable weapon. With helmet-mounted cueing, it provides high off-boresight capability and an excellent minimum range. The missile is outstanding when employed by a 4th-Generation fighter, but in a Fencer with limited cockpit visibility and terrible agility, it is far less intimidating.
Speaking of agility, the Su-24’s turn performance is terrible. It was never meant to mix it up against dyed-in-the-wool dogfighters, instead relying on speed and low-altitude to blitz to the target and get back. Its missiles are mostly for defensive purposes and helicopters. It’s akin to a small B-1 – without a fighter escort, it doesn’t fare well in a non-permissive environment.
- Crew: Two (pilot and weapons system operator)
- Length: 73 ft 11 in
- Wingspan: 57 ft 10 in / 34 ft 0 in
- Height: 20 ft 4 in
- Wing area: 594 ft²
- Empty weight: 49,165 lb
- Loaded weight: 83,865 lb
- Max. takeoff weight: 96,505 lb
- Powerplant: 2 × turbojets
- Dry thrust: 16,860 lb each
- Thrust with afterburner: 24,675 lb each
- Fuel capacity: 11,100 kg 24,470 lb
So what about the Turkish F-16s?
Excellent question. What about them?
The Turks have done very well in keeping their fleet of Vipers up to date. They have over two hundred aircraft, and nearly all of them have been upgraded to the Block 50+ standard, powered by big GE F110-GE-129 motors that crank nearly 30,000 pounds of thrust in afterburner. They fly with the joint helmet-mounted cueing system (JHMCS), AIM-9X Sidewinders and AIM-120C AMRAAMs.
As we all know, the F-16 is a small, lightweight, ridiculously-agile, multi-role, dogfighting master. Simply stated, not even on its best day could a Fencer hope to survive a BFM engagement with a Viper flown by a qualified, combat mission-ready pilot.
- Crew: 1
- Length: 49 ft 5 in (15.06 m)
- Wingspan: 32 ft 8 in (9.96 m)
- Height: 16 ft (4.88 m)
- Wing area: 300 ft² (27.87 m²)
- Empty weight: 18,900 lb (8,570 kg)
- Loaded weight: 26,500 lb (12,000 kg)
- Max. takeoff weight: 42,300 lb (19,200 kg)
- Powerplant: 1 × F110-GE-129 afterburning turbofan
- Dry thrust: 17,155 lb
- Thrust with afterburner: 29,400 lb
As I said, without a fighter escort, the Fencers really never had a chance against the Turkish Vipers. What remains to be seen now is whether the Su-30SM Flankers already in theater will pick up that role, creating the risk of an all-out conflict between Russia and Turkey in future border confrontations.
Tensions are high, lines are being drawn. This is not a good scenario for anyone except Daesh. They are hoping to draw the world’s superpowers into another drawn out quagmire, and a regional conflict will do just that. So as much as yesterday it was the American F-16C versus Russian Su-24M, the big-picture enemy remains the same–and hopefully the world will remember that as this incident is sorted out in the coming days.
(Featured photo courtesy of hushkit.com)