Japanese F-15 Squadrons Are Eager to Train Against India’s Su-30MKI: But Do They Stand a Chance?

The Japanese Air Self Defence Force is preparing for joint training operations with the Indian Air Force in the coming months, which will involve fighter units from both sides including six of India’s most capable fighters the Su-30MKI. 

The Su-30s will deploy to Japan for exercises as the two countries move to cement security ties, a move which is seen to be motivated by territorial disputes both have with neighbouring China. For Japanese air units, the chance to train against the Su-30 is highly prized because it provides perhaps the closest simulation of the capabilities of China’s own air force which it has faced. 

The Su-30MKI is an advanced ‘4+ generation’ derivative of the Soviet Union’s prime air superiority fighter the Su-27 Flanker and has been in service since 2002. Flanker variants form the backbone of the Chinese fleet, including the Su-27, Su-30MKK and Su-30MK2 which are all considered less advanced than the MKI. 

China more recently began to field indigenous derivatives of the Flanker which are considered superior in terms of air to air performance, however, including the J-11BG, J-15B and J-16, as well as the Su-35 which it acquired in small numbers from Russia as part of a technology transfer agreement. 

Japan’s primary fighter today is the F-15J Eagle, which first entered service in 1980 and of which around 200 are in service. The fighter was previously the undisputed top air superiority jet in East Asia, but has since seen its capabilities overtaken by more advanced F-15Ks in South Korea acquired over 20 years later, and by most Chinese fighters in service today.

 Examples of some of China's top fighters include the J-10C, J-16 and J-20 which are all highly sophisticated with next-generation technologies. The Su-27 was developed specifically with countering F-15s in mind, and after the U.S. purchased Su-27s second hand from Belarus in the 1990s multiple American assessments concluded that it was, in fact, superior to the Eagle in the air to air combat. 

This applies far more to modernised Flanker variants such as the Su-30MKI, and particularly to China’s new J-16 which has a similar twin-seat configuration and multirole orientation, but benefits from more next-generation technologies including AESA radars, AESA guided PL-15 missiles and stealth coatings. Indian and Russian other Flanker derivatives do not have these technologies. 

Japan’s F-15s have seen little modernisation since the Cold War, and while a portion of the fleet has been modified to deploy modern AIM-120 air to air missiles, much of it still use obsolete AIM-7 missiles with only semi-active radar guidance and obsolete electronic warfare countermeasures which pose little threat to modern fighters at range. 

Japan’s F-15s will not be the first Eagles Indian Su-30MKIs have exercised against, and previous mock combat with American F-15s saw the Flankers win overwhelmingly. A similar outcome is expected in the case of mock air battles with Japanese fighters. 

While India is unlikely to face an adversary which uses F-15s, experience operating against the Su-30 could be beneficial for Japan not only against China but also against neighbouring Russia with which it has an ongoing territorial dispute. The Russian Air Force relies heavily on the Su-30SM, which is derived directly from the Su-30MKI, as well as other Flanker variants to guard its eastern regions. With India seeking to maintain positive ties with Moscow, and to a large extent with Beijing as well, it remains to be seen how much access to the Su-30 and its specifications and performance limitations India will be willing to disclose to Japan or its Western allies. 

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