|Raytheon AIM-9X Sidewinder|
The Su-22 was eventually brought down using a radar-guided AIM-120 AMRAAM (a missile which has its own issues). The outcome of this aerial combat was never really in doubt, but how did the AIM-9X possibly miss in the first place?
Most Su-17s and Su-22s around the world have been retired. Syria is one of its last active users. The type is mostly obsolete.
Details have been scant on the actual configuration of the F/A-18E that recorded its first air-to-air victory for the type. It seems unlikely, but possible that the belly-tank mounted IRST was outfitted. That particular equipment is scheduled for deployment this year. It was almost certainly outfitted with an AESA radar, however.
While some would argue that the Super Hornet may not be as dynamic as its contemporaries, it is well beyond the capabilities of Su-22. Any engagement between the two could not be considered a fair fight. The Super Hornet is faster, more agile, and has sensors and weapons decades more advanced than the Su-22.
And yet it missed its first shot.
It is thought that the Su-22 eluded the AIM-9X using simple flares. This is not new. A MiG-21 with a flare dispenser from a Su-25 "Frogfoot" was able to confound the AIM-9P missile when tested in the 80s. It would seem that American-built Sidewinders are programmed to reject American-build flares. Russian-sourced flares are built with far less consistency regarding temperature and burn time.
Apparently, this lesson has yet to sink in.
For years, the predominating strategy in aerial combat has been the emphasis on "First sight. First shot. First kill. This latest incident raises a serious question regarding this strategy: "What happens if the first shot misses?"
In this case, the Super Hornet had little to fear, being able to both outfly and outrun the Su-22. It was still in danger of falling victim to a lucky shot from the Su-22... On a bad day.
Imagine, if you will, that Super Hornet encountering a different adversary.
|Su-35... Not as easy pickings as an Su-22.|
Unlike the Su-22, the Su-35 is more than a match for the Super Hornet. It is faster, more maneuverable, and carries a substantially more lethal armament. Upon missing with its AIM-9X, the F/A-18E would not be able to lazily reposition itself for a follow-up shot. It would instead find itself fighting for its life. Ideally, the preferable tactic would be to wait for back-up, but that would allow the Su-35 time to strike additional targets or to simply bug-out.
One could argue that the Super Hornet could prevail in combat with Flanker (better radar, etc) but that is not the point. As the saying goes "If you find yourself in a fair fight, your tactics suck."
It was thanks to this hubris that early variants of the F-4 Phantom II flew without a cannon. Why bother with all that dogfighting nonsense when you could simply let the missile do all the work? This design decision that proved disastrous over the skies of Vietnam.
It would seem that after all these years, the lesson has yet to be learned.
Simply put, missiles are fallible. While they may have become increasingly advanced over the years, so have countermeasures. While the idea of "first sight, first shot, first kill" is certainly a sound strategy, it is not a guarantee of victory.