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The Su-25 Frogfoot can out-accelerate any attack aircraft in the world and, with everything dropped from its multiple weapons stations, easily go through Mach 1...I know this from experience...I was the first Western pilot to fly the Su-25. Though its 30mm cannon is not nearly as lethal as the A-10's Gatling gun, it has similar armor protection and it can carry an impressive number of external stores.

The radars equipping Su-27s and MiG-29s are less capable than Western radars, but they are often left in stand-by (off but warmed up) and used only as backups for targeting. The Russians have continued to develop IRST (infrared search and tracking) systems, which the U.S. has left alone since the 1950s. This passive system can track a heat source much like a heat seeking missile without giving one's position away.

fighters flying in formationDuring the Cold War MiG-23 pilots next to the Warsaw Pact/NATO border practiced intercepting the E-3 AWACS and its fighter cover with a combination of radar warning receivers and IRST, both passive. Flying at low level in a line abreast formation of 12, they would fly up to the FEBA (forward edge of the battle area), pitch up and simulate the simultaneous launch of 24 radar sensing air-to-air anti-radiation missiles which could not be spotted until too late. Able to track the AWACS several times during patrols on the border, they were confident they could kill the E-3 and its F-15s over 50 miles away without being detected. The simplicity of this tactic is frightening, considering how much faith the West places in radar combat.

The last time we underestimated Russian technology and training...in the Vietnam War...we got our hats handed to us. We had the better weapons, radars, missiles and aircraft, but our kill-to-loss ratios were abysmal, totally unacceptable. Out of that war came the Navy Topgun and the Air Force Red Flag practice war and Aggressor squadrons, which improved training by leaps and bounds. Now, with our own budget cuts breathing down our necks, the Pentagon has opted to put most of the money in very high cost, high tech weapons systems while drawing down on flying time and training. The Aggressor squadrons have been deactivated. Red Flag is getting reduced and even the famous Topgun is getting looked at for the ax. Plain and simple, high technology has never won wars...if that were the case, Germany would have won World War II. Training and numbers win wars. Sure, there are some anomalies on the scope, but this dictum can rarely be contradicted.

Russian pilots walking acrsoss a runwyThe Russian Air Force faces even worse problems than we do, which means it cannot meet world class training and readiness standards. However, the resurgence of Russian nationalism and the nostalgia for communism's promise of at least basic subsistence is a volatile mixture. Who knows what could happen politically? If the will were there, the money could be rechanneled again into making Russia an armed camp. If training standards were brought back up and the infrastructure maintained, its aircraft could easily meet the challenge, just as they did during the Great Patriotic War (WWII). To count them out would be folly.



Jeffrey Ethell's father, Erv Ethell, a career USAF fighter pilot, began to teach him to fly at age eight. He soloed at 18 and had over 4,800 hours in over 210 different types of aircraft from World War I and World War II fighters to modern jets. During his years in college in the late 1960s he received several research grants from the National Air & Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution. Ethell wrote 60 books and over 1,000 magazine articles covering all aspects of aviation. He regularly wrote for and appeared in aviation documentaries on the Discovery Channel, A&E, PBS, Speedvision Network and others. An instructor, Jeff went full circle and taught two of his three children to fly and transitioned pilots into many ex-military warbird aircraft. He attempted to fly everything he wrote about and he had formed his own book publishing company, Widewing Publications. Ethell was killed on June 6, 1997 when the vintage P-38 "Lightning" fighter plane he was piloting crashed near Tillamook, Oregon; see "Remembering Jeffrey Ethell."

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