Cain Marko wrote:VIvS,
I view the Backfire almost purely in a maritime role - land attack is not the point although it has certain advantages in this area as well. THis is a Navy asset to sanitize the far corners of the IOR.
CM, few points here.
1. We've got only two hostile actors in the IOR. The PN & PLAN. For general MP duties, the P-8s & Bears are quite sufficient.
2. In wartime, the PN surface fleet isn't going to venture away from littoral waters. Only its subs will strike out to range.
3. The PLAN will be pre-positioned near Gwadar or will come steaming up the Malaccas. In either case, the Su-30MKIs have the range to deal with it. They'll be backed up by the IN's CBGs & sub squadrons.
4. If the PLAN is already operating west of the Malacca and chooses to avoid action and stay well south of the Equator, its fleet will be very hard to track. You could dispatch the Tu-22Ms and hope they can get lucky, but without any escorts they're more likely to get shot down by the PLANAF fighter screen.
In said role and in the context of providing teeth to the IN in quick response to the increased assertiveness and expansion of the PLAN in the IOR, I think this would be a cheap, assymetric and fast response.
You're talking about taking a
i) number of second hand aircraft,
ii) of a type with a history of serviceability issues,
iii) requiring a new maintenance/support chain,
iv) a new pipeline for trained aircrew & ground staff, and
v) extensive upgrades & modifications to get it upto spec,
vi) to do a job that could be done with a higher number of locally manufactured, multi-role fighter jets.
Hardly cheap or asymmetric.
P Butowski too suggests a range increase of between 15-45% for the M3 version over the older bird which had a range of about 5500km. This is without IFR, which can be reinstalled without much hassle since the plumbing exists and only the probe was removed due to SALT requirements. With IFR, the backfire is intercontinental.
This is simply out of the question for an MKI or even a Su-34.
Even with the best case range upgrades, the Chinese coast is just simply too far. Doable with IFR but then you'd just be adding the refuelers to the list of units operating without escorts. They'll be susceptible to detection all the way there flying over one of the most crowded areas for commercial traffic. Also, they'll be depriving the IAF units in the thick of the fight at the border/LC/LAC of precious IFR assets.
Within the SCS they'll be going in blind, thousands of km away from home, without any reliable intelligence and prey for with every Chinese Flanker/J-20 in the area operating on home turf. And even if the Backfires do manage to pull it off, catch the Chinese napping, and sink a couple of warships, it'll still be a one-off Doolittle-type mission that'll boost morale but barely change the equation in military terms. It'll be near impossible to do twice after the advantage of surprise is lost.
3) Flight profile and roles:
Land attack: While Low level penetration is a dangerous game especially in the context of land attack, it still remains a viable option especially when combined with long ranged stand off weapons. The curvature of the earth assures us of this. The backfire can do all the profiles of an MKI or Jag only with more payload and at longer range. SRSAMs have limitations - if not in the bubble of a larger SAM system they are susceptible to stand off weapons since their range is limited. So a lot would depend on whether they are positioned within or outside the envelope of the bigger SAM. If an ELINT asset can probe and find emitters, it can suggest a path for possible ingress or launch. But overall, I agree that this is a painful situation - no less for the backfire than it is for the MKI though. If the airspace is cleared and the enemy IAD is sufficiently degraded (say TSP vs India), the Backfire comes into its own in a "shock and awe" type show. A flight of 6 Tu-22s unloading 100000+ tons of iron bombs has to make more than just a physical impact on the enemy.
Several problems here I can see -
1. If you're going to use stand-off weaponry for land attack, you'd don't really need a large bomber to do it unless you're operating at very long ranges. A TEL-launched BrahMos will do just as well. Or a SCALP/JASSM/Nirbhay, either ground or air launched.
2. The curvature of the earth only blocks ground radar emissions. The radar horizon for an AWACS or fighter jet is several hundred km. And modern ESAs are very good at filtering out ground clutter. (Take a look at the high res SAR maps generated by modern AESAs for reference.)
3. SR-SAMs are susceptible to stand-off weaponry only if they can be located ahead in time. An aircraft in a lo-lo flight profile has very limited FoV. The curvature of earth means he too cannot see what lies ahead. And if he runs into a SAM/AAA site he'll have little to no reaction time. QR-SAMs are designed to be mobile and current intelligence on their positions may not be reliable. Also, AD systems based on IR/optical tracking will remain immune to ELINT ops.
4. Degrading the PLAAF IADS to the point where carpet bombing becomes an option is a tall order to put it mildly. And if you've done it, you're already well past the shock-and-awe stage. To invest in a weapon for the 'afterwards' is akin to putting the cart before the horse. We're better off investing in assets that can actually help degrade the enemy IADS.
Maritime attack: For maritime roles of course, this is not such an issue. The launch platform can stay well out of SAM range if dealing with surface combatants that are without air cover. And if in case of a CBG, your chances are a lot better with a large number of stand-off range launches, which is much more likely with a Backfire, especially if the targets are far out in the ocean (say 2000km). A P8 tailing a couple of frigates/destroyers at sea could guide a Backfire with 2 Bmos or 6 Kh-31s quite nicely and in short order compared to say 3 MKI and a refueller.
Its highly unlikely that we'll find a PLAN fleet operating in the IOR without carrier support. Problem here, like I said before, is tracking the CBG. Any MP aircraft, like the P-8, will likely run into PLANAF fighters before it can tag any capital ship. It'll be very hard to do without fighter support. Which brings us back to square one - if the Su-30MKIs are being used for fighter sweeps, they may as well be used as anti-shipping platforms too.
Send in a squadron MKIs to launch their Brahmos payloads from standoff ranges, follow-on through with 2 x Kh-31s. RTB. Refuel, rearm. Come back and mop up the remnants. RTB. Relocate to the north and join the main fight.