The J-10 is the first Chinese-developed combat aircraft that approaches Western fighters in terms of performance. Credit: National Interest.

I wouldn’t exactly call it “TOP GUN” school, but Chinese fighter pilots are learning valuable dog-fighting techniques by taking on “hostile” jet fighters in mock combat.

According to China Central Television (CCTV), in a session at dusk, a J-10 and a Su-30 took off from an airfield in East China’s Zhejiang Province, and engaged a “bad guy” fighter jet group consisting of two J-10s in a mock air battle.

The naval version of J-10 used by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy in the exercises was also found to be upgraded with advanced avionics systems and China’s most advanced close-range combat missiles, The Global Times reported.

The naval aviation brigade attached to the PLA Eastern Theater Command held the aerial combat exercises with different types of fighter jets, instead of using only one type of fighter jet like in the past, CCTV said.

It’s believed that jousting with different fighter jets, pilots get to understand the weapon and radar capabilities of their teammates’ aircraft in addition to their own.

The J-10 is good at mid-range combat and the grasp of the battlefield situation, while the Su-30 has an upper hand in short-range combat. The combination of the two can bring combat capabilities to a next level, Global Times reported.

This type of mixed mock combat can also be used to better simulate potentially hostile aircraft, Fu Qianshao, a Chinese military aviation expert, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

Fu said the J-10 is similar to the likes of the US-made F-16 and F/A-18 and France-made Rafale in terms of aerodynamics and mobility, while the Su-30 can play the heavy fighter role like that of the US F-15.

At the biennial air show in Zhuhai in early November 2018, a J-10B fitted with a thrust-vectoring engine demonstrated the cobra maneuver. Credit: China Daily.

With these kind of mock battles, the pilots could figure out many tactics that could be used by the enemies, Fu said, noting that other types of warplanes, including early warning aircraft and electronic warfare aircraft, could also join mock battles, Global Times reported.

Meanwhile, The US maintains a very capable “aggressor squadron” with top-notch combat fighter pilots for exactly the same reasons.

According to The War Zone, they are considered to be vital training assets that keep operational squadrons sharp, at the tip of the spear, and ready for whatever threats may come their way.

Aggressor forces, often decked out in exotic paint schemes, include systems and skilled operators that offer realistic airborne presentations of potential enemy equipment, tactics, and techniques to expose front line aviators to the kind of engagements they could meet in real-world aerial combat.

In the Korean War, USAF pilots achieved a 10:1 kill ratio over North Korean and Chinese adversaries, but by the Vietnam War, this dwindled. By 1968, the kill ratio was an appalling 2.5:1. 

According to the USN, after the establishment of the US Navy’s TOPGUN school — now based at Naval Air Station Fallon in Nevada — the results were dramatic.

The Navy kill-to-loss ratio against the North Vietnamese Air Force MiGs soared from 2.42:1 to 12.5:1, while the Air Force, which had not implemented a similar training program, actually had its kill ratio worsen.

F-16 and F-15 jet fighters of the ‘bad guy’ aggressor fighter group. Credit: The War Zone.

The USAF now operates a similar program at Nellis Air Force Base known as “The Home of the Fighter Pilot,” where it operates “Red Flag” exercises. It is also the home of the USAF’s aggressor forces, War Zone reported.

According to experts, the key to a realistic aggressor squadron is getting into
the head of “the real aggressor.”

Learning how the system operates and how the pilot operates in that particular system — so there’s as much emphasis on trying to look inside the mind of the enemy pilot.

What caliber of person they’re recruiting to fly that asset, the background those pilots are from, what they flew before and experiences they’re likely to have had, where they’ve been based, what operational scenarios they are trained to.

For instance, US fighter pilots would be very interested in knowing how China’s J-10B fighter, and its innovative thrust vectoring system, operate. When a jet fighter like the J-10B can stop on a dime, it’s time to wake up and take note.

Sources: China Central Television, The Global Times, The War Zone, Wikipedia, Time magazine