American F/A-18E/F Super Hornet vs. Russian Su-30 Flanker C/G/H


We will try to compare them on different indicators so that together (we as authors and you as readers) do not find the answer to the question – which of the two fighters is better and is there a winner at all. When we compare very close and similar products, especially in the field of military affairs, small details are the key to finding the right answer. Let’s start!

Characteristics by which both fighters are similar

Before we find the differences, let’s show the similarities between the two fighters. The American Super Hornet and the Russian Flanker are twin-engine fighters and with the possibility of having two people in the crew, or – two-seater fighters. Both fighter jets began production only 12 months later, the American Hornet in 1997 and the Russian machine in 1998.

Here we can safely put the financial side in the unification, as the difference between the two fighters against the background of the whole market is not large, and in this case when choosing a purchase would not matter much which of the two to be bought. Ie The Su-30 in its base model costs about $ 70 million, while its American competitor costs $ 10 million more ($ 80 million).

Their standard speed according to technical documents is also quite close – 2.00 Mach for Su-30 and 1.85 Mach for F-18 Super Hornet. Their wingspan is also within acceptable limits, with the wingspan of the Russian fighter being 14.7 meters, while the Hornet’s is 13.7 meters, which automatically makes it approximately similar and their area measured in square meters. Another characteristic by which they are similar is the maximum take-off weight which is in the range of 29,937 kg – 30,450 kg. (Hornet – Flanker). As a similar feature we can take the service ceiling of the two fighters, as it is 16 km in the F-18 Super Hornet and 17 km. at the Su-30 Flanker.

Now it’s time to find out how these two fighters differ.


The radar system is the heart of a fighter. Years ago, the US Air Force used the APG-73 as the main radar for the F-18 and F-15. However, this has already changed and the American Super Hornet is loaded with the latest and most modern radar known to military experts in recent years, namely AN / APG-79 Active. What is typical for this type of radar? It has a target detection range of up to 150 km, and it tracks not just a single target, but several at once. Its structural design includes a semiconductor antenna, for greater reliability and correspondingly lower operating costs of the entire radar system. We must note the instantaneous interaction between radar and fighter / pilot, ie. the beam scanning and returning the information back to the pilot is done instantly, as well as tracking traces of enemy targets and instantly updating older data.

The information transfer modules, which are structural units of the system, are made of monolithic microwave integrated circuits with gallium arsenide. The conclusion from all this is the following – the pilot can shoot simultaneously with several weapons on several targets located in azimuth.

American F/A-18E/F Super Hortnet vs. Russian Su-30 Flanker C/G/H
AESA radar of F-18 Super Hornet | Photo credit: Wikipedia

Russian engineers use radars from the BARS family. In our case, the radar of the Russian fighter is model NIIP N011M BARS. What you need to know in this case are not the detailed technical characteristics of this Russian radar, but what distinguishes it from the American AN / APG-79 Active.

The American radar is based on AESA technology, while the Russian one is closer to PESA radars. PESA radar differs from AESA radars in the accuracy of information transmission. The main feature of PESA radars is their disadvantage – they are fast in data processing, but this speed does not transmit precisely and accurately, as this technology uses wide beams. While AESA radars return very precise and accurate information. Another disadvantage is the size of the Russian BARS radar – it has large and heavy radar sensors, which is often a problem in cooling the entire system.

This is again due to the difference between PESA and AESA radars. In PESA radars, information passes through a single central point, which concentrates energy and load right there, leading to faster overheating. AESA radars do not concentrate the information passing through one point, but through several.

In terms of range of detection and localization of targets, the Russian radar also detects and works with dozens of targets simultaneously, and has a similar maximum range for their detection.

American F/A-18E/F Super Hortnet vs. Russian Su-30 Flanker C/G/H
Photo Credit: Radausa


Both fighters are armed with similar characteristics and functionality of weapons – different types of missiles (air-to-air, air-to-ground), bombs, electronic warfare systems, missiles and others. In reality, in order to find a difference between the Su-30 and the F-18, we need to get acquainted in more detail with the basic cannon used in direct air combat.

The F-18 Super Hornet is armed with a M61A1 Vulcan cannon. This is a 20 mm ladle that weighs between 96 and 112 kg. depending on the volume of the fire rotation system, which can work with two types of loading of the cannon.

On the other hand, the Russian Su-30 Flanker is armed with a Gryazev-Shipunov GSh-30-1, which weighs only 46 kg, but unlike its American competitor, this gun is 30 mm.

Contrary to the logic in the development of the two fighters, their functionality contradicts. Assuming that Russian fighters are almost always better in close combat, the Russian cannon fires fewer shots per second than the American. I.e. The Russian GSh-30-1 cannon has a Muzzle velocity of 900 m / s, while the American Vulcan has 1,050 m / s. At the same time, it turns out that the Russian cannon is more effective and accurate in long-range air combat, where its effective firing range is 1800 m, while the American Vulcan has the most effective shot at 600-700 m. is two and a half times less than the Russian competitor.

Ie the American fighter will be more effective if it hits its air target in close combat, while the Russian Su-30 will be more effective if it does not allow close combat and can do its job before it even starts.


We are in a territory long reserved for Russian fighters. There is currently no fighter in the world that can beat any Russian fighter in terms of maneuverability. Is that the case? Yes, and let’s find out why.

From the very beginning we mentioned that these two fighters are twin-engine and develop almost identical base speeds. The difference in this case comes from the thrust of the two engines. And although the difference in thrust between the two fighters is also small, this small difference, however, determines the existing difference in the thrust of the engine. The Russian engine has a traction force of one engine of 123 kN, which for both engines is 246 kN in total, while the F-18 has 97 kN for each engine, or a total of 194 kN for both engines. Thus expressed in common units, the difference is in favor of the Russian fighter with exactly 52 kN.

One kilonewton, 1 kN, is equivalent to 100 kg of load under Earth’s gravity or these 52 kN will maintain a safe load of 5,200 kg. And the difference in weight between the F-18 and Su-30 is less than those 5,200 kg. (2,800 kg remain “hanging” in favor of the Russian Su-30).

I.e. the Russian fighter has a total thrust of the engines for an additional 2,800 kg, which is actually missing and allows the fighter to be more maneuverable than its American competitor, although it is heavier than F-18 Super Hornet.


As we said at the beginning, it is very difficult to compare two fighters similar in functionality and similar characteristics. We have seen that each of the two fighters has its advantage in specific areas.

The F-18 Super Hornet has a better radar that can accurately detect and mark not one but dozens of targets. The Su-30 is more maneuverable and can easily escape the Hornet’s M61A1 Vulcan cannon.

On the other hand, the Russian fighter can hit an F-18 even before a close battle has taken place, because of its cannon, which is more accurate and effective at nearly a kilometer and a half.

That is why it is impossible to say whether the F-18 Super Hornet takes a ride over the Su-30 Flanker, or vice versa. What has become clear, however, is that if the two fighters face each other in an air battle, the only ones who can resolve the dispute between them will be the pilots, not the equipment, because it is perfect!

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