F-15 vs SU-30: Which Fighter Jet Reigns Supreme in Performance and Capabilities?

When it comes to fighter jets, there are few names that command as much respect and awe as the F-15 and the SU-30. Both aircraft are renowned for their impressive performance and capabilities, and have been deployed by militaries all around the world. But which one truly reigns supreme? In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the F-15 and the SU-30, comparing their key features, strengths, and weaknesses to determine which fighter jet is the ultimate winner. Whether you’re an aviation enthusiast, a military buff, or simply curious about the world of fighter jets, this article is sure to provide you with some fascinating insights and information. So buckle up and get ready to explore the exciting world of aerial combat!

The F-15E and the Su-30 are more similar than you think, one started as a Striker and is now a benchmark of do everything fighters, the other started off an interceptor and is also a benchmark for a do everything fighter that is not American. The Eagle has scored over a 100 air to air kills in its career to no losses in air combat of its own and the Striker variant brings all that along with updated A2G suites to utilise the massive ordnance hauling capabilities of the airframe. The second crew member also allowed for longer sorties with complex missions where both A2A and A2G has to be done simultaneously.


The Flanker also started off as a single seater Su-27 but Soviet troubles in ensuring air space integrity meant more than one platforms were needed to maintain round the clock vigil. The twin seat Su-30 allowed the operators to add more roles like Strike and SEAD, again to better use the enormous potential of the enormous airframe.

You might wonder, why is the comparison not being done to the Su-34? Both are twin seat, check! Both are air superiority fighters modified for Strike? Check! The idea here is that the Su-34 is more of a purpose built striker and has lost its A2A capabilities on the way. The Russians dont use the Su-34 for A2A roles at all and its role in-fleet is to steadily replace the Su-24s. The F-15E however serves both A2A and A2G roles in the USAF, at times within the same mission. Ironically, F-15EX is being purchased to replace all A2A only F-15Cs.

Design & Capabilities: A Closer Look at Each Aircraft


The F-15C needs no introduction, it built on the reputation and the capabilities of its predecessor the F-15A with more fuel, a better radar + sensor suite and provisions for Conformal Fuel Tanks. The thing missing here is that the pilot needs to aviate first as in the fly the jet, there are only a few additional tasks they can do, so either A2G or A2A and not both together. Eagle is a big airframe so adding a second seat doesnt have a big effect on performance in the first place. Hence began internal studies in McDonnell Douglas to maximise the use cases for the jet at hand. The USAF kickstarted the Tactical All-Weather Requirement Study in the late 1970s to study the future of its strike fleet. The feedback for the F-15E, a paper plane then was positive and it was considered better than competing options like upgraded F-111Fs.

F-15E prototype showing what it does best, haul weapons!

To finalize this future fleet, the USAF kickstarted the Enhanced Tactical Fighter program, also called the Dual Role Fighter. It was competition between the F-15E prototypes and the F-16XL, an attempt to boost the payload and range curves of the relatively smaller F-16 with both aiming to replace the now venerable F-111s. Spoiler alert, the F-15E won which had a lot of simplicity going for it against the almost entirely new F-16XL planoform. Here is a list of the key advantages of the F-15E.

  • Minor changes like new instrumentation for the second seat on an in-production F-15D versus the entirely new planoform of the F-16XL.
  • Less risk associated with minor changes thus limited chance of cost overruns.
  • Dual engine redundancy of the F-15 versus single engine F-16XL.
  • Larger jet meant larger payload and range, needed for long range interdiction + room for future growth.

The F-16XL was no under-dog either given almost 40% increase in key performance parameters like range and upto 17 external hardpoints made it a tough competitor but existing fighter with minimal changes turned out to be a better option for the USAF, the option that still remains in production today.

F-16XL Hauling weapons!

The F-15E was thus selected and over 550 have been built/ordered with more being built as of 2022. It got the best of F-15C as in CFTs, newer engines, updated avionics and a custom display suite for the second seater that now served as the Weapon Systems Officer or WSO (I kinda prefer RIO tag more). The WSO retains flight controls to pitch in with flying on long missions or ferry flights and make training easier.

Su-30 Flanker

The Soviet air force had inducted the Su-27 in the mid 1980s. By the late 80s, it was clear that the new avionics suite was too much for a single pilot to handle. The jet had an impressive range of over 3200km which was under-used as it was well outside the endurance limits of a single pilot. On the other hand, the Soviet air space was massive and the Soviet air force was facing a hard time patrolling such a large area. A new interceptor with impressive endurance was needed to cover the massive air space. The Mikoyan bureau was building the MiG-31 which could scan large areas of the air space with its massive Zaslon PESA radar and Sukhoi, which had always played second fiddle to Mikoyan, wanted to develop an interceptor which suited the needs of the Soviet air force.


The MiG-31 with its massive radar and impressive array of weapons is a very potent interceptor.

The Soviet air force didn’t need a conventional interceptor, they wanted a jet with limited command and control facilities to regulate the counter offensive against an aerial assault. The requirement was put up as conventional AEWACs were large, costly and couldn’t be deployed to far off bases as easily as  fighters. Sukhoi chose Su-27UB as the base of this new interceptor/command post as it had all the qualities for the role. It was the most agile fighter of that era, sported large internal fuel tanks and an impressive payload. The new variant received company designation of T-10PU which gave rise to the unofficial designation Su-27PU.

Two Su-27UBs were converted to serve as proof of concept models. Their cockpits were totally revamped. Both the pilots could fly the jet or control its weapons alternatively. This allowed the pilots to rest during a sortie by exchanging their responsibilities as and when needed. It also received new navigation suites along with data links which improved its command and control capabilities. The jet officially entered service as the Su-30, very few samples were completed before the Soviet Union collapsed and all orders were cancelled.


One of the two Su-27PU prototypes.


One of the older Su-30s in RuAF service, note the single wheel nose gear. (Credits-On the pic)

After the Soviet Union collapsed, Sukhoi developed a new variant of the Su-30 which was externally similar to the older one but had some minute changes. The internal fuel capacity was increased, number of hardpoints was increased to 12, avionics suite was upgraded while uprated engines were added to maintain the performance. The front landing gear was modified to have 2 wheels instead of 1 to handle the increased weight of the aircraft.

Our other jet fighter articles:

MiG-29K: The Naval Fulcrum

A-10 Thunderbolt II vs Su-25 Frogfoot

LCA Tejas vs JF-17 Thunder

International Sales

F-15E Strike Eagle

Almost all F-15 operators returned to their Strikers but the F-15E sold well outside the regular operators too. The South Koreans have 130 or so jets in service of the F-15K standard which helped them build a lot of the components domestically. The Singapore air force has been very quiet about its purchases but they also have a sizeable fleet and always the Israeli have their custom F-15I variant with their local mystery sauce, I mean avionics.

The F-15E then went through a renaissance thanks to the Saudis and the Qataris. They helped develop the F-15SA, which solved a slight problem with much better results. The F-15Es and by extension all F-15s until the F-15SA were flying with an mechanical fly control system and not a true Fly By Wire. The Saudis got their F-15SA standard upgraded with an FBW and got wing structure improvements thus allowing the use of outboard weapons stations on the wings, one on each side. The Qataris got their F-15QAs with the same standard and the F-15EX is also based on the same standard.

F-15SA prototypes testing out the new FBW

The USAF still has a sizeable F-15C fleet to replace and it is banking on the F-15EX, also called Eagle II to help fill the numbers gap as F-35 fleets ramp up slightly slower than expected. USAF has made its intentions clear about upto 200 or so jets being procured to replace the ageing Eagles in service which is a monster buy for the 21st century. It is to be seen if other F-15E operators jump in to get some more F-15EX spec jets or upgrade their existing fleet to this standard.

Spot the differences!! Vanilla F-15E (right) vs F-15EX (left)

Su-30 Flanker

Sukhoi survived the last decade of the 20th century and the early 2000s due to the revival of the Su-30. After the Soviet Union collapsed, the domestic market had dried up. Both Sukhoi and Mikoyan offered advance variants of their jets to any country with the buck to buy them. During the Soviet rule, aircraft were heavily downgraded before export but Sukhoi now offered to customize the jet as per the requirements of the operator. They also allowed the operators to choose non-Russian systems for their jets, something no other country offered. For comparison, the Americans still don’t allow the operators of F-16s to modify them or use non-American systems (with some exceptions) on their jets.

Sukhoi thus survived the period after the collapse of the Soviet union by selling literally 100s of jets to several countries, most importantly by selling similar variants to two of the most populous countries on the planet ie India and China. India wanted a new fighter and had shortlisted Mirage 2000 and Su-30 for procurement. They had Mirages in their service and were happy with them but the Sukhoi was cheaper and the offer of customization made it attractive.

The Indians initially procured the basic Su-30K, a total 8 of them followed by 10 Su-30MK. These jets were bought to allow a smooth transition to the Su-30MKI and as a stop gap to make up for the delays in the MKI programme. This order also included 32 standard Su-30MKIs. India then signed a deal for manufacturing 140 Su-30MKIs domestically. This number first rose to 180 and then to 272. Meanwhile the older Su-30K and Su-30MK were withdrawn from service and returned to Russia. Angola bought these second hand jets whereas India bought 18 Su-30MKIs to replace them.


SB-016 is one the 10 Su-30MKs which served the IAF.

On the other hand, the Chinese procurement of Flankers started with the Su-27SK, 100s of which have been procured either off the shelf or from local production. This deal helped keep the Sukhoi bureau alive during the 1990s as it marked the first export of Flanker to a non-CIS state. This was followed by deals for the Su-30MKK and its improved version Su-30MK2. The number of jets procured is around 80 and it cannot be confirmed as different sources show different numbers. The Chinese have started producing copies of the Su-30MKK designated J-16 which can be a potential replacement for the older JH-7s.


Su-30MKK of the PLAAF with SAP-518 jamming pods, note the vertical stabilizer has horizontal top edge and the lack of canards.

Malaysia signed a contract for 18 Su-30MKMs with Irkut (the plant which produces Flankers derived from the Indian variant) in 2003. The Flanker had edged out Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet to win the Malaysian competition. The Algerians also ordered the Su-30 and their variant was designated as the Su-30MKA. They placed an initial order for 28 jets in 2006, followed by 16 which were bought in exchange of MiG-29SMTs which Algeria had returned. They have recently placed another order for 15 jets from Irkut. The Chinese variant manufactured by KnAAPO has been exported to Vietnam which operates 24 Su-30MK2Vs and has ordered 12 more. Venezuela also operates 12 Su-30MKVs while Uganda and Indonesia operate small numbers of the Chinese derivatives.


Su-30MKA of the Algerian air force.

The Russians have ordered Su-30s from both Irkut and KnAAPO ie Su-30SM and Su-30M2 respectively. They have ordered 60 Su-30SM (derivative of the Indian Flanker) for their air force and a further 20 for their naval aviation. The air force jets have been deployed to Syria and provide escort to the Russian bombers. They have ordered 24 Su-30M2s which are said to be the derivative of the Chinese Su-30. Kazakhstan joined the band wagon by ordering 4 Su-30SMs, the order will be followed by a much larger one.

Russian Su-30SMs returning from a sortie at the Russian base in Latakia, Syria.
© Dmitriy Vinogradov

Head to Head

Yes, I know you came here for a head to head comparison of the jets and not just their histories. Yes, the Su-27 family was designed as a response to the F-15 family and it retains the WVR maneuvering performance supremacy in the F-15E vs Su-30 series comparison. But does it matter? The F-15Es have AESA radars that make detection and target identification way easier at extended ranges compared to the Bars N011M seen on even the most advanced Su-30SMs. The other systems which are becoming more important in the current AD rich environment like presence of MAWS, DIRCM and more importantly their fleet wide presence is more common on the F-15s. The Russians do have great self protection SAP-518 jammers but the USAF will soon be fielding the Next Gen Jammer, already testing on the E/A-18G fleet.

Overall, while the Su-30s have more international customers and an advantage in A2A performance, the Eagle simply has better electronics which can sway the difference in A2A performance easily. It is to be seen how the Indians upgrade their Su-30MKIs with local AESA radars and the Chinese already claim presence of local AESAs on their J-16s and Su-30MKK fleets. The first party Su-30s thus lagg behind two of the biggest purchasers of the Su-30 in the capability domain.




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