The Su-30SM advanced Flanker is getting a lot of press lately as it provides counter-air coverage for Russia’s forward-operating air base near Latakia in Syria. Now Russia is showing off the jet’s most simplistic of weapons, its fire-breathing 30mm cannon.
Check out the video below.
Whereas American fighter aircraft have traditionally been fitted with the six barreled M61 Vulcan 20mm cannon, which possesses buzz saw-like rates of fire (around 6,000 rounds per minute), the Russians have elected to fit their fighters with simpler cannons that fire larger cartridges but at far slower rates. They also have smaller ammunition capacities and often just one barrel. Although they may have less volume of fire, if one of their big rounds hits another aircraft, it would most likely shatter it.
The relatively simple and compact but hard hitting GSh-30-1 cannon:
The Su-30 carries the single-barreled Gryazev-Shipunov GSh-30-1 cannon, which fires a 30X165mm cartridge at around 1,500 to 1,800 rounds per minute. The big fighter carries just 150 of these rounds. In comparison, the A-10 Warthog’s mighty GAU-8 Avenger cannon also fires 30mm rounds, although they have dimensions of 30×173mm. Larger, and clearly harder hitting, but not too far off from the GSh-30-1 cartridge. The 20mm M61 Vulcan found in so many western aircraft fires the comparatively puny 20×102 mm cartridge.
M61A2 Vulcan cannon in F/A-18 Hornet configuration:
In the end, it comes down to philosophy. The Russians, even through their most popular modern-fighter designs have incredible dog-fighting capabilities, pack guns that seem more at home shooting down large aircraft, like bombers, or even strafing ground targets, than taking on throngs of enemy fighters.
At its slowest rate of fire, the Su-30 has about six seconds of trigger time. In comparison, the F-15C, with its large magazine capacity of 940 20mm rounds, has about nine and a half seconds of trigger time. The F/A-18 Super Hornet, which also uses the M61 just in a lighter weight “A2” configuration, holds 578 rounds, giving its pilot about six seconds of trigger time at the gun’s highest rate of fire.
Because of the GSh-30-1’s slow rate of fire, for the brief moment the Flanker may have an enemy aircraft in its sights, fewer rounds are likely to impact the target than say a fighter firing a M61 Vulcan cannon, which has a rate of fire of almost four times that of the GSh-31-1. Although, the Vulcan’s rounds will each do less damage assuming they strike in the same spot as the GSh-30-1’s more deadly rounds.
Either way, the result would not be pretty. The M61 will saw a jet in half, the GSh-30-1 will punch large holes in it.
Recently, the U.S. has slid towards somewhere in the middle of these two fighter cannon philosophies, choosing a modified four-barrel version of the GAU-12 25mm Equalizer cannon for the F-35. This cannon is designated the GAU-22.
The F-35’s GAU-22 features lower rates of fire (around 3,300 rounds per minute) and less ammunition capacity when compared with previous American fighters armed with the M61 Vulcan. As such, the GAU-22’s 25mm round is more devastating than the 20mm, but because the gun still has a fairly high rate of fire compared to say the Su-30’s cannon, the F-35A’s 181 round magazine runs dry in just a few trigger pulls, or in just over three seconds of continuous fire.
This is the GAU-22 firing on the test stand:
Regardless of who has the right idea when it comes to fighter cannons, watching and hearing the Su-30SM firing its gun is a fairly terrifying and violent experience and you sure would not want to end up in its crosshairs.
Contact the author Tyler@Jalopnik.com
Photo credits: M61 Vulcan Fhrx/wikicommons, GSH-30-1 public domain/wikicommons.