Last year, Lt. Cmdr. Mike “MOB” Tremel became the first American pilot to shoot down an enemy aircraft in nearly twenty years, when he was forced to engage a Syrian flagged Su-22 that was dropping unguided bombs in the vicinity of American partnered Syrian Democratic Forces. This week, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions on that day.
“On June 18 at 6:43 p.m., a Syrian regime SU-22 military jet aircraft dropped bombs near Syrian Democratic Forces fighters south of Tabqah, Syria, and, in accordance with rules of engagement and in collective self-defense of coalition partnered forces, was immediately shot down by a U.S. F/A-18E Super Hornet aircraft.” The Pentagon explained in a press release that came out that day. Soon, details followed that conveyed the seriousness of the engagement. Tremel, flying a U.S. Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet, diverted to intercept the Syrian fighter, first firing its advanced AIM-9X air-to-air missile at that Russian-built fighter. The AIM-9x has been touted as among the best dog fighting weapons ever conceived, but in its first ever launch during combat operations, the advanced Sidewinder missile failed to find its mark.
The Navy’s workhorse F/A-18 Super Hornets and Syria’s Su-22s are, on paper, not too dissimilar. They both boast similar operational ranges and top speeds, and while the Super Hornet wins in terms of payload capacity, the Syrian jet has a higher operational ceiling. Looking at nothing but those details, one might be inclined to think the Navy pilot was in for a real fight — but reality is often found in nuance. Despite some similarities on paper, the Super Hornet is the far more capable fighter, and the Navy’s fighter pilots are among the very best in the world.
When the Su-22 deployed its flares, they managed to successfully confused the new missile, which had been developed specifically to engage other advanced fourth and fifth generation fighters. The Su-22, it turned out, used flares that were so poorly constructed that they lack any sort of consistency when deployed. The new weapon, designed to ignore the better constructed flares seen in most national militaries today, didn’t know what to make of the mess. Fortunately, Tremel also had a few “old school” weapons to pull from as well. He promptly switched to the radar-targeting AMRAAM missile, got a lock, and fired again. This time, the Syrian jet went down in flames.