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SU-30 aircraft is a twin engine, twin seater, multi-role fighter that can simultaneously be operated as an intercepter, bomber and trainer. It is capable of attaining a maximum speed of two Mach with a maximum climb rate of 270 metres per second. The Su-30MK is equipped by the latest radars designed by Indian specialists and with the Akash air-to-air missile. The Sukhoi-30 can be modified into a naval version, if the Indian Government chose to deploy it on an aircraft carrier.

Codenamed `Flanker' by NATO, the twin-seat SU-30, a derivative of the Su-27, is a multi-role fighter bomber and air superiority aircraft which can also be used in the maritime strike role. The Flanker has and operational radius of around 1500 km, and are equipped with an inflight refuelling facility extending their radius by another 500 km.

The Mirage-2000-5 and the SU-30K were the two aircraft that were considered to be feasible alternatives to replace obsolescent aircraft that the Air Force planned to phase out. While both aircraft were still under development, the Mirage-2000-5 was designed ab initio as a multi-role aircraft with identified avionics systems and weaponry. The SU-30K on the other hand was designed only for an air defence role.

The Ministry selected the SU-30K on the grounds that after upgradation into a multi-role aircraft (to be designated SU-30MK) it would still be cheaper than the Mirage-2000-5 and also have superior capabilities in terms of range and the load delivery. It should be noted, however, that the relative superiority of the SU-30MK was based on assumptions that certain avionics systems which were only conceptualised at that stage, would be successfully designed/developed in India and others would be imported from Western sources and then integrated into the SU-30K in order to enhance its capabilities, from a purely air defence role to multi-role capabilities.

The shortcomings of the SU-30K arose from the fact that it was designed and optimised for an air defence role. Their electronic warfare system was unsuitable to meet the Indian threat environment and the radar performance was below expectation. The navigation system lacked accuracy, very limited capability existed for accurate weapon delivery and weapon system controls were poorly integrated. Although, the aircraft was capable of a large weapon load, the air to ground armament did not include any precision guided munitions, a key requirement during the Kargil Operation.

On account of the large size and range of the aircraft, it was difficult for the aircraft to survive against threat of modern air defence weapon systems unless its avionics, radar and electronic warfare systems were upgraded and well integrated.

The Su-30MKI version was designed for India. The forward facing NIIP N011M Bars (Panther) is a powerful integrated Passive Electronically Scanned Array [PESA] radar. The N011M is a digital multi-mode dual frequency band radar. The N011M can function in air-to-air and air-to-land/sea mode simultaneously while being tied into a high-precision laser-inertial or GPS navigation system. It is equipped with a modern digital weapons control system as well as anti-jamming features. N011M has a 350 km search range and a maximum 200 km tracking range, and 60 km in the rear hemisphere. The radar can track 15 air targets and engage the 4 most dangerous simultaneously. These targets can even include cruise missiles and motionless helicopters. The Su-30MKI can function as a mini-AWACS as a director or command post for other aircraft. The target co-ordinates can be transferred automatically to at least 4 other aircraft. The radar can detect ground targets such as tanks at 40-50 km. It is speculated that the passive phased array Radar Irbis-E may be added to the fighter jet by 2010, when the first totally Indian-built Su-30MKI will roll out from HAL Nasik.

Cope India 2004 caused uproar inside DoD and in Washington. The IAF did not fly its top-end Su-30MKI aircrafts, instead the older un-upgraded Su-30MKs and Su-30Ks. The Cope India exercises seemed to reflect badly on the US F-15 and F-16 fighters when facing the Su-30. Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-CA) said in a Feb. 26 House Appropriations defense subcommittee hearing that U.S. F-15Cs were defeated more than 90 percent of the time in direct combat exercises against the IAF. But according to Aviation Week and Space Technology, [April 10, 2004] "Two major factors stand out: None of the six 3rd Wing F-15Cs was equipped with the newest long-range, active electronically scanned array (AESA) radars. These Raytheon APG-63(V)2 radars were designed to find small and stealthy targets. At India's request, the U.S. agreed to mock combat at 3-to-1 odds and without the use of simulated long-range, radar-guided AIM-120 Amraams that even the odds with beyond-visual-range kills."

In the Red Flag 2008 exercise, the F-15 and F-16 "dominated" the Su-30. The Su-30 doesn't begin to approach the F-22 Raptor, and the upgraded F-15C Eagles with AESA radar may also prove superior. In the Red Flag 2008 jamming between aircraft nullified radar-guided missiles and allowed the aircraft to come into the merge. The Indians tried to use their "air show tricks", but the US pilots used the tactics they had developed to move in behind the Flankers when they started "sinking" and to quote a pilot, "drill their brains out with guns".

The first indigenously built Sukhoi SU-30MKI was inducted into the Air Force in March 2005. The aircraft assembled at Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, Ozhar near Nashik rolled out in November 2004. It was the first of the 140 aircraft proposed to be built in India under Russian license. In 2006 the Government asked Hindustan Aeronautics Limited to step up production of Su-30 from 8 to 12 aircraft per year and deliver all the 140 Sukhois in 2014, four years ahead of the original 2018 deadline. As of 2008 India had about 48 Su-30 aircraft on hand. A production rate of 12 aircraft per year over six years would another 72 aircraft, for a total of about 120 aircraft, roughly the 140 aircraft projected in 2006, more or less. In October 2008 Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal, Fali Homi Major assured that a total of 230 of the platforms would join the fleet by 2014, with Hindustan Aeronautical Limited (HAL) trying to speed up licensed production of the aircraft. As of early 2009 India intended to manufacture a minimum of 140 Su-30MKI fighters by 2014 under a Russian license with full technology transfer rights, enough for roughly 8 squadrons, each of 16 combat aircraft and 2 trainers. While a total of 230 aircraft are expected to be in service by the year 2020, HAL would have to increase the annual production rate from 12 aircraft per year to 24 per year, and there is no indication that this ramp up has in fact happened.

On 24 December 2012, India and Russia sealed defense deals worth billions of dollars during a visit by the Russian president, in a move which reaffirms the long-standing strategic alliance between the two countries. Calling Russia a key partner in the effort to modernize India's armed forces, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced the deal to buy kits to assemble 42 Su-30MKI Sukhoi fighter jets worth $1.6 billion, and almost 1,000 AL-31 warplane engines to be delivered through 2030. The Protocol-II on licensed manufacturing of additional 42 SU-30MKI aircraft units was signed during annual summit in 2011. This new current contract is a follow up to this protocol. The IAF planned to procure around 272 Su-30MKIs [other sources discuss a goal of 280], and prior to the 2012 contract orders for 230 aircraft had already been placed. As of 2012 about 150-170 Su-30MKI had been inducted into active service.

The IAF planned is to upgrade the first 80 Su-30MKIs to the level 'Super Sukhois' with highly advanced radars and weapon systems. The plan calls for equipping the aircraft with long-range stand-off missiles with a range of 300 km. A request for information (ROI) was issued in late 2012 for procuring such a weapon system from global vendors. These new missiles with a range around 300 kms would be in addition to the 290-km range BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles which would be carried by some 50 aircraft of the force.

The fleet of almost 200 Russian-designed twin-engine jets, which constitutes "virtually the backbone" of the IAF, was temporarily suspended from flying after two pilots ejected from the aircraft as they approached a military aerodrome in southeastern India for landing on 14 October 2014. Both landed safely without injuries. The month-long suspension was the longest grounding of Sukhoi fighters since 2009. The Indian Air Force and Hindustan Aeronautics were joined by Russian experts to evaluate the fleet's condition before declaring it operational.

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