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Su-30MKI [India] Program

The Russian Su-30MKI fighter is the backbone of the Indian Air Force. In the 2000s, a contract was signed between Sukhoi and Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) for the assembly of 140 aircraft of this type. The Indian military received the first machine in 2004. In total, direct purchase and licensed assembly of the Indian Air Force was to include 272 Su-30MKI aircraft. By May 2018 licensed assembly was nearing completion, and the manufacturer of these aircraft, HAL, proposed to its Ministry of Defense to build another 40 fighters, the cost of which would be approximately $ 2.5 billion. If the Ministry of Defense accepted the HAL proposal, the number of Russian Su-30MKI fighters would be increased from the planned 272 to 312.

By 2017, the Indian Air Force had 230 Su-30MKI in service. Prior to 2018, the Indian Air Force planned to adopt another 42 Su-30MKI. Minister of Defence of India Mannohar Parrikar informed 15 February 2017 that "as a result of active tripartite dialogue between Russia, the state corporation HAL and the Indian Air Force, significant progress in preparing to fly Su-30MKI has been made in recent years." "By providing better availability of spare parts and maintenance for these fighters maximum operational availability of machines ready to work rose from the recent 46 to 60%, and will reach the level of 75% in the coming periods," - he said. As the source said in the Defense Ministry of India, "it is this qualitative leap has led to a renewal plan to modernize fighter version of the" Super Sukhoi", as Russia has requested the Indian side."

In 2002 the first Russian-made Sukhoi-30MKI variant was accepted into the IAF while in 2004 the first indigenously assembled Su-30MKI entered service. The IAF signed a contract initially for 272 Sukhoi-30 MKI fighter aircraft to form 13 squadrons. The delivery of Sukhoi-30 MKI will continue till 2030, resulting in equipping 3 more squadron in the next four to five years. The IAF required at least 45 fighter squadrons to counter a two front collusive threat against Pakistan and China. The IAF by 2015 had 35 active fighter squadrons as against a Government authorized strength of 42 squadrons.

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 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.

Audit observed (February 2011) from the report of ASTE that certain systems and modes of operation such as air to air/air to ground operation of the radars, Electronic Counter Counter Measures (ECCM) functionalities, group action and air to ground bombing modes had not met the contractual specifications, which substantially reduced the effective utilization of the aircraft in its intended role. In response to audit observation (February 2011) Air HQ stated (March 2011) that the radar and weapon modes had been addressed by the OEM in the 11-I update of the aircraft, trials for which were planned (February 2011) by IAF for evaluating efficacy and completeness of software for envisaged role.

The Su-30 is a super maneuverable aircraft with an inherently unstable platform. Therefore it requires a FBW flight control system for stable flight. Fly-by-wire (FBW) is a system that replaces the conventional manual flight controls of an aircraft with an electronic interface and allows automatic signals sent by the aircraft computers to perform functions without the pilot's input, as in systems that automatically help stabilize the aircraft.

Audit observed (February 2011) from the reliability study report (December 2009) that 31 aircraft (15 OEM manufactured and 16 HAL manufactured) were grounded since induction in 2007 to November 2009 (160 days in respect of HAL manufactured aircraft and 75 days OEM manufactured) due to 111 FBW snags (33 snags on OEM manufactured aircraft and 78 snags on HAL manufactured aircraft). The report (December 2009) attributed the down time of aircraft to quality of OEM supplied aircraft being better than those supplied by HAL; lower levels of expertise of IAF technicians as compared to the OEM technicians; non-availability of adequate publications and test equipment; and limited knowledge on FBW system by maintenance personnel.

The Parliamentary Committee on Defence noted in May 2015 that the Sukhoi-30MKI did not have protection of hardened shelters in air bases which would save them from direct hits of bombs in the event of a war. The report, which was submitted in parliament, said that “the Committee are concerned to find that our air force is already short of planes and worse than that hardened shelters are not available for even the limited numbers of aircraft that is available with the Service”.

The IAF informed the committee in oral evidence that the aircraft are deprived of hardened shelters because the Sukhoi-30 MKI cannot be fit into the existing ones because of their large size. “It is a much bigger aircraft. Therefore some New Generation Hardened Aircraft Shelter (NGHAS) has to be made in which not only a SU-30 can fit but also servicing, loading of weapons and maintenance activities can be done inside the shelter,” the committee was informed. The committee members were also informed by representatives of the MoD that the NGHAS “is a large project and it costs thousands of crores of rupees”. It was further informed that NGHAS are specialised structures and “are designed to save a Sukhoi-30 MKI aircraft from direct hit of 2000 lbs bomb”.

Flying task for each type of aircraft is fixed by the Ministry and prescribed in the policy pages of the squadrons. As per these norms the serviceability67 of aircraft should be maintained at 75 percent. The Comptroller and Auditor General published a report in Dcember 2015, according to which of the 210 Su-30MKI fighters, delivered over the past 13 years in India, more than 115 were not suitable for full flights, or not workable. As against the prescribed norm of 75 percent, average serviceability of the fighter fleet ranged between 55.50 and 59.73 per cent and AOG of the fleet ranged from 10.90 to 15.32 per cent respectively during the years 2006 and 2010 at six operating units.

Air HQ stated (March 2011) that reason for low serviceability was mainly non-availability of repair facilities at HAL divisions leading to long repair cycle, as Cat ‘D’ aggregates were being sent to OEM for repair. Due to low serviceability, the required number of aircraft was not in a ready to fly condition, adversely affecting their availability to the squadrons for use for the assigned task of Air Defense. Among the reasons that that been attributed for the problem were that the Sukhoi-30 MKI had been “parked outside in hot conditions”. The relative state of readiness was only 60% of the existing armed India's Su-30MKI.

Since 2002, the Indian Air Force lost 6 fighters due to technical problems. In five years between 2004-05 and 2008-09, the Su-30MKI fleet could not achieve even 50 per cent of its task. In one year (2005-06), only 31 per cent of the tasks was completed whereas in other years only 40 per cent of the jobs were achieved. The defence ministry accepted low "operational utilisation" and "low serviceability" of the aircraft that is the mainstay of the IAF. Large numbers of Su-30MKI are flying with a deficient radar warning receiver, compromising the survivability of the aircraft. In addition, the fly-by-wire system has poor "reliability index" adversely affecting the stability, controllability, flight safety and flight control of these jets.

CAG report points out that the first service center for Su-30 MKI was set up eight years behind the schedule, even though supplying spares and maintenance always posed a big challenge. The planned second and third service centers were nowhere on the horizon.

Almost 19 years after the induction of Su-30MKI, the defence ministry was slow to approve the requisite human resources needed to have 11 squadrons of these fighter jets, straining the aircraft's performance. Out of 272 aircraft purchased from Russia, 204 jets were delivered to the IAF, which was flying 7 Su-30 MKI squadrons at the moment, based out of Pune, Bareilly, Tezpur, Chabua and Jodhpur. IAF planne to have Su-30 squadrons in Halwara and Sirsa as well.

India planned to raise the serviceability to about 70 percent by the end of 2016.

Russian SU-30 and indigenously manufactured SU-30MKI are not the same, hence, one to one comparison of cost may not be appropriate. The higher cost of indigenously manufactured SU-30MKI is due to following factors:-

  • Additional modifications are incorporated in the indigenous Su-30MKI to enhance the operational capability and to suit Indian Air Force (IAF) requirements.
  • Being a Transfer of Technology (ToT) programme, cost is involved towards payment of license fee to Russian side.
  • Owing to the low volume of production of Indian SU-30 MKI as compared to Russian SU-30, economies of scale come into play.
  • Import of raw materials and proprietary components from Russia involves dependency on Russian Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) for the offered kit costs, which are not proportionate with the kit contents.

However, indigenous manufacturing has created advanced skill sets in the country, a step towards self-reliance and will result in lower Life Cycle Cost and reduced dependency on OEM on repair & maintenance and faster turn-around time and quick support to IAF bases. Since the facilities are indigenously established, future production supplies is likely to be cheaper if new order for bulk production is placed on HAL. The Repair and Overhaul (ROH) capability of SU-30 MKI Aircraft has been enhanced at Nasik Division of HAL. The task of Brahmos Integration on SU-30 MKI will also be a gainful utilization of HAL’s skilled manpower.

With HAL offering in mid-2018 to price the additional Su-30s at just Rs 4.25 billion, the fighter will be barely one-third the cost of the Rafale. According to a Business Standard analysis, the Indian Air Force (IAF) is paying Rs 11.25 billion per Rafale, excluding the price of weapons and logistics. HAL Chairman T Suvarna Raju said: “We will offer a very competitive price. Since 2010, we have been delivering the Su-30 at Rs 4.25 billion. We can deliver another three squadrons at that same price.” So, the IAF will pay Rs 170 billion for 40 additional Su-30s. However, that would involve buying the fighters in ready-to-assemble kits from Russia and putting them together in Nashik. “HAL has already absorbed the technology for building and supporting the Su-30s. Now, the aim is to build those three new squadrons as quickly, and as cheaply, as possible,” said Raju. “We are required to modify 40-odd Su-30s to carry the BrahMos ALCM. Instead of upgrading older fighters, with a shorter residual lifespan, it would be better to build three more squadrons of Sukhois with the capability to carry BrahMos missiles,” said Raju.

For procurement of total 222 Su-30 MKI Aircraft under license production for Indian Air Force (IAF), by November 2019 six contracts had been signed by the Govt. of India with HAL based on the Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) inked between India and Russia. By 2020 Delhi had already acquired around 200 jets, and eventually planned to acquire 282 of them. A total of 42 Su 30MKI are to be upgraded to carry the 2.5 ton supersonic cruise missile out of the total 260 Sukhoi Su 30MKI aircraft in IAF’s inventory. The Indian Air Force plans to raise two Su 30MKI squadrons equipped with BrahMos-A missiles.

By mid-2020 the IAF was set to go ahead with an order for additional Su 30 MKI fighter jets, to add to the current order book of 272 fighters. The 12 additional fighters could be manufactured by Hindustan Aeronautics LtdNSE -0.70 % (HAL), which has a production facility at Nasik that will run out of orders by 2021. The Sukhoi’s form the backbone of the IAF and are due for an upgrade that is being negotiated separately with HAL. These fighters would be the first jets to be ordered sincer the Rafale deal was signed in 2017 and would add to the combat capabilities of the air force.

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Page last modified: 13-09-2021 14:50:29 ZULU