The Largest Security-Cleared Career Network for Defense and Intelligence Jobs - JOIN NOW



The Indian Air Force fields one of the largest air superiority fleets in the world, with close to 300 Su-30MKI advanced heavy fighters by 2018 having been acquired from Russia giving it a distinct edge over neighbouring Pakistans unspecialised single engine light fighters and parity with Chinas J-11B the FLANKER mainstay of the Peoples Liberation Armys air fleet.

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 (MKI means Modernised Commercial Indian by its first Russian letters) version was designed for India. The Sukhoi SU-30 MKI, an all-weather, long-range air superiority fighter gives punch to IAF's strike capabilities. It features state-of-the-art avionics which include display, navigation, targeting and electronic warfare systems. It is highly maneuverable, giving it a clear-cut advantage in aerial combat. At the same time, its two highly efficient and powerful engines can propel this 38-tonne aircraft to fly at twice the speed of sound and as high as 60,000 feet.

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) program, 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 SU-30 MKI has a range of 3,000 kilometers with internal fuel which ensures a 3-hour-long combat mission. It has an in-flight refuelling capability which increases the flight duration to 10 hours with a range of 8,000 kilometers. The most lethal features of any fighter aircraft are its sensors and weapons. And these make the Sukhoi an Air Dominance Fighter. It has powerful electronically scanned array radar which functions in air-to-air and air-to-land/sea mode simultaneously while being tied to a high-precision laser-inertial or GPS navigation system. It is equipped with modern digital weapons control and electronic counter measure systems. Weapons are the teeth of any fighter aircraft. The SU-30MKI can carry a load of 8,000 kilograms, which includes a wide range of weapons.

The first SU-30MKI was inducted into the Indian Air Force in 2002 and since then it has been the backbone of the Indian Air Force's fighter fleet. The aircraft is tailor-made to Indian specifications.

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 was 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 would roll out from HAL Nasik.

The IAF planned 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.

Brahmos, the worlds fastest supersonic cruise missile created history on 22nd Nov 2017 after it was successfully flight-tested first time from the Indian Air Forces (IAF) frontline fighter aircraft Sukhoi-30MKI against a sea based target in the Bay of Bengal. The missile was gravity dropped from the Su-30 from fuselage, and the two stage missiles engine fired up and straightway propelled towards the intended target at the sea in Bay of Bengal. The successful maiden test firing of Brahmos Air Launched Cruise Missile (ALCM) from Su-30MKI significantly bolsterrf the IAFs air combat operations capability from stand-off ranges. Brahmos ALCM weighing 2.5 ton is the heaviest weapon to be deployed on Indias Su-30 fighter aircraft modified by HAL to carry weapons. Brahmos, the world-class weapon with multi-platform, multi-mission role is now capable of being launched from Land, Sea and Air, completing the tactical cruise missile triad for India. Brahmos is a joint venture between DRDO of India and NPOM of Russia.

Pakistani defense experts are of the opinion that the IAFs Su-30 jets are at most only at par with the Pakistani JF-17 Thunder fighter jets, which successfully defeated the Su-30 in a dogfight on the 27 February 2019. According to Islamabad, the Su-30 fell from the sky in a battle on February 27, a day after the Indian Air Force bombed an alleged terrorist camp inside Pakistan. In the ensuing dogfight, India claims to have shot down an American-made F-16, before one of its own MiG-21 Bisons fell to Pakistani fire.

New Delhi firmly denied that one of its Su-30s were destroyed in the battle, accusing Pakistan of making the story up to cover for the loss of its American fighter jet. While India accepts one MiG 21 Bison was shot down whose pilot Wing commander Abhinandan Varthaman was captured but under global pressure, Islamabad released him soon, there is no proof of another Indian plane being shot down.

An Indian Sukhoi Su-30MKI delighted spectators at an air show outside Delhi 8 October 2019, but may have caused considerable embarrassment to Pakistan, which claimed to have shot down the fighter jet more than six months earlier. Two of the Russian-made warplanes were spotted in the skies above Hindon Air Base, flying in formation as part of a celebration marking the 87th birthday of the Indian Air Force (IAF). According to NDTV, one of the aircraft, named Avenger-1, was the same jet that Pakistan boasted of destroying in a brief fracas back in February. The fighter jet was even piloted by the same shot down crew, the outlet reported.

Join the mailing list

One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger - by Matthew Yglesias

Page last modified: 24-02-2020 18:12:11 ZULU