Dozen of the ‘most modern in history’ Su-30s were sold to India

The esteemed Defence Acquisition Council of India has sanctioned the acquisition of an array of 12 Su-30MKI heavyweight fighters from Russia. Evidencing India’s competency and self-reliance, an impressive 60% or more of the aforesaid fighter’s components are scheduled for licensed production domestically. 

Via Reddit

The acquisition announcement brought forth an optimistic affirmation from the council, stating that this strategic move “will significantly propel the Indian defense industry forward.” Notably, defense officials have asserted in discussions with local media that these.aerial platforms will represent “the apex of the Indian Air Force’s Su-30 MKI fleet, integrally outfitted with multiple Indian-designed weapons and sensors.” 

Facts underscore the Su-30MKI as the most pervasive twin-engine fighter aircraft globally, with an estimated 270 units operational. Intriguingly, India’s previous order of similar fighters occurred in the recent past, specifically in 2020. Concurrently, orders for the lighter, but effectively complementary MiG-29UPG aircraft have also been placed. Although these lighter aircraft are acknowledged to be less capable, their high-end avionics, diminished maintenance requirements, and more affordable running costs make them a pragmatic addition to the fleet. 

Dozen of the 'most modern in history' Su-30s were sold to India
Photo credit: Reddit

In 2002, the Su-30MKI first asserted its position in the aircraft industry, and now, it serves as the stalwart of the fleet with eleven squadrons in service. A twelfth squadron is anticipated to bolster the ranks shortly. At its inception, the fighter was ardently hailed as the pinnacle of airborne combat technology globally, and it championed groundbreaking features such as phased array radars and thrust vectoring engines. 

Indian aviation industry has lucratively capitalized on the license production of the Su-30MKI. However, its output has been marred by diminished efficiency and purportedly subpar manufacturing quality compared to the airframes orchestrated in Russia under initial lots. Indeed, the cost of Russian-built airframes stands at approximately half that of those crafted in India. 

The Su-30MKI is significantly tailored to cater to the unique criteria set by India, amalgamating the strengths of the Su-30 long range interceptor with technologies borrowed from the scuttled Su-27M and Su-37 air superiority fighters. The latter were deemed prohibitively expensive for integration into the Russian fleet.

The Su-30MKI, a frontrunner in military aviation, is lauded for its pioneering use of the electronically scanned array radar, the Su-37’s N-O11M, one of the first of its kind to be integrated onto a fighter. Enhancements that set the Su-30MKI apart also include the inclusion of Su-35‘s controlled canards, AL-31FP engines, and thrust vectoring nozzles. Throughout simulated combat exercises, it has repeatedly proven its ability to outperform formidable contemporaries such as the British Eurofighter and the American F-15, consolidating its position as the most advanced fighter jet in South Asia. 

What triggered the creation of an array of derivatives, including Su-30MKA and Su-30SM, was the unparalleled success of the Su-30MKI. These variants, birthed in significant numbers, initially catered to the export demands of Algeria and Malaysia, before serving the strategic needs of powerful entities such as the Russian Airforce and Navy. All these first-rate variants trace their roots back to the Irkutsk manufacturing plant. The recent portfolio of clientele exhibits a diverse geographical spread that includes Myanmar, Belarus, and Algeria. 

In an effort to ensure continuous technological dominance, India is formulating strategies for the development of an AESA radar. This new industry-leading technology is designed to replace the incumbent N-O11M radar in the su-30MKI, a radar system that, despite being a marvel during its inception, has since fallen behind. It is imperative that this technological transition occurs to keep pace with enhancements in the sensor systems of new Chinese fighters, including the J-10Cs recently exported to Pakistan.

Anticipated advancements in missile capabilities promise to instigate a revolution in the potency of Su-30MKIs, elevating them far beyond their current state evolved through incremental upgrades over production batches. The progress includes the incorporation of the new Russian R-77M, designed notably for the Su-57 fifth generation fighter, and the ultra-long-range R-37M which has undergone intensive combat testing in Ukraine of late. 

Su-30 has used Khibiny EW during an interception of the F-35
Photo credit:

The Russo-Indian collaboration, which culminated in the development of the BrahMos cruise missile, involved substantial technological exchanges from the Russian industry. Recent integration of this missile onto certain Su-30MKI units has brought about a radical transformation in their standoff precision strike capabilities. 

As foresight would have it, India is slated to procure fifth-generation heavyweight fighters from Russia, stepping into the role of direct successors to the Su-30MKI. These successors will be likely direct derivatives of the Su-57 procured directly ‘off the shelf’ from Russian production lines or acquired through a license production deal. 

When contrasted with shared ownership of the Su-57’s technologies and full involvement in development, a license production deal is seen in a significantly more feasible light. India, in fact, had initially sought a full partnership in the FGFA deal, but withdrew in the late 2010s.


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