NEW DELHI, (BM) – With the Indian Air Force planning for an ambitious expansion of its frontline combat fleet, and seeking to increase the number of fighter units in service from 32 to 42 by 2027, the country is set to invest heavily in acquiring a wide range Russian combat jets including further orders for platforms currently in service and acquisitions of new designs which have recently completed development.
Russian fighters currently form the bulk of the Indian combat fleet, and with the increasingly obsolete French Mirage 2000 fighters and European Jaguar attack jets set to be phased out of service only a portion of the replacements will come from India’s own defence sector.
Alongside acquisitions of the indigenous Tejas lightweight fighter, a troubled platform developed for over 40 years which will enter service in growing numbers, the vast majority of new Indian fighter squadrons intended both to increase its inventory and replace ageing platforms are likely to be of Russian origin.
Five classes of Russian jet in particular stand out as platforms which India is particularly likely to invest in acquiring in the near future, the reasons for which are elaborated below.
India was the first foreign client for the Soviet MiG-29, the country’s first fourth generation multirole fighter, and the Indian Air Force has continued to place orders for the platform into 2019. The aircraft have been heavily modernised to the UPG standard, and have been equipped with new sensors, electronic warfare systems and weapons including R-77 active radar guided long ranged air to air missiles.
While the Indian Air Force has strongly favoured the heavier and more costly Su-30MKI since it began to enter service from the early 2000s, the MiG-29 remains considerably cheaper to operate and its modernised variants are callable of engaging most adversaries on at least equal terms.
The fighters enjoy several major advantages over all jets in the Pakistani inventory including the F-16C Fighting Falcon and JF-17 Block II, and due to their low operational cost and minimal maintenance requirements they are a potentially ideal platform for India’s fleet expansion plans.
The Indian Navy is also set to acquire MiG-29K platforms, a carrier based variant of the design, for its upcoming indigenous aircraft career INS Vikrant which will deploy the jets alongside a lighter carrier based variant of the Tejas currently under development.
The Su-30MKI currently forms the mainstay of the Indian Air Force’s fighter fleet with 11 full strength squadrons in service between them fielding over 250 jets. The platform is set to remain India’s most capable fighter jets for the foreseeable future, and while highly capable in both air to air combat and in long range strike roles its can be modified and equipped for a wide range of roles.
Most recently, armed with BrahMos cruise missiles, the platform has emerged as an ideal strike fighter and maritime strike fighter – while plans to equip the aircraft with Israeli SPICE 2000 guided bombs will make it an effective bomber. As more fighters are equipped for a strike role, there have been calls to place further orders to ensure enough fighters remain equipped for air superiority missions. India placed an order for further Su-30MKI fighters in 2019 and manufactures the aircraft under license.
The fighter’s electronic warfare systems and armaments continue to be updated, and proposals for further enhancements including new engines and sensors from the next generation Su-35 fighter are likely to strengthen the appeal for an expansion of the fleet.
The next generation replacement for the MIG-29, negotiations are currently ongoing for a major Indian purchase of the medium weight Russian fighters which have reportedly been extensively modified to meet the country’s defence needs.
While the fighter is a leading contender in the MMRCA competition to provide the Indian Air Force with 114 new fighters, the Indian Air Force remains highly likely to acquire the platform even if it does not select it as the winner of the tender. The fighter is capable of using much of the same maintenance infrastructure of the MiG-29, but introduces new capabilities from supermanoeuvrability using thrust vectoring engines to an AESA radar and start of the art electronic warfare systems.
The fighter is able to deploy a wider range of modern weapons including R-37M hypersonic air to air missiles, and although considerably more advanced than the MiG-29 it has been designed to significantly reduce maintenance requirements and operational costs to less than a third of those of its predecessor.
The MiG-35 could thus provide India with a far more cost effective platform for modernising its fighter fleet, and an acquisition of around a dozen squadrons on a similar scale to the Su-30MKI remains a considerably possibility.
India was one of the first parties to show interest in Russia’s Su-57 next generation air superiority fighter as a platform to supersede and potentially eventually replace the Su-30MKI, and sought to acquire a tailor made twin seat variant with indigenous components under the FGFA program.
Contradicting reports from a number of Western outlets, India’s armed forces have confirmed that the FGFA deal remains under negotiation, but that the Indian Air Force is also considering acquiring ‘off the shelf’ Su-57 fighters from Russia without the added complexities of technology transfers and licence production.
It is likely that orders will be placed once the platform begins to enter service in the Russian Air Force. While advanced prototypes of the fighter have seen combat in Syria, the beginning of mass production in July means that longer overseas deployments of serial production variants could allow the aircraft to better demonstrate some of its advanced capabilities.
By placing orders after the fighter has been throughly tested in Russian service, India may be seeking to avoid the difficulties of operating a next generation platform with such a radical new design until all potential performance issues have been smoothed out.
With India’s Su-30MKI fighters eventually needing replacement, and more urgently with India needing to counter the growing number of next generation fighters deployed by China and soon to be deployed by Pakistan, the Su-57 appears the only effective means of maintaining the balance of power.
It only remains to be seen whether initial acquisitions will be made under the FGFA deal or a similar framework, or whether India will instead seek to place smaller orders for fighters built in Russia.
With India’s armed forces repeatedly raising the issue of the Air Force’s acute shortage of modern trainer jets, the service has shown a strong interest in the Yak-130. The aircraft was designed to prepare pilots for operations using advanced new Russian fighters such as the Su-30MKI and Su-57, and is also a formidable platform when equipped for an air to ground attack role.
The fighter is currently operated in both a training and a combat capacity by neighbouring Bangladesh, and a large order of the low cost aircraft could go a long way towards allowing the Indian Air Force to meet its target of 42 fighter squadrons.
Indian Air Chief Marshal Birender Singh Dhanoa personally tested the fighter on a visit to Russia in July 2019, and a purchase of at least some fighters for further testing remains highly likely.
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Author: Military Watch
Original title: Five Russian Jets India Will Order By 2025
Source: Military Watch
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect BGM`s editorial stance.