Sukhoi Su-30 has a better quality-price ratio than the Rafale

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Something quite surprising just happened in the political world – Russia made a sale of their jet fighters. Now, usually, this wouldn’t be something we’d talk about. Yet, given the current clashes in Ukraine and Russia’s friends not being keen to buy weapons from them, this is no regular sale. Russia has actually managed to sell six Su-30 Flanker-Cs to Ethiopia. There’s certainly a lot to unpack from this unexpected deal. 

Photo credit: Reddit

As of January 16th, Ethiopia has officially joined the group of fifteen nations controlling the Russian Su-30, a big dual-seat fighter plane. Ethiopia’s state-run broadcaster reported that a number of these planes arrived in the country, not disclosing the exact number. 

A few of these powerful air vehicles are already in Ethiopia as we speak. There had been rising anticipation about which modern fighter plane Ethiopia might pick to replace their old, out-of-date MiG-23 fighters from the 1980s. People were also wondering if these new jets would serve as a replacement for some of the Su-27s acquired in the late 1990s, likely nearing the end of their lifespan.

Photo credit: Telegram

What Su-30 variant? 

In 2022, it was officially shared that a particular nation will be getting the Chinese L-15 lightweight fighter. This suggests that these sleek jets will be taking over from the MiG-23s just as the Su-30s come in to replace the Su-27s, creating a mix of old and new. Although it’s not clear which version of the Su-30 will be bought, it’s believed that it might be either the Su-30SM or the upgraded Su-30SM2. The enhanced model uses the AL-41F-1S engines from the Su-35 fighters, making maintenance easier and improving the aircraft’s range and performance. 

These fighters are very highly regarded, on par with the recent batch of Su-30MKAs that were delivered to the Algerian Air Force in 2020. They are strong contenders for the top spot in Africa – a title that Ethiopia used to hold thirty years ago thanks to their Su-27s from Russia. 

Photo credit: Telegram

On the other hand, there are claims suggesting the Ethiopian Su-30 model may be the Su-30K. This version was apparently used as an example of improvements made to the Indian Su-30MKI. But no matter how often these claims are made, they remain unconfirmed and speculative.

Rafale “was the choice”

Ethiopia, which was once highly likely to buy France’s Rafale fighter jet, is now being strongly pursued by Paris. This is after several failed attempts to sell the jet in African countries such as Morocco, Algeria, and Libya.  

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Interestingly, Ethiopia’s choice to go for the Su-30 over the Rafale is similar to a move made by the Kazakh Defense Ministry on November 30, 2023. They also went for the Su-30SM. Yerzhan Nildibayev, the Deputy Commander in Chief of Air Defense and head of the main weapons department, indicated that the Su-30 provided better value for money than the French alternative. 

India is expanding its Su-30 fleet

Algeria and Libya are both countries that have considered buying the Rafale and the Su-30. However, they both ended up choosing the Su-30. Sadly, Libya’s government was overthrown by a joint attack from several NATO members before they could finish buying their Su-30s. 

Photo credit: Wikipedia

On the flip side, even though the Indian Air Force has bought a total of 36 Rafales, they haven’t placed any more orders for them. Instead, they’ve been increasing their supply of Su-30s, now owning more than 270 of these fighters. 

It’s worth highlighting that the Su-30SM version, which Ethiopia and Kazakhstan bought, resembles Algeria’s Su-30MKA and India’s Su-30MKI closely. These three versions, which are known as the best types of aircraft, all come from the Irkutsk Aviation Plant.

Su-30 and Rafale have their advantages

Looking at it from a maintenance point of view, the Rafale has an advantage over the Su-30. This is mainly due to being lighter with the M88 engines, which are the lightest engines made for fighter planes worldwide. As a result, the Rafale doesn’t need as much maintenance work.  

The newer versions of Rafale come equipped with advanced sensor technologies and electronics. On the other hand, the Su-30 doesn’t incorporate the most cutting-edge Russian avionics systems found in the new Su-57 fighters. 

However, the Su-30 has impressive features of its own. It has nearly double the endurance levels, radar that is two times as large for great situational awareness, and a 400km detection range. Plus, it provides better altitude capabilities, speed, and agility. 

Photo credit: Twitter

Built-in Irkutsk, the Su-30 has a unique feature not seen in any Western plane: thrust vectoring engines that provide exceptional maneuverability at slow speeds. The aircraft can even engage in air-to-air combat over a range of 300km using R-37M missiles, outshining any Western fighter in this regard.

Su-30 is produced faster

Many believe Ethiopia likely opted for Russia’s Su-30s due to their swift delivery, often within a year after the contract signing. The fact that these models closely resemble the Su-27s also cuts down training time significantly. This fast turnaround is crucial today when efficient updates to fighter jet fleets are a high priority. 

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Furthermore, the Russian-made jet has undergone wide-ranging combat tests that vary in intensity. By contrast, the Rafale’s missions have been limited to fewer, less intense strikes against relatively undefended ground targets. 

In the past, France has handed over in-depth details about their fighter jets to opponents of their defense buyers – as seen in the Gulf War and the Falklands War. These details allowed other NATO members to effectively counteract Iraqi and Argentine Mirage fighters. Today, however, France seems less dependable, while Russia appears more reliable.

Su-27 was important for Ethiopia

Photo by Vitalyi Nevar

In the 1980s, Ethiopia began using Soviet fighter jets. When Eritrea became independent from Ethiopia in 1993, Ethiopia quickly got hold of Su-27SK fighters and the Su-27UBK, a related model, to counter Eritrea’s purchase of Russian MiG-29s for its new Air Force.  

During the war between Ethiopia and Eritrea from 1998 to 2000, the Su-27s proved their worth. They shot down four MiG-29s without losing a single jet. As a result, Eritrea decided to buy two Su-27s for its own fleet after the war.  

In late 2020, Ethiopia faced numerous crises, including a civil war, territorial disagreements with Sudan, ongoing issues with Eritrea, and disputes with Egypt over the Nile’s water. Ethiopia’s decision to buy the Su-30s could change the game, helping it stand against threats from all sides.

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Su-30 for Ethiopia

The Su-30 gives the Ethiopian Air Force an advantage over the Eritrean Su-27S and Sudanese MiG-29SME fighters. 

Since France refused to give Egypt Meteor air-to-air missiles for their Rafale fighters, Ethiopia’s Su-30s have a clear upper hand in possible conflicts. This is especially true since Cairo canceled its 2018 order of the more capable Su-35 fighters due to Western influence. 

The introduction of the Su-30SM allows for precise strikes, potentially enhancing the Ethiopian Air Force’s air support ability to combat rebel forces in the Tigray region of the country.


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