According to trade journal Defense News, India has ‘stepped up negotiations’ with Russia as it seeks to upgrade its front-line fleet of Sukhoi Su-30MKI multi-role fighters. Expected to cost in excess of $8 billion, the upgrade package is intended to bring the aircraft to a ‘fifth-generation level’ and will be carried out on an initial total of 194 jets.
There has long been talk of a proposed or ‘Super 30’ upgrade for the Indian ‘Flanker’ fleet, but the ‘Super Sukhoi’ now seems to have been adopted for the initiative. It seems that urgency has been added by New Delhi’s continued failure to sign off on a deal for 36 Dassault Rafale fighters, as well as growing concerns that the Indo-Russian Fifth-Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) might fall short of requirements.
Based on the latest report, Russian officials visited New Delhi in the last few weeks in order to iron out details of the upgrade. Quoting an unnamed official, Defense News says that the upgrade deal will be ‘finalized in the next four to six months’.
Under a series of contracts (the first of which was signed on November 30, 1996, and the most recent on December 24, 2012), total orders for the Indian Air Force have reached 272 Su-30MKI versions. By early 2016, the IAF had received an estimated 225 aircraft, including 50 delivered in a ‘flyaway’ condition from Russia and 175 made by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited’s (HAL) Nasik facility. At the beginning of 2016 the Indian Air Force initiated the procurement of a batch of 40 more Su-30MKIs.
The latest upgrade package for India will likely be based around a new computing system (reportedly of Israeli design) as well as new or upgraded sensors, primarily the radar. The weapons array is to be enhanced with long-range RVV-BD (R-37M) and medium-range RVV-SD (R-77-1) air-to-air missiles (AAMs), as well as Kh-59MK air-to-surface missiles. India also wants to adapt the aircraft for the carriage of indigenous weapons, including Astra AAMs; an Astra was launched from a Su-30MKI for the first time on May 4, 2014, during trials in India. New self-protection systems are expected, as well as engine compressor blades, wing and empennage leading edges, and cockpit canopy coatings to reduce the radar cross-section. The AL-31FP engine control system will be upgraded. Under a separate project, the Indo-Russian Brahmos-A air-to-surface missile is to be implemented on the Su-30MKI.
At the beginning of this year Yuri Belyi, the head of the Tikhomirov NIIP radar company, complained that talks with India about the upgrade of the Su-30MKI had stalled. It is more likely that Russia’s Su-30SM fighters will be upgraded first. As far as the radar is concerned, two stages of upgrade work are planned: first, the Indian computers will be replaced with indigenous examples, and then the radar performance will be enhanced (longer range, greater jamming resistance, new operational modes). Replacement of the passive electronically scanned array (PESA) with an active electronically scanned array (AESA) unified with the N036/N079 radar antenna of the fifth-generation Sukhoi T-50 fighter was once considered, but this has apparently been abandoned.
It has been suggested that Su-30MKI upgrade will push back the FGFA. This is bad timing for the $25-billion Indo-Russian fighter project — itself based on the Sukhoi T-50 — which has already run into flak in India.
According to Angad Singh, a New Delhi-based defense journalist, ‘The IAF has repeatedly signaled a willingness to sacrifice the FGFA if it means they can shore up fighter numbers in the short term. The hugely expensive MMRCA (Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft) program, and now the government-to-government Dassault Aviation Rafale deal have priority at Air Headquarters, and multiple pronouncements by multiple officers have indicated that they are willing to push back or scale down (or both) the FGFA in favor of a more immediate fourth-generation buy.’
While the Su-30MKI upgrade won’t boost numbers of aircraft on the flight line, it will help ensure that the IAF remains credible despite a drastic decline in fighter numbers (equivalent to 25 squadrons compared to the required strength of 45 squadrons).
Russian officials confirm that once a contract for the Sukhoi upgrade is signed, an initial prototype will be completed in Russia and upgrade will be conducted by HAL in India. This is the same approach that has been taken for India’s ongoing MiG-29 upgrade project.
A full account of the two-seat Su-30 ‘Flanker’ family — including the IAF’s Su-30MKI — appeared in the August issue of Combat Aircraft.
Last edited by Pinto on Thu Jul 28, 2016 6:52 pm; edited 1 time in total