India’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) recently approved the proposal for procurement of additional 12 Su-30 MKI fighter jets. Termed by MoD as the ‘most lethal front-line fighter aircraft’, Su-30 MKI is the result of a successful joint programme between India and Russia’s Rosoboronexport, which has turned 20.
As Russia’s Rosoboronexport state intermediary company celebrates its 20th anniversary, the landmark Su-30 MKI fighter jet programme executed by Russia and India is again in focus. In July 2020, the Defence Acquisitions Council (DAC) under India’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) officially approved the proposal for procurement of additional 12 Su-30 MKI fighter jets, which are produced jointly by the two countries.
The product of an unmatched international project, Su-30MKI aircraft has been recently dubbed by the MoD as the ‘most lethal front-line fighter aircraft’.
The first contract to deliver Su-30MKI jets to the Indian Air Force (IAF) was signed on November 30, 1996 in Irkutsk, Russia, between Rosvooruzhenie state intermediary company (predecessor of Rosoboronexport) and MoD. It envisaged the delivery of 32 Su-30MKI, all of which were produced in 2002-2004. Satisfied with the performance of the new Sukhoi jets,the MoD placed additional orders. On December 28, 2000 the general contract for organizing the licensed production of Su-30MKI in India at Hindustan Aeronautics Limited’s (HAL) facilities was signed in Irkutsk. In 2012, another contract for technological kits of Su-30MKI was inked.
At the time of induction into the IAF, Su-30MKI programme was unique for India in terms of functional capabilities of the new aircraft; the level of participation of India in choosing the technological configuration of the aircraft and the overall scale of technology transfer. Su-30MKI became one of the first serially-produced combat aircraft with super maneuverability features as well as the first export aircraft equipped with the phased-array radar . The supermaneuverability is achieved due to engines with thrust vectoring and advanced fly-by-wire system. It not only provides unmatched superiority of Su-30MKI in dog fight engagements, but also enhances flight safety.
Su-30MKI can be considered a highly optimized fighter jet in terms of meeting cost-effectiveness criteria. Its weapon control system provides reliable detection of aerial, ground, and naval targets beyond visual range; tracking of 15 aerial targets and simultaneous engagement of four of them. The open architecture of avionics suite ensures the capability to further enhance its capabilities and expand the weapons set .
Thanks to the programme, India has received a heavy-class multifunctional fighter jet, while HAL has gained huge technological experience. Under the programme, HAL also launched the licensed assembly of Su-30MKI’s AL-31FP turbofans.
The project has become one of the largest in the history of military cooperation of India with foreign countries and also contributed to the sales of Su-30MK family aircraft to other countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia. Moreover, the programme has directly influenced the development of Su-30SM fighter jet, which is currently being delivered to the Russian Air Force and offered at the global arms market (as Su-30SME).
The experience gained during cooperation under Su-30MKI programme has paved the way for new joint projects between Russia’s Rosoboronexport and India. Director General of Rosoboronexport Alexander Mikheev has termed Su-30MKI as one of the major India-Russia joint aviation projects and that the overall bilateral cooperation was fully in line with the Government of India’s ‘Make in India’ policy.
A significant feature of Su-30MKI programme is the licensed production of AL-31FP engines with kits shipped from Russia at HAL’s Koraput engine division. AL-31FP is a high temperature turbofan engine of modular design. AL-31FP engines (each Su-30MKI has a pair of these) ensure stable operation in all available evolutions of the aircraft in super maneuverability modes . Along with the organization of the licensed production, work on the overhaul of AL-31FP engines and their units has been launched.
In 2020, MoD announced that HAL had handed over the 500th AL-31FP overhauled engine to the IAF .
Meanwhile, Su-30MKI is getting more teeth for performing standoff surgical strikes with the induction of BrahMos supersonic cruise missile, which is another joint project between India and Russia. On January 20, 2020, IAF commissioned its first squadron of Su-30MKI fighter jets armed with the BrahMos-A cruise missile. In fact, Su-30MKI is currently the only Indian aircraft capable of using this missile.
At DefExpo India 2020, BrahMos Aerospace’s representative told Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency that in two years IAF’s Su-30MKIs would receive a new missile for use against airborne early warning aircraft. As a result, the joint venture is expected to enter the air-to-air missiles domain.
India has created complex and unique infrastructure for Su-30MKI production and MRO which facilitates any future developments in the Sukhoi domain. Su-30MKI is still a potent fighter and is among the best in the world in terms of its integral capabilities of weapons load, range and maneuverability. Upgrading Su-30MKIs will enhance its capabilities even more.
Rosoboronexport was established on November 4, 2000 by the Russian President Vladimir Putin. It is the Russian state intermediary for the exports and imports of the entire range of products, technologies and services of military and dual use.