Enhancing potentiality: Super Sukhoi to add punch to IAF

The Sukhoi-30 MKI which is the main stay of IAF fighter fleets will have to undergo upgradation to remain relevant to future air warfare. Although the software is wearing out too fast, the fighter remains a potent combat machine. The IAF’s SU-30 MKIs which look similar to many Sukhoi fighters is significantly different from other SU-30s in terms of capabilities. This time IAF should clearly spell out what it needs in SU-30MKIs by 2020. Often, the upgradation cost of a jet comes pretty close to buying a new one.

Indian Air Force would be significantly enhancing its combat capabilities by upgrading its most formidable SU-30MKI fighters to the approaching level of Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft, which India plans to develop jointly with the Russian Sukhoi company.

The FGFA and Super Sukhoi would thus form a ferocious combination of multi-role aircraft, which can dominate the skies over the neighboring countries and the entire Indian Ocean area. The FGFA is likely to be inducted in the IAF from 2018 and the Super Sukhois would also begin joining the fleet around same time.

The IAF would have almost 270 Sukhoi-30MKIs by 2017 and the IAF Headquarters plans all them to be upgraded to the near fifth generation level and the IAF has decided to name them as Super Sukhoi.

At present, the IAF has a fleet of five squadrons of SU-30MKIs and the rest are being license produced in Indian HAL, almost 10 per year. This will be for the first time that while an aircraft which is still under induction phase will be undergoing significant upgradation in combat capabilities.

The Super-Sukhois would be maximally close to FGFA claimed Alexei I Fedorov who is President and Chairman of the Board of Irkut Corporation, a Russian Joint Stock Company.

In Moscow during the MAKS-2011 Fedorov talked extensively about the modernization of Sukhoi-30 MKI. According to Fedorov, “our cooperation with India is going on very well. We have very good industrial cooperation with HAL.”

“We began our cooperation with MiG-27. Together with HAL we have supplied IAF 165 MIG-27s.As far as Sukhoi-30 MKI is concerned 15 years ago we launched cooperation with HAL under SU-30MKI project. In the beginning it was delivery of aircraft, and then in cooperation with HAL we together started license manufacture. India remains our largest and biggest partner,” he said.

He added if we speak about product line among SU-30MKI family we began the production of combat trainer Yak-130. Now we are developing many large projects of medium range airliner.

The modernization program

At this stage Irkut is presenting cabin mockup, power plant and the wind box. The wing of this aircraft will be made of carbon fibres. According to Fedorov, India will remain Irkut’s largest and biggest partner in future as well.

This is the first such in Russia and not many foreign countries produce such aircrafts. Irkut is the largest flier of aircraft and aviation products in the market.  

In response to questions, Fedorov informed that “as far as SU-30MKI is concerned, we have two modernization programs. First is the modernization where the cockpit and all systems would be improved. We are moving in the stage of negotiating technical part.”

He hopes that during this financial year Irkut will conclude the project. It is very large program which is several billion dollars. The second part would be the modernization of the aircraft together with Brahmos air-to-ground supersonic cruise missile program.

Now together with Indian Ministry of Defence we are working out how to share work under the modernization program. What will be done in Russia and in India will be finalized. Fedorov hoped, “this year we will come to conclusion.”

Asked what systems are being proposed, Fedorov declined to give details. But said that we are in negotiation for the upgrading of the entire Sukhoi-30 MKI USD 12 billion project for which the cost has gone up by USD 4 billion.

Under our signed contract, escalation of prices has been included, which is changing. Next year we plan to finalize the development work. After the development work we hope that two year time will be required to finish.

Fedorov revealed that the IAF wants that the new upgraded SU-30 MKIs should be called as Super Sukhoi fighter. Irkut is negotiating to incorporate the AESA radar in the Sukhoi-30MKIs.

Our idea is to modernize the SU-30 MKI to bring it to near 5th generation aircraft capability. At present, we are negotiating the upgradation. He asserted, “we are trying to get SU-30MKI maximally to FGFA.”

First of all, Irkut is modernizing the cockpit for pilots. This is so designed that it will be easier for the pilots to shift to Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft being developed jointly by India and Russia.

The upgraded Super Sukhoi would also have advanced stealth characteristics. The Super Sukhoi can also be equipped with other long range missiles like R-27P (AA-10 D) infrared homing extended range version of 120 km distance.

Besides medium range missiles like R-77 (AA-12) with active radar homing medium range 100 km along with other 80 km medium range missiles can also be added.

At present, the current fleet of Sukhoi-30MKIs in IAF will be upgraded to Super Sukhoi. He expressed confidence that the first Super Sukhoi aircraft will be ready by 2015. First the conversion of initial fleets inducted in the early years of last decade will be undertaken for conversion to Super Sukhoi.

As soon as all the testing is completed the older ones will start getting upgraded. But he refused to answer queries on the costs. But said, “total value will be of several billion dollars. It is difficult to tell you about exact price. SU-30 has good market in South East Asia.”

Export plans

Irkut now plans to export to Malaysia and Indonesia and Algerian Air Forces which will enlarge the order book. Fedorov thus asserted that India will have no role in exporting the SU-30MK aircraft to third country.

In response to a question, Fedorov said that Sukhoi-30 and MiG-35 (offered under MMRCA contract for the IAF) are different aircrafts. SU-30 is a heavy multi role fighter but MiG-35 is a medium fighter.

That is why SU-30 can carry more arms, although technologically they have lot of similarities. In Super Sukhoi, the electronics will be upgraded heavily and the Super Sukhois will carry more weapon loads.

Asked if China has sought the upgradation of the SU-30MKK, Fedorov said that first of all there are basic differences between Indian and Chinese SU-30s as the Power plants do not match. On other counts also the Indian and Chinese SU-30s do not match.

Fedorov revealed that the Super Sukhoi will have same engine as in FGFA. It will enhance the life cycle of SU-30MKIs. However, first aircraft will be upgraded in two years time.

After the contract is signed prototype will be made in Russia after the finalisation of the technical design. When asked if all the 270 SU-30 to be inducted in IAF in the coming years would be upgraded, Fedorov said that, “as far as we know IAF would like to upgrade most of the fleet. Customers want like that.”

Asked about the recent crash of the Sukhoi-30MKI, Fedorov revealed that it was due to pilot error.

Russia would thus be getting another multi billion dollar contract after the almost 30-35 billion dollar deal for the next 20 years from the FGFA project.

Fedorov said that Super Sukhoi program would not be covered under the offset rules of the Indian MoD’s Defence Procurement Procedure, as the upgradation project would be done under an extension of the previous Sukhoi-30 MKI agreement.