The Sukhoi Su-30MKI is a multi-role combat fighter aircraft jointly developed by the Sukhoi Design Bureau and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) for the Indian Air Force (IAF). Based on the Su-30 fighter aircraft, Su-30MKI is equipped with thrust vectoring control and canards.
India’s state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited has completed the production of all 272 Su-30MKIs under multiple contracts from the Indian Air Force to manufacture the aircraft under license and now expects the Air Force will place further orders for the jets.
Seeing its first flight in the year 2000, and entering service in 2002, the Su-30MKI is India’s only class of heavyweight fighter jet and by far the most capable platform in its fleet.
The aircraft has been gradually modernised over its long production run, and today performs multiple roles from a precision bomber to a strike fighter, a maritime strike fighter, an ‘AWACS killer’ and a dedicated air superiority fighter.
The fighter is compatible with a wide range of munitions from the BrahMos cruise missile to the R-77 and Astra active radar guided air to air missiles, the SPICE guided bomb and the K-100 missile designed to engage enemy support aircraft at extreme ranges. In terms of flight performance the aircraft is unrivalled, with its speed, altitude, manoeuvrability and endurance far exceeding those of other Indian jets such as the Rafale and Mirage 2000.
The Su-30MKI is produced under licence from Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation, of which Sukhoi is a subsidiary, and forms the backbone of the Indian Air Force today with a dozen active squadrons.
HAL previously requested that the Indian Defence Ministry provide an additional order for licence assembly of 72 Su-30MKI fighters, which would cost around $5 billion – or around $70 million per aircraft.
In an official statement on March 31st, the company expressed hope that the Air Force would order 83 jets, stating: “the order book is likely to attain a healthy position during the next financial year 2020-21.” The Indian Air Force currently suffers from a shortage of over 250 fighter jets, and intends to field 42 squadrons by the mid-late 2020 where it currently fields under 30.
The Su-30 was the first fighter in the world to benefit from supermanoeuvrability and advanced thrust vectoring engines, which paired with its powerful sensors and formidable flight performance and electronics makes it extremely lethal at all ranges.
More radical upgrades to the design, including integration of the AL-41 engines and Irbis-E radar from the more advanced Su-35 air superiority fighter, have been proposed – and would guarantee a continued capability advantage over new fighter classes planned for deployment in neighbouring Pakistan and China.
The Su-30 would if equipped with these systems, gain a considerable boost to its flight performance, manoeuvrability, electronic warfare capabilities and situational awareness, with the Irbis-E optimized for neutralizing stealth aircraft.
This would also allow the fighter to deploy a wide range of advanced munitions such as the R-37M hypersonic air to air missile with a 400km range. A new class of hypersonic air to air missile is also currently under development for the Su-30MKI under a joint Russo-Indian program, and is expected to have a 500km range. The Irbis-E radar would be necessary to allow the Indian fighters to make effective use of this missile’s range.
The Su-30MKI is set to form the mainstay of the Indian fighter fleet for decades to come, although its position as the Air Force’s most capable combat jet may be lost to the more advanced Su-57 next-generation platform which is likely to be acquired by the mid-late 2020s.
The Su-57 its another heavyweight design intended to supersede the capabilities of Russian Su-27 and Su-30 jets, and India has repeatedly expressed considerable interest in purchasing the aircraft either ‘off the shelf’ from Russia or for licence manufacturing in India itself.