As we have reported earlier, In the middle of the standoff that India has with China, the Indian Air Force has pushed a proposal to the government for acquiring 33 new fighter aircraft, including 21 MiG-29s and 12 Su-30MKIs from Russia.
The Indian Air Force reportedly long had planned to buy the extra planes to bolster the service’s existing arsenal of around 230 Su-30s and 60 MiG-29s. The air arm also plans, in coming years, to buy 83 locally-made Tejas light fighters as well as 144 foreign-made medium fighters.
All the new fighters—the Sukhois, MiGs, Tejas, and medium fighters—are part of an effort to grow the air force from 28 front-line squadrons to 40, the number New Delhi considers adequate to fight both Pakistan and China at the same time.
Tom Cooper, an author and aviation expert, expressed his surprise that the Indian air force reportedly wants Su-30s and MiG-29s to meet its emergency requirement for a couple of squadrons worth of jets. The Su-30, while seemingly impressive on paper, lacks performance and combat capability compared to Western models.
“Your air force has got 200 to 250 Su-30s,” Cooper pointed out on Facebook. “Still, when you want to bomb a terrorist gang in the neighboring country, you need almost 40-year-old Mirage 2000s, instead.”
Cooper was referring to the February 2019 clash between Indian and Pakistani forces over disputed Kashmir, roughly in the same region where Indian and Chinese troops would collide more than a year later.
Indian Air Force Mirage 2000s initiated the combat with a precision strike on a suspected terrorist base inside Pakistani territory. Pakistan responded with F-16s. When the dust settled, the Indians had lost a single MiG-21 fighter.
Cooper’s point is that, for decades, the Mirage 2000 has been a more effective fighter in Indian service than the Su-30 has been. The Rafale, the French-made successor to the Mirage, likewise is among India’s better fighters. But the country has ordered just 36 Rafales.
The Su-30 not only lacks the latest precision air-to-ground ordnance, it doesn’t perform well from the high-altitude air bases that support Indian operations along the so-called “Line of Actual Control,” the border between Indian and Chinese forces in the Himalayas. Diplomats drew that line as part of truce talks following a bitter, bloody border war in 1962.
Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport in the Indian city of Leh supports Indian warplanes for operations over the Himalayas. Kushok Bakula Rimpochee’s 9,000-foot runway is situated 11,000 feet above sea level. The Su-30 doesn’t work well in those conditions, according to Cooper. “They’re happy if the jet can launch while carrying two [air-to-air missiles],” Cooper wrote. “And brake discs and tires must be replaced after every single sortie.”
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The lighter MiG-29 apparently functions better in Leh than the Su-30 does. But that doesn’t mean the old MiG is the right choice for India. The MiG-29s New Delhi plans to buy from Russia apparently are outdated models that Russian workers will refurbish before handing over. “They are simply not up to the task,” Cooper said of the MiG-29s.
So why, when confronted with an encroaching Chinese army, does the Indian air force want Sukhois?
It should be obvious. Indian firm HAL builds the Su-30s under license in India. Buying Sukhois funnels Indian money to Indian companies. Although, as Cooper pointed out, with adequate political will India could license the Rafale, too.
“The experiences of last year should’ve brought the Indians to their senses,” Cooper said. “They could’ve bought more Rafales.”
India and China have been in a border standoff since the last week of April in both the Galwan Valley and Pangong Tso. Beijing objects to infrastructure development by New Delhi along the Line of Actual Control and the situation escalated.
India on Tuesday said 20 of its soldiers were killed after a violent clash with Chinese forces a day earlier in the strategically important Galwan Valley on the Himalayan frontier, a dramatic escalation that represents the first combat fatalities between the Asian powers since 1975.
Beijing confirmed there had been casualties in Monday’s clash but gave no further details.
Several news outlets stated that 10 Indian soldiers, including 4 officers, were taken captive and then released by the Chinese on 18 June. India, however, did not confirm or deny these reports and on 19 June, the Chinese foreign ministry responded that China “presently has not detained any Indian personnel”.
Thousands of soldiers from both sides have been locked in a standoff in the remote region of Ladakh.