Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Russian Su-30MKI Sukhoi Jets For India

(RIA via DefenceTalk) India has signed a contract with Russia for the licensed assembly of 40 multi-role Su-30MKI (Flanker-H) fighter jets, news agencies reported last week. According to experts, the agreement will cost India more than $1.5 billion. It will be a follow-up to the contract concluded in 2000 to deliver 140 fighters of the same type to New Delhi. The contractor will be the Irkut Scientific Production Corporation in Irkutsk, a part of the Sukhoi Aviation Holding Company (AHK). It assembles practically all the Su planes Moscow supplies to the subcontinent.

Under the first contract, Russia was not only to start supplying India with jets from 2000, but also to sell it a license to manufacture them at Indian plants. This was duly done, but local production of the aircraft turned out to be too costly. A far better option was buying them almost ready-made from the manufacturer in Irkutsk.

The present agreement, according to Irkut President Oleg Demchenko, provides for the delivery of practically fully assembled jets from Russia. Fifteen of them will be assembled and flight-tested, 15 assembled but not tested, while the rest will travel to India in kit form.

Assembly of the first four fighters of the specified 40 will begin in the early months of 2008.

The SU-30 Fighter aircraft:

The Su-30MKI multi-role fighter is designed to gain command of the air, engage ground and sea targets with guided and unguided weapons, and fight in formation against electronic countermeasures and fire from hostile AD systems by day and night, in all weather conditions. The two-seater jet allows full scope for state-of-the-art onboard radio electronic facilities and its full range of armaments can be used against all types of targets.

This is a whole new kind of multi-purpose combat plane. It has retained and further developed the unique properties of the Su-27 (Flanker) family, including the low speed high AOA (angle of attack) feature not found in any other fighter.

The Su-30MKI has been configured around the serially produced Su-30 (Flanker-C). It can be refueled in mid-air, has two vector-thrust engines, a canard which allows it to fly at supersonic speeds while hugging the terrain, and can carry air-to-ground guided missiles, including those used against several targets at the same time, and up to eight tons of combat payload suspended from 12 points.

For air superiority the jet is considered unmatched among other aircraft.

It mounts an onboard radio electronic system that incorporates state-of-the-art French, Israeli and Indian avionics capable of navigating the craft by GLONASS or GPS.

The new contract is evidence not only that India continues to set its sights on Russian aviation equipment (the Indian Air Force includes 600 planes made in the USSR/Russia and only fifty made in France), but, most important of all, that the complications created by Moscow's delays in refitting the Vikramaditya (Admiral Gorshkov) aircraft carrier, which postponed the delivery date by several years, have not overly affected military-technical cooperation between the two countries.

Moreover, there is information that Moscow and New Delhi will soon sign a new contract for the development of a promising fifth-generation airborne system.

India's Defense Minister Kurian Anthony is flying to Moscow this week to attend a meeting of the inter-governmental commission on military-technical cooperation. He is expected to sign the agreement. Interestingly enough, Sukhoi will feature again in this undertaking.

Specialists tell us that Sukhoi AHK has won a government tender to develop and manufacture Russia's fifth-generation fighter aircraft, or the Future Tactical Aviation Concept (PAK FA).

Company chiefs and the Russian top brass repeatedly proposed that New Delhi join the project to share costs and acquire such a jet for its Air Force. But the Indian military, not to mention the politicians, tactfully avoided giving a final answer to the proposal. They wanted to buy the fifth-generation American F-22, which is already air-borne, or the American-European F-35 (JSF), which is expected to undergo its final tests soon.

But something came unstuck. Apparently either the price proved too high, or the contract terms too burdensome. Whatever the details of the matter, the Indian generals have opted for the Russian offer. Now they are going to order a hundred such aircraft. The likely price of such a deal is almost $6 billion.

True, no real price for a PAK FA deal has yet been set for India, nor is there agreement about who will own the intellectual property rights to the jointly developed aircraft. These key questions will have to be addressed later.

The only news known so far is that these fighters will be built in Russia and in India, that New Delhi will have the right to supply them to third countries, and that the Russian and the Russian-Indian models will differ from each other in a way that as yet remains secret.

It is not ruled out that it might be in the same way as the F-22 and the F-35 differ. One is heavier, with two engines; the other lighter, with one engine.

For itself Russia is building a two-engined fighter. The explanation is that distances in the country are long and the jet must be able to fly from border to border quickly, without intermediate landings. Even with mid-air refueling capability, the aircraft would need more horsepower.

In India, distances are generally (though not always) shorter. As such, one engine may be enough, especially since the Indian Air Force already operates multi-role twin-engined Su-30MKIs, while the Vikramaditya aircraft carrier now being modernized will carry MiG-29K/MiG-29KUB deck-based fighters, which are also equipped with two engines.

So New Delhi's choice of the "lighter" G5 jet is predictable.

However, this remains little more than speculation. The important thing is that despite all the technical odds that have emerged recently between the two countries India is strengthening its military-technical ties with Russia and its defense sector. It is betting on Russia, in the knowledge that Moscow has never let it down.

This suggests that in a tender to supply the Indian Air Force with 126 light fighters, the Russian entry has a chance to win, though the competition includes two American firms - Boeing Company with the F\A-18E/F Super Hornet and Lockheed Martin with the F-16A/B Fighting Falcon; France's Dassault Aviation (with the Rafale); Sweden's SAAB (with the JAS-39 Grippen fighter); the Eurofighter (Britain, Germany, Italy and Spain; the EF-2000 Typhoon); and Russia's RSK MiG (with the MiG-35 Fulcrum fighter).

The chance of supplying the entire order is slim, but it would be fine if it secured at least a half.
Note: for more information about the SU-30MKI check out this excellent article