Tribune News Service
New Delhi, October 21
The Indian Air Force (IAF) has told the Ministry of Defence (MoD) that getting more of the existing version of Sukhoi-30MKI fighter jets is not an option to bolster numbers to the dwindling jet fleet.
The Sukhoi-30MKI, in its present version, is not an option for the future — next 20 years or so — as its avionics, protection suite, engine and radar is now a generation previous to what is currently available, the IAF has informed the MoD, sources told The Tribune.
The Russian origin twin-engined, Sukhoi-30MKI — a frontline jet of the IAF — is produced by public sector undertaking Hindustan Aeronautics Limited under licence from Russia. At present, the IAF has 247 Sukhoi jets in its fleet and another 25 are expected to be added over the next 24 months, taking the total to 272.
The IAF is operating with just 31 squadrons (16-18 planes in each) as against the requirement of 42. Among these, some 130 odd planes are MiG 21s and MiG 27s, which should have been phased out a decade earlier, but are still flying due to their non-replacement with the LCA Tejas.
Even as upgrade of the existing fleet would be expensive at $10 billion (around Rs 75,000 crore) and could take almost a decade, the sources said the plane is good for now but cannot be for the future is its existing version.
The Russians have offered to upgrade it to a ‘super Sukhoi’, which if implemented, will give the aircraft almost fifth generation (latest) capabilities. It talks about its effectiveness in multi-role, AESA radar, more powerful electronic warfare suite like jamming systems, along with high performance engines, the AL-41F turbofan (same as the latest Sukhoi 35).
The Sukhoi-30MKI, which in the past two decades has seen some changes, has a mix of electronic systems from a number of countries. The radar and long-range sensor is Russian. The navigation and heads-up display systems are from Thales of France. The electronic warfare systems and targeting pods are Israeli and the computers and ancillary avionics systems are Indian. The upgrade will be difficult to implement and the US can impose sanctions under the CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act) for dealing with Russians.
Also, the existing upgrades of the Mirage 2000 jets and the Jaguar are running years behind schedule. The Sukhoi-30MKI belongs to heavier class of aircraft which is optimised for ‘air superiority’ roles to dominate the skies but lacks the ‘multi-role’ requirements which IAF wants and has floated a tender to get 114 such jets.
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