Indian Air Force

Su30MKI- The Backbone Of The Indian Air Force

Su30 MKI is 4+ generation aircraft in service with the IAF. Currently IAF operates around 259 aircrafts. Initial number of fighters were 272 but 12 airframes have been lost in crashes. The SU30 MKI forms the back bone of the IAF. In this article we are going to cover this aircraft in detail.

The Induction of SU30 MKI Into IAF

India signed a deal with Russia on 30th November 1996 for 40 SU30K. Under the contract these initials aircrafts were delivered to IAF in four phases.

  1. The first batch consisted of 8 aircrafts which were to be delivered by 1997. These initials aircraft were standard SU30’s which had most Russian parts. The first squadron that was equipped with the new fighters was No24 squadron ‘The Hawks’ operating out of Lohegaon AFS, Pune.
  2. The second batch with 8 aircraft was delivered in 1998 and came with Sextant Avionique’s avionics from France, liquid crystal multi-function displays (MFDs), a new flight data recorder, a dual ring laser gyro INS (inertial navigation system) with embedded GPS (Global Positioning Satellite), EW (Electronic Warfare) equipment procured from Israel’s IAI (Israeli Aircraft Industries), a new electro-optical targeting system and a RWR (Radar Warning Receiver).
  3. The third batch had 12 aircraft were delivered in 1999 and featured canard
  4. The last also had 12 aircraft and were delivered in 2000 and were equipped with AL31 FP engines

Subsequently, in September 1998, a 2nd deal was struck, wherein the Indian Air Force (IAF) opted to acquire 10 extra Su-30Ks at a cost of US $277.01 million (equivalent to Rs.1187 crore), thereby increasing the total number of ordered IAF Su-30s to 50. The initial batch of 4 units was received in June 1999, featuring enhanced electronic warfare systems, precision-guided munitions (PGM) capability, and potentially upgraded radar.


An Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed to permit the licensed production of 140 Su-30MKIs. In December 2000, the deal was finalized which had license production and complete technology transfer. As part of this arrangement, HAL Koraput is designated to manufacture 920 AL-31FP engines, while the mainframe and other components will be produced at HAL’s Lucknow and Hyderabad Divisions. The final stages of aircraft integration and test flights are set to be conducted at HAL’s Ozhar (Nasik) Division.

MKI development

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Under the project, existing SU30K airframe code-named “Code 56” was modified. The modified aircraft was known as T10 PMK. On July 1st, 1997, the aircraft took its first flight, piloted by chief test pilot Vyacheslav Averyanov. The flight testing continued till 1998. Parallelly another SU30K was modified and it was code-named “code 06 blue” and was used for flight testing

On 16th August 1998, the modified aircraft made its debut in the Bangalore air show. The following year on June 12 1999, the aircraft was crashed during the rehearsal in Paris air-show. The reason for the crash was identified as due to pilot error and it had no impact on the deal. The SU30K were upgraded to the MKI in two stages.

In first stage the aircraft was fitted with canards, avionics and a modification to the front landing gear, the SU30K had single wheel in front landing gear but MKI had two wheels.

In second stage the AL31 FP was integrated. The production standard SU30MKI had Phazotron NO11M Bars array radar and OLS 30 IRST/LR derived from SU27’s OLS 27. The OLS30 has a field view of 120 degrees azimuth and ±60/-15 in elevation. We will be discussing the avionics and other things later.

The production standard MKI with all upgrades was known as “05 Blue” and had its first flight on 26 November 2000. Another aircraft “03Blue” used for static test and the aircraft “07 Blue” replaced the crashed airframe.

Indian Contribution

Image from Bharat Rakshak

The Su-30MKI incorporates not only Customer Furnished Equipment (CFE) from Russia, France, and Israel but also a significant portion of avionics designed and manufactured in India. This indigenous contribution, under the project name “Vetrivale” by DRDO (Defence Research and Development Organization), in collaboration with HAL and the Indian Air Force (IAF)

Components developed by Bangalore-based Defence Avionics Research Establishment (DARE) include:

  • Mission Computer
  • Display Processor
  • Radar Computer
  • Radar Warning Receiver, featuring a High Accuracy Direction Finding Module (HADF) named Tranquil (Tarang Mk2)
  • Integrated Communication Equipment by HAL (Hindustan Aeronautics Limited)
  • Radar Altimeter by HAL
  • Programmable Signal Processor developed by LRDE (Electronics and Radar Development Establishment)
  • Identification Friend or Foe (IFF)
  • Integrated Communications Suite

The Avionics

Radar

The N011M Radar is a versatile system with the ability to operate in both air-to-air and air-to-land/sea modes concurrently. It seamlessly integrates with a high-precision laser-inertial/GPS navigation system and boasts a state-of-the-art digital weapons control system, complete with anti-jamming capabilities. The aircraft is furnished with an advanced optoelectronic surveillance and targeting system, including an IR direction finder, laser rangefinder, and a helmet-mounted sight system. With the helmet-mounted sight system, pilots can turn their heads within a 90º field of view, lock onto targets, and deploy the lethal R-73E missile.

The radar has an electronically scanned slotted planar antenna. The N011M is a digital multi-mode dual frequency band radar (X and L Band, NATO D and I). The X and L bands for the identification of friend and foe. The radar has a peak power output of 4 to 5 kilowatts and is capable of positioning its beam for 400 milliseconds giving an advantage or other mechanical radar. It is capable of scanning area at ±70 degrees azimuth and ±45 degrees in elevation, to improve its performance the radar can also be mounted on the electro-mechanical drive which would increase its scanning area by ±90 degrees azimuth.

The SU30MKI has 28 megahertz TS200 programmable signal processors capable of processing 75 million operations per second. The radar supports signal processing using its 3 processors with 16 MB of static and flash memory.

Phazotron NO11M Bars radar has search range of 400 km and a track range of 200 km in the air-to-air mode the detection range for 5-meter square RCS objects is 140 km and 75 km in pursuit mode and tracks 15 targets in a track during scan mode and can engage four targets simultaneous.

Air to surface capability of the radar

The radar can map ground and naval targets and maintain targets on two targets simultaneously. For ground targets like tanks, the tracking range is 40-50 km; for naval targets like destroyers, it is 80-120 km. The Radar has multiple mapping modes like a real beam, doppler beam sharpening, and synthetic aperture mode giving a resolution of 10 meters.

Self Protection Suit

EW Suite, Pic Credit: Strategic Front Forum
Picture; Indian Defence Forum
Pic Credit: trishul-trident
Picture Credit: Rafael

EWS suit includes DRDO Tarang radar warning receiver, Elta EL/M-8222 EW pod(For Jamming), and an X guard towed decoy. But the aircraft lacks a Missile approach warning system and laser warning system.

Bnet software defined radio for secure communication.

The aircraft is equipped with an Israeli lightening pod which provides high-resolution intelligence of targets for air to ground operations.

Condor2 LOROP (Long Range Oblique Photography) for capturing the high-resolution visible and infrared reconnaissance images from a considerable distance away from the target area. It has the ability to cover tens of thousands of square kilometers per hour in higher resolution that too in supersonics speeds.

Cockpit

Picture Credit: Indian Defence Forum

The cockpit of the SU-30MKI extensively integrates components from Thales. It incorporates a total of six LCDs, comprising five MFD-55s and one MFD-66, dedicated to displaying information and receiving commands.

The information vital for flight operations is presented on these four LCD displays, encompassing one for piloting and navigation, a tactical situation indicator, and two for displaying systems information, including operating modes and overall operational status. The standard configuration includes a VEH3000 holographic Heads-Up Display (HUD). The rear cockpit has large monochrome display for air to surface operations.

Equipped with a satellite navigation system (A-737 GPS compatible), the aircraft is capable of undertaking all-weather flights, day and night. The navigation suite includes the Thales Totem Inertial Directional System (INS), along with short and long-range radio navigation systems. Additionally, it features a laser attitude and a heading reference system.

The aircraft boasts an automatic flight control system that automates every phase of its flight, including the tactical deployment of its weaponry. Once the automatic flight control system receives data from the navigation system, it efficiently addresses route flight tasks, encompassing navigation over programmed waypoints, return to the designated airfield, execution of pre-landing maneuvers, and the approach for landing.

The aircraft has K36DM Zero Zero ejection seat with 30 degree backward inclination for handling higher g’s.

Engine

The aircraft has to AL31 FP thrust vectoring engine. It produces 76 KN of dry thrust and 122 KN with after burner. The mean time between overhaul is 1000 hours and has 3000 hours of full life span which is poor when compared to the Western engines. With titanium nozzle the main time overhaul is 500 hours. The engine has been playing with several issues for example like failure of parts due to fatigue and low oil pressure. 

Air to Air Capability of Su30MKI

Picture Credit: Air Power Australia

Beyond Visual Range

The SU30MKI equipped with the N011M bars radar has tracking range of 150 km and can track 15 targets and engage 4 targets simultaneously. But the Su30 has certain disadvantages owing to its size, it has larger RCS(4-20 sq meter), in BVR combat who looks first and fire first has the edge but with its powerful PESA and its ability of super manoeuvrability, it can give pretty good fight. I will discuss about the BVR capability of this aircraft if possible in another article. 

In its 12 hard points it can almost carry 8 ton of payload. For BVR combat it has

  • R27 ER with 120 km range which comes with its own IR seeker.
  • R77 with 110 km range comes with semi active guidance.
  • Astra Mk1 with rage of 110 km.
  • There were some reports of testing of Derby IR missile, but there is not much information on this.
  • For self defence it got Tarang radar warning receiver and Exguard decoy, chaffs but it lacks missile approach warning. 

Visual combat

Within visual range combat the SU30 is a different beast with its superior sustained turn rate of 25 degree per second and with its almost 180 degree angle of a attack, and a thrust of weight ratio of 1.40, it completely dominate the adversary in visual combat. The close combat weapons include,

  • R73 close combat missile with ±45 degree off bore capability and has a range of 30KM.
  • Also for the close range fight it has a 30 mm gryazev shipunov with 150 rounds.

Air to Surface

Picture Credit: IAF

Su30 can carry wide array of weapons for ground attack

  • 28 OFAB 250Kg Bombs.
  • 32 OFAB 100Kg Bombs.
  • 3 KAB 500L, a 500Kg Laser Guided Bomb.
  • 3 KAB 1500L, a 1500Kg Laser Guided Bomb.
  • Spice2000.
  • DRDO SAAW20 anti airfield weapons.
  • 4 Rampage missile which has a range of 250 km, is used for taking out crucial enemy installations like radio, communication, ammunition and fuel depots etc.
  • 3 KH59 anti-radiation missile with 200Km range.
  • 1 Brahmos for ground attacks.
  • 6 Rudram anti-radiation missile with range of 150-200 Km.

Su30 for Antiship Role

The Su-30 MKI, armed with the BrahMos anti-ship missile with a range of 500 kilometers, is a key asset for India’s strategic positioning. Su30 equipped with Brahmos is stationed in No. 222 Squadron based in Tanjavur, these aircraft play a pivotal role in surveilling and securing vast maritime territories of India. Covering the expansive Bay of Bengal, the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), and the strategically crucial Malacca Strait, the aircraft provides India with a significant advantage over China. By effectively controlling maritime traffic within the Malacca Strait, India not only safeguards its own interests but also maintains a watchful eye on the movements of the Chinese navy. This capability offers India a strategic edge in regional security and enhances its ability to monitor and respond to developments in the maritime domain.

Picture Credit: Jagran Josh

For Anti Ship role it has

  • 3 KH59 ME antiship missile with range of 200Km
  • 4 KH35 antiship missile with range of 130KM
  • 1 Brahmos antiship missile with range of 500KM

Su30 For Separate Electronic Warfare Aircraft

US Navy uses a modified F/A18 Super Hornet known as ‘Growler’ for a dedicated electronic warfare role. The Chinese Air Force has also modified their J16 aircraft for dedicated electronic warfare, known as J16D. HAL has also submitted a detailed report to IAF about modifying the Su30 for a dedicated electronic warfare role. There was some news about Tejas being converted for this role but considering its limited range, and payload carrying capacity(with only seven hardpoints, that too two hardpoints dedicated for two drop tanks because as an EW aircraft, it is expected to stay longer in the air), Su30 is can be tailored made for this role.

The Super Sukhoi Upgrade

Picture credit: Su27 Flanker Family

Also Read, Detailed Analysis Of Indian Super Sukhoi, A Jet With 5th Gen Capabilities!

The upgrade mainly consist of upgrading the avionics suite like a new radar warning receiver, new electronic warfare suite, cockpit upgrade and the most important radar upgrade. 

  • Under the program the SU30 will get gallium nitride base AESA radar called Virupaksha radar. 
  • Dhriti DR 118 radar warning receiver.
  • Dual colour missile approach warning system.
  • Next generation IRST sensor replacing the OLS30.
  • The cockpit upgrade include to wide area multifunction display, a new Head Up Display and digital map generator.
  • A new powerful mission computer

The upgrade also incudes the weapons upgrade but Su30MKI being the test bed aircraft for all new weapons that are being developed, the integration of these new weapons are constantly an ongoing process.

As far as the engine upgrade is concerned, there is no plan for new engines at present due to cost issues. Under the upgrade proposed by Russia, the AL41 FP engine which is used in Su35 was to be integrated with SU30. The engine was proposed to power the new radar and other avionics which has higher power requirement, for example the new Erbis radar that was integrated into Su30SM(Russian Su30) the peak power output of 20KW where as the earlier N011M radar has peak power output of 4-5KW. But with the indigenous upgrade where the GaN based radar(Virupaksha) is being planned under the upgrade package eliminates the needs for new engine, it is said that new GaN based radar has power requirement of just 5KW.

In conclusion the SU30MKI aircraft forms the backbone of the IAF fighter fleet and with 12 more aircraft on order, the total number of aircraft that will be in service would rise to 272. The Indian Air Force (IAF) relies heavily on its fleet of 272 Sukhoi Su-30MKI aircraft, underscoring their important role in nation’s air defense capabilities. The aircraft is expected to be in service until 2045, this necessitates comprehensive upgrades time to time to ensure they remain technologically advanced and capable of addressing evolving security challenges emanating both from our northern and western neighbors.

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Bheemanagouda M Patil

Hi, I'm Bheemanagouda Patil, currently I'm pursuing Mechanical Engineering (3rd year) from Dayanand Sagar College Of Engineering. I write on topics related defence and geopolitics.

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