The Super Sukhoi project, initiated by the Indian Air Force (IAF), is a significant upgrade program for their Sukhoi Su-30MKI fighter jets aimed to enhance the capabilities of India’s Air Force’s Sukhoi fleet. Image source: Screenshot of Malaysian Sukhoi Su-30MKM in a bunker from the 2022 Malaysian movie, Air Force: The Movie.
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Lessons learned from the 1965 War with Pakistan which had substantial support from the USA & flying a variant of the North American F-86 Sabre, India decided to procure Sukhoi Su-7 fighter-bombers from the Russians that could take considerable damage whilst providing close support attack for the MiG-21 fighters & ground attack. Image source: ARC Air
History of Sukhoi in IAF
The Indian Air Force (IAF) has a long and fruitful relationship with the Russian aircraft manufacturer Sukhoi & Mikoyan MiG, which dates back to the 1960s when India acquired Russian made Mikoyan MiG-21 in 1961 and Sukhoi Su-7 fighter-bomber in 1968. It was used extensively in the 1971 war with Pakistan. Sukhoi Su-7 was retired in 1986 as the IAF started to operate the more modern Russian-made fighter jets namely MiG-23 fighter-bomber, MiG-25 for reconnaissance, MiG-27 fighter & MiG-29 air superiority fighter.
However, the most prominent and advanced Sukhoi aircraft in the IAF inventory is the Su-30MKI, a multirole air superiority fighter that is tailor-made for Indian specifications and integrates Indian, French and Israeli sub-systems. The Su-30MKI is a variant of the Su-30, which is a two-seater, twin-engine, long-range fighter that can perform air-to-air and air-to-ground missions.
The Su-30 was developed from the Su-27, which is a highly manoeuvrable air superiority fighter that was designed to counter the American F-15 Eagle. The Su-30MKI incorporates some of the features and components of the Su-35, which is an improved version of the Su-27 with enhanced avionics, engines and weapons.
Facing 2 powerful adversaries with one closely supported by the US, India was in dire need of a modern, multi-role fighter jet. Derived from the Sukhoi Su-27, Russia offered the next level of the Sukhoi fighter jet, the export version Sukhoi Su-30SM to India but the IAF was not impressed with the performance & wanted further updates & changes which included canards and thrust vectoring nozzles, hence the Indian variant Image source: Quora
The IAF signed a deal with Russia in 1996 to acquire 50 Su-30MKIs in five batches. The first batch consisted of eight Su-30Ks, which were the basic export version of the Su-30. The second batch also had 10 Su-30Ks but with French and Israeli avionics. The third batch had 10 Su-30MKIs with canard foreplanes, which are small wings near the nose that improve stability and agility. The fourth batch had 12 Su-30MKIs and the fifth batch had 10 Su-30MKIs, both with AL-31FP turbofans, which are powerful engines that can vector thrust in different directions, enabling the aircraft to perform extreme maneuvers.
The IAF was not satisfied with the performance of the first two batches of Su-30Ks and decided to return them to Russia between 2007 and 2011. In exchange, India received 18 new Su-30MKIs from Russia. In addition, India signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Russia in 2000 to manufacture 140 Su-30MKIs under license by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), India’s state-owned aerospace company.
The first HAL-built Su-30MKI entered service with the IAF in 2004. The IAF has ordered a total of 272 Su-30MKIs, of which nearly 260 are in service as of to date.
Video narration: Under the Super Sukhoi program, the SU-30MKI fighter jets will undergo a series of upgrades to enhance their combat capabilities. The program will be carried out in two phases, with the first phase focused on upgrading the avionics and weapons systems of the aircraft. The second phase will involve the installation of more powerful engines, which will significantly increase the aircraft’s thrust-to-weight ratio and manoeuvrability.
Super Sukhoi Project
The Sukhoi Su-30MKI is a versatile and potent fighter aircraft that has been in service with the IAF since the late 1990s. However, recognizing the need to modernize and upgrade its fleet, India embarked on the Super Sukhoi project in 2015 which aims to equip these aircraft with state-of-the-art technologies that will enhance their performance, survivability, and versatility in modern warfare scenarios.
New avionics systems
The upgraded Su-30MKI aircraft will feature advanced avionics systems that will provide improved situational awareness, communication, and data-sharing capabilities. These systems will enable the pilots to access real-time information and make better decisions during missions. The new avionics systems will also reduce the workload of the pilots and increase their operational efficiency.
New radar systems
The upgraded Su-30MKI aircraft will be fitted with new radar systems that will enhance their detection and tracking abilities. The current N011M BARS radar of Su-30MKI can search objects up to 400 km and track them up to 200 km. The new radar systems will be either the X-band N036 Byelka AESA radar, which is used in the Russian Su-57 fifth-generation fighter jet, or the Uttam AESA radar, which is being developed by India’s DRDO. These radar systems will have a longer range, higher accuracy, and greater resistance to jamming. They will also be able to track and engage more targets simultaneously.
New electronic warfare suites
The upgraded Su-30MKI aircraft will be equipped with new electronic warfare suites that will enhance their survivability in hostile environments. These suites will include advanced jamming, deception, and countermeasure systems that will protect the aircraft from enemy radars, missiles, and other threats. The new electronic warfare suites will also enable the aircraft to conduct offensive electronic attacks against enemy assets.
New weapons systems
The upgraded Su-30MKI aircraft will be able to carry more and better weapons systems that will increase their combat effectiveness. The current Su-30MKI can carry a variety of air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons, including the BrahMos-A supersonic cruise missile. The upgraded Su-30MKI will be able to carry three BrahMos-A missiles instead of one, as well as other long-range missiles such as the Astra BVR missile, which is being developed by India’s DRDO. The new weapons systems will give the aircraft a greater strike range and firepower.
The Super Sukhoi Project is expected to cost over $7 billion and will involve the collaboration of various Indian and Russian entities, such as Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), DRDO, Rosoboronexport, Sukhoi Design Bureau, and others. The project will cover 84 Su-30MKI aircraft in the first phase and may be extended to another 150 aircraft in later phases. The project will ensure that the Su-30MKI aircraft remain relevant and formidable in the coming decades.
Despite India having procured some French-made Dassault Rafale for the multirole missions & is looking into procuring the navalised version for its aircraft carriers, the role that has been played by Su-30MKI is just too great to be missed, hence the need to further upgrade to keep it in active service for many years to come.
Potential Benefits for Malaysia
The Super Sukhoi project is not only a significant milestone for India’s defence industry, but also an opportunity for other countries to benefit from India’s expertise and experience in developing and upgrading fighter jets. One such country is Malaysia, which operates a fleet of 18 Su-30MKM aircraft, a variant of the Su-30MKI that was customized for the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF).
Malaysia can benefit from India’s Super Sukhoi project in several ways, namely:-
India’s Experience & Expertise
Malaysia can leverage India’s experience and expertise in upgrading the Su-30MKI aircraft, which shares many common features and systems with the Su-30MKM aircraft. India has been operating and maintaining the Su-30MKI aircraft for over two decades and has gained valuable insights into their strengths and weaknesses.
India has also developed indigenous technologies and components that can be integrated into the Su-30MKM aircraft, such as the Uttam AESA radar, which can detect and track multiple targets at long ranges, and the electronic warfare suite, which can jam and deceive enemy radars and missiles. These technologies can enhance the situational awareness, survivability, and combat effectiveness of the Su-30MKM aircraft.
Cost Savings Options
Malaysia can benefit from India’s cost-effective and timely delivery of the Super Sukhoi project. India has a proven track record of delivering high-quality defence products and services at competitive prices. For instance, India has successfully upgraded its fleet of MiG-29 fighter jets with modern avionics and weapons systems at a fraction of the cost of buying new aircraft.
India has also completed the upgrade of its Mirage 2000 fighter jets ahead of schedule and within budget. The Super Sukhoi project is expected to follow a similar pattern of efficiency and affordability. Malaysia can save time and money by collaborating with India on upgrading its Su-30MKM aircraft rather than seeking other sources or options.
One of the options that India has with its Su-30MKI is the ability to change the Russian-made avionics & weapons with any system. This includes the Indian-made BrahMos supersonic cruise missile which the Philippines have bought the anti-ship version & had placed facing the South China Sea. Image source: Wikipedia.
Defence Strategic Partnership
Malaysia can benefit from India’s strategic partnership and cooperation on defence matters. India and Malaysia have a long-standing relationship that dates back to ancient times. The two countries share common values and interests, such as democracy, multiculturalism, regional stability, and counter-terrorism. The two countries have also established various mechanisms for defence cooperation, such as joint exercises, training programs, exchange visits, and consultations.
The Super Sukhoi project can further strengthen this cooperation by enhancing mutual trust and understanding between the two air forces. The upgraded Su-30MKM aircraft can also enable greater interoperability and coordination between the two countries in addressing common security challenges in the region.
The Sukhoi Su-57 Felon is supposed to be Russia’s answer to the US stealth multirole fighter, the F-35 fighter with both being 5th-generation fighters. However, Russia has not been able to construct enough for its own Air Force or export although there were several interested parties to procure one. Image source: Wikipedia
Russian Su-57 Stealth Fighters
While the Super Sukhoi project focuses on upgrading the Su-30MKI, Russia has its own advanced fighter jet program known as the Su-57. The Su-57 is a fifth-generation, stealth-capable fighter aircraft designed to excel in air superiority and strike missions.
Although the Su-57 project is distinct from the Super Sukhoi project, there are potential areas of collaboration and technology transfer between India and Russia. Malaysia, too, can explore opportunities to benefit from the Su-57 program, either through direct acquisition or through collaboration with Russia in upgrading its Su-30MKM fleet.
By leveraging the advancements made in the Su-57 program, Malaysia can enhance the stealth capabilities, sensor systems, and overall performance of its Sukhoi Su-30MKM fleet. This would ensure that Malaysia’s air force remains a formidable force in the region and is equipped to address evolving security challenges.
The Super Sukhoi project is an ambitious initiative by India to upgrade its air force and strengthen its defence posture. This project has implications not only for India but also for other countries that operate the Sukhoi Su-30MKM fighter jets, such as Malaysia. By taking advantage of the technological innovations achieved under the Super Sukhoi project and seeking cooperation with Russia’s Su-57 program, Malaysia can improve the performance and capabilities of its fleet, ensuring its air force maintains a competitive edge in regional defence.
In summary, Malaysia stands to gain from India’s Super Sukhoi project in various ways. The project can offer Malaysia access to India’s knowledge and skills in modernising fighter jets, as well as its cost-efficient and timely delivery of defence products and services. The project can also boost Malaysia’s strategic partnership and collaboration with India on defence issues. Therefore, Malaysia should explore the possibility of working with India on upgrading its Su-30MKM aircraft to ensure their suitability and effectiveness in contemporary warfare scenarios.