11:51 GMT14 May 2021
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    Irkut Corporation, manufacturer of Russia's Sukhoi brand of fighter aircraft, has offered the Indian Air Force a proposal to carry out a 'major modernization' of India's fleet of Sukhoi Su-30MKI multirole air superiority fighters. What benefits will the upgrade mean for the Indian Air Force? Sputnik investigates.

    On Thursday, Irkut Corporation President Oleg Demchenko confirmed that the company had made a proposal to the Indian Air Force to modernize its fleet of Su-30MKI fighters. The official said that the modernization would significantly expand the planes' combat capabilities. 

    Irkut says that the company can build the necessary infrastructure to overhaul the Su-30s in India itself, while integrating new weapons and upgrading existing weapons and onboard systems. Localization would also improve after-sales service as well, according to officials.

    The Su-30MKI, built under license by India's Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), is India's variant of the Russian Su-30 heavy all-weather, long-range multi-role fighter. The plane, expected to eventually form the backbone of India's Air Force as it retires older planes, was developed in the early 2000s, and began to be assembled in India starting in 2004. The IAF now has a total of 230 Su-30MKIs, with plans to order up to 84 more. 

    Negotiations on the modernization of Su-30MKI are continuing with the Indian Defense Ministry, Demchenko said, with the company presently preparing the necessary documentation.

    IAF Su-30MKI
    IAF Su-30MKI

    Irkut officials have long emphasized the Su-30MKI's impressive upgrade potential, particularly its open (block) architecture for its onboard radio electronic equipment.

    What specific upgrades are included in the 'major modernization'? Demchenko did not go into details. All that's been revealed is that the aircraft's onboard systems will be modernized, and that new types of weapons will be integrated. 

    However, according to Indian sources, the IAF's plan is to upgrade India's fleet of Su-30MKIs (beginning with a batch of 80 Su-30 MKIs) to 'Super Sukhois', equipping them with a bevy of improvements, including advanced radar and weapons. The contract, estimated to be worth $7-8 billion, would turn the plane into a near fifth-generation aircraft, officials have said.

    A Sukhoi Su-30MKI combat aircraft of the Indian Air Force takes part in the inaugural day of the 11th edition of 'Aero India', a biennial air show and aviation exhibition, in Bangalore on February 14, 2017
    © AFP 2021 / MANJUNATH KIRAN
    A Sukhoi Su-30MKI combat aircraft of the Indian Air Force takes part in the inaugural day of the 11th edition of 'Aero India', a biennial air show and aviation exhibition, in Bangalore on February 14, 2017

    The 'Super Sukhoi' program includes a modernized cockpit, advanced avionics, semi-stealth characteristics, longer range 300 km stand-off missiles (featuring an infrared homing system), and can be equipped with the Indo-Russian BrahMos cruise missile. The upgrade also features an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, a powerful early warning and jamming system, as well as new software for the plane's onboard systems. Other subsystems, including a multiple ejector rack (enabling larger payloads) are also proposed.

    Last month, Russia's United Aircraft Corporation, the state holding to which Irkut is a subsidiary, offered to integrate engines from the Su-35, Russia's new 4++ generation air superiority fighter, into the modernized Indian Su-30MKI. The Al-41F-1S engines used by the Su-35 far exceed those of the AL-31FP engines currently used by the Indian Su-30, according to UAC CEO Alexander Artyukhov.

    In their upgrade plans for the Super Sukhoi, Delhi had publically contemplated switching to non-Russian designed engines to make up for the AL-31's perceived shortcomings. However, equipping the planes with Russia's advanced new engine, as UAC has proposed, would certainly sweeten the deal for the IAF.

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    Tags:
    upgrade, analysis, Su-30MKI, Su-30, United Aircraft Corporation (UAC), Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), Indian Air Force, Irkut, Sukhoi, India, Russia
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