Angola To Receive Upgraded Sukhoi Combat Aircraft

 - May 5, 2015, 1:55 PM
The Belarus Aircraft Repair Plant was an exhibitor at the recent LIMA show in Malaysia, offering to work on that country’s Su-30MKMs. (Photo: Chris Pocock)

Angola is set to be become the third operator of the Sukhoi Su-30 series twin-seat fighter jets in Africa, following Algeria and Uganda. Six former Indian air force Su-30K (mod) aircraft are due for delivery in the second half of this year. Originally destined for the Belarus air force, they have undergone a major overhaul and repair program at the Aircraft Repair Plant no. 558 in Baranovichi, Belarus, arranged by Sukhoi. This repair plant is seeking business from other Su-30 operators and was an exhibitor at the recent LIMA airshow in Malaysia, which received 18 Su-30MKMs.

The African continent is considered a potentially big market for the big Sukhoi jetfighters, mostly used ones, which are going to be withdrawn from service in other parts of the world and thus become available cheaply. Few potential customers in the region can afford brand-new airplanes of that size and complexity, but the vast expanse of the continent and ambitions of some local leaders generate an interest. Irkut hopes that the Angolan Su-30K (mod.) will serve as a good example of how used Su-27/30 series aircraft can get a new lease on life through cost-effective modernization.

Back in the days of war between Ethiopia and Eritrea, a handful of Su-27 single-seat fighters took part in combat operations; these were bought on the secondary market and flown largely by foreign pilots. Then Uganda received six Su-30MK2s new from the Komsomolsk-on-Amur factory in 2011. Oil-rich Algeria operates more than 40 Su-30MKA multirole fighters, delivered new from Irkut in two batches. The latter “A” in the suffix refers to customized Algerian version, which is broadly similar to Indian air force’s Su-30MKI.

Angola signed for its 12 (some sources say 18) ex-Indian Su-30K (mod.) aircraft in October 2013, part of a larger, $1 billion (U.S.) deal with Russia. Being a poor country, Angola can afford to pay only in small quantities over time, hence the slow execution of the contract. Under a 1996 contract, India bought a quantity of Su-30Ks from Russia, with shipments from the Irkutsk factory taking place from 1997 to 1999. The Indian air force operated them till the middle of 2011. Meanwhile, a major deal was struck between Moscow and New Delhi for the Su-30MKI; a total of 274 are being delivered from Russia or assembled locally at HAL’s Nasik facility, of which nearly 250 are now in service. India returned all of the earlier Su-30Ks to the manufacturer with their residual value deducted from the bill for newly produced Su-30MKIs.

The Indian air force flew its Su-30Ks extensively, especially after the news came of their return to the manufacturer. Airframes going back to Russia had between 1,000 and 1,500 flying hours, with some showing signs of overstress after extensive flying with high g-loads.

Having inspected these aircraft, the manufacturer arranged the overhaul deal with Belarus. In addition to beefing up the airframe to ensure a meaningful residual lifetime, the Irkut-controlled Russian Avionics company added some“technical insertions” from the Su-30KN and developed other "added value" programs for the ex-Indian aircraft.These include replacement of some analog instruments with MFI-68 multifunction 6- by 8-inch displays. The airplane’s targeting capability is improved by an additional module in the N-001 radar, referred to as the bypass channel. This add-on has its own data-processing capability through the use of a modern onboard computer belonging to the Baget series. It allows for introduction of additional working modes, including simultaneous firing at two airborne targets with guided missiles; digital mapping; and “ground surface observation” modes. The Su-30K (mod.) can also carry an expanded range of air-to-air and air-to-surface guided munitions, turning an air superiority fighter into a multirole aircraft.