Indian air force pilots (IAF) flying their Su-30MKI Flankers provided stiff opposition for a UK Royal Air Force (RAF) Eurofighter Typhoon squadron during air combat maneuvering exercises just ended in the UK. Senior officers from both the IAF and the RAF were unwilling to discuss details, but AIN understands from informed sources with knowledge of the exercise that, in close combat, the thrust vector control (TVC) on the heavier Flankers more than compensated for the greater thrust-to-weight ratio of the Typhoon. The IAF is likely to buy another 30or 40 Su-30MKIs from the licensed Indian production line, boosting its fleet to close to300, especially after last week’s formal withdrawal by Delhi of the RFP for a Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA).
For Exercise Indradhanush IV, the IAF deployed four Su-30MKIs from No 2 Squadron based at Tezpur to RAF Coningsby, assisted by mid-air refueling from an IAF Ilyushin Il-78 tanker. Logistics support was provided by an IAF C-17 and a C-130J, and these transports also carried a special forces unit that exercised with its RAF counterpart, including paradrops. Three previous exercises in the series included two visits by RAF Typhoons to India and an Su-30MKI deployment to the UK in 2007. However, that exercise was constrained by Indian security rules that precluded the use of the Flanker’s N011M passive electronically-scanned array (PESA) radar. There were no such restrictions this time, although the rules that were agreed by both air forces for the exercise included a common maximum range for beyond-visual range (BVR) engagements. The Flanker and the Typhoon both carry a long-range infrared search and track (IRST) sensor that can supplement or replace BVR detection of opposing aircraft by their respective radars.
Scenarios for the two-week exercise gradually increased in complexity, ending with an 18-aircraft mission in which the four Flankers joined six Typhoons in a ‘Blue’ Force that was tasked to escort two C-130Js (one Indian, on British) into a drop zone, opposed by six jets of a ‘Red’ Force comprising RAF Hawks and more Typhoons. Although air-to-air engagement was the main focus of the exercise, the Flanker and Typhoon pilots also honed their air-to-ground skills. Typhoons performed simulated drops of Paveway II and IV laser-guided bombs. Although the Flankers can carry a much greater range of ordnance, they simulated only ‘generic’ weapons-dropping while in the UK.
The status and timetable is not entirely clear for India's plans to upgrade the Su-30MKI fleet with an AESA radar; new displays including the Thales Topsight HMDS; and new weapons including the Indian Astra BVRAAM and the Indo-Russian Brahmos cruise missile. The ending of the MMRCA requirement could theoretically free up funds for the upgrade, and the additional licensed production, although some observers believe that more resources could be applied to the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) project with Russia, instead. Meanwhile, Dassault Aviation seems confident of a firm contract from India for 36 French-built Rafale fighters within a couple of months, in lieu of the MMRCA deal. Eric Trappier, CEO, told journalists at the company’s half-yearly-results press conference last week that the company was now committing to an increased Rafale production rate starting in 2018.
View a slideshow from the maneuvering exercises.