Belarus and Russia have reached agreement in principle on the sale of Sukhoi Su-30SM twin-seat multirole fighters, Belarus deputy defense minister Major General Igor Lotenkov said. Reportedly, the agreement calls for a dozen aircraft, with shipments beginning “after 2020.” Belarus briefly operated some Su-30Ks previously, under a complicated process involving the trade-in and resale of used Indian aircraft.
Lotenkov told journalists that the new Sukhois will replace MiG-29s, the main type in today’s Belarus Air Force (VVS) and Air Defense Force (PVO) inventory. He said the change is driven primarily by the age of the surviving MiGs, which have been in service for some 30 years. “Having calculated the costs for maintaining them, we came to conclusion that fleet renewal requires less funds,” he explained. Since the Su-30SM is a heavier, longer-range and technically superior aircraft, “the overall combat potential of the Belarus Armed Forces' aviation component will practically remain [at the same level].” A big factor in favor of the Su-30SM was the fact that the Aircraft Repair Plant No. 558 at Baranovichi in western Belarus already has the skills to maintain and repair the Su-27/30 series.
Lotenkov’s statement follows one by defense minister Andrei Ravkov late last year that Belarus was planning to acquire Su-30s and place a follow-on order for the Yak-130s already in service. The choice of the SM version can be explained by the fact that both Su-30SM and Yak-130 are manufactured by Irkut.
Earlier, Belarus acquired 18 ex-Indian air force Su-30Ks as part of a complex deal that involved Russia, India and Belarus. India accepted a Russian offer to trade all the Su-30Ks that were delivered in 1997-1999 for 12 new Su-30MKIs, so that the Indian air force could standardize on that version. Subsequently, the used Su-30Ks went from India to Belarus. After a thorough inspection and overhaul at Baranovichi, some saw brief service with the Belarus air force before being sold back to Russia for subsequent delivery to Angola.
On condition of anonymity, a source in the Russian military industrial complex told AIN that the thorough inspection of the used Su-30Ks shortly after their withdrawal from the Indian service revealed that Indian pilots had overstressed them. The airframes had some residual deformation of the load-bearing structure. This necessitated expensive repair work that the industry could perform, but the Belarus defense ministry could not afford. In addition, Belarus modernized some of its MiG-29 fleet before finding that, too, an excessively expensive project.
Belarus is the third customer for the Su-30SM after Russia and Kazakhstan (which received four aircraft in 2014-2015). The SM version is broadly similar to the Su-30MKI/MKA/MKM in Algerian, Indian and Malaysian service, with the difference largely being more modern avionics, such as replacement of the Israeli El-Op SU 967 HUD by a wide-angle Thales 3022 unit or the Russian-made RPKB IKSh-1M or Elektroavtomatika ShKAI. To date, the number of orders for the Su-30K/MKI/SM series manufactured at Irkut exceeds 400 aircraft.