Russia and India Negotiating Su-30 Combat Jet Support Deal

 - January 25, 2017, 7:31 AM
Indian air force ground crew with an Su-30MKI on exercise at RAF Coningsby in the UK. (Photo: Chris Pocock)

Russia and India are close to signing a long-term support agreement for the fleet of Sukhoi Su-30MKI combat aircraft operated by the Indian Air Force (IAF). It includes an improved schedule for the delivery of spares from Russia, local manufacturing of some spares and the creation of logistics hub for the aircraft at the Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. (HAL) production facility in Bangalore. India has contracted for the delivery of more than 300 of these aircraft. 

The Su-30MKI is a specialized variant of the Su-30MK-model series and was developed and built at the Irkut factory in Russia. It features several modifications that differentiate it from the original Su-30 design. These include a set of canard foreplanes and a thrust vector control (TVC) module coupled to the aircraft’s fly-by-wire flight control system; the N011M passive electronically scanning array (PESA) radar set produced by the NIIP design bureau in Moscow; and a mix of Israeli, French and Indian-produced avionics.

It is this unique configuration of this aircraft, which is different from the other Su-30MK variants sold for export, that complicates the logistics chain for this aircraft, say Russian aerospace specialists familiar with the program. Indian officials had previously expressed dissatisfaction with the declining availability rates for the Su-30MKI, but have seen improvements in those numbers recently.

“Sukhoi availability, which had slipped to 46 percent, is today above 63 percent,” said the Indian defense minister, Manohar Parrikar, in a statement to Indian news outlets. “Our status with Russia is much better than two years back. We have signed many of the support contracts this year. Very few are left.  We are working on long-term arrangements, including manufacturing some of the [Su-30MKI] spares in India. Earlier, there were some problems due to the need to change their [Russian] laws.”

However, placement of a logistics center for the Su-30MKI at Bangalore in southern India is a curious choice, said one Russian aerospace export specialist, “given that the Su-30MKIs are license-assembled at the HAL facility in Nasik and not in Bangalore.” Nasik is almost 700 miles north of Bangalore. But those familiar with the condition of the various HAL facilities located in India argue that Bangalore would be more accessible than Nasik and is also the premier high-technology hub of the Indian economy. Creation of a support facility for the Su-30MKI in Bangalore “would be not unlike the approach of Russian industry of having initial, new-production aircraft manufactured in one location and using a second location for the overhaul and modernization of the same model of aircraft,” the Russian specialist said.

Some 75 percent of the operational combat aircraft in the IAF inventory are of Russian design. In addition to the Su-30MKI these include the Mikoyan MiG-21, MiG-27, and MiG-29. India had been attempting to diversify its supplier base with the Medium Multirole Combat Aircraft Program (MMRCA) that was to have procured roughly 200 new aircraft of western design for the IAF. Thus far, only 36 Dassault Rafale aircraft have been ordered with a 150-plus requirement remaining to be addressed.