Analysis Opinion

Why Su-30MKI is Special For Indian Air Force ?

By Tarun K.

16 December 2017

Sukhoi 30mki is a super-maneuverable twin-jet air superiority fighter developed by Russia’s Sukhoi and built under licence by India’s Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) for the Indian Air Force(IAF).  The Su-30MKI development was started in 1995 by Sukhoi Corporation and manufactured at Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), Nasik, Maharashtra production line . It is derived from the Su-27 Flanker, it is a heavy, all-weather, long-range fighter. It has close coupled canards with Thrust Vectoring, gives a deadliest combination.

It took six years to develop from start to MKI. Some of the Advanced avionics were developed by DRDO under a project code named “Vetrivale” (a Tamil name for the victorious lance carried by the youthful Lord Karthikeya or Murugan, a son of Parvati and Shiva) in close collaboration with the PSUs and the IAF.

Pic: Su-30MKI at HAL plant

The visual differences from basic Su-27(red marks) and predecessor – Su-30MK(green marks):

  • IR sight moved to right side of canopy(1)
  • Refueling system is installed(2)
  • More advanced avionics and cockpit instruments(3)
  • Two-weel nose gear(4)
  • Trainer seat replaced by the operator equipment(5)
  • Canard foreplanes(6)
  • Larger tail-planes(7)
  • Thrust-vectoring control engines(8)


Pic: NIIP NO11M Bars (Panther) PESA Radar

Su-30 MKI is fitted with NIIP NO11M Bars (Panther) which is a powerful integrated PESAradar. The N011M is a digital multi-mode dual frequency band radar. The N011M can function in air-to-air and air-to-land/sea mode simultaneously while being tied into a high-precision laser-inertial or GPS navigation system. It is equipped with a modern digital weapons control system as well as anti-jamming features. N011M has a 400 km search range and a maximum 200 km tracking range, and 60 km in the rear hemisphere. The radar can track 15 air targets and engage 4 simultaneously including cruise missiles and motionless helicopters. The Su-30MKI can function as a mini-AWACS as a director or command post for other aircraft. The target co-ordinates can be transferred automatically to at least four other aircraft. The radar can detect ground targets such as tanks at 40–50 km.

Electronic Warfare Suite :

Su-30MKI has electronic counter-measure systems. The RWR system is of Indian design, developed by India’s DRDO, called Tarang, (Wave in English). It has direction finding capability and is known to have a programmable threat library. Elta EL/M-8222 a self-protection jammer developed by Israel Aircraft Industries is the MKI’s standard EW pod, which the Israeli Air Force uses on its F-15s. The ELTA El/M-8222 Self Protection Pod is a power-managed jammer, air-cooled system with an ESM receiver integrated into the pod. The pod contains an antenna on the forward and aft ends, which receive the hostile RF signal and after processing deliver the appropriate response.


Su-30MKI design and avionics:


The Su-30MKI aircraft incorporates an aerodynamic airframe made of titanium and high intensity aluminium alloys. The twin stabilisers and horizontal tail consoles are joined to tail beams. The semi-monocoque fuselage head includes the cockpit, radar sections and the avionics bay. The section between the engine nacelles houses the equipment bay, fuel storage and the brake parachute mechanism. The aircraft has a length of 21.9m, wingspan of 14.7m and a height of 6.4m. The maximum take-off weight of Su-30MKI is 38,800kg.

The tandem glass cockpit of the Su-30MKI accommodates two pilots (one Pilot and one Weapon Officer) . The forward cockpit is equipped with an integrated avionics suite incorporating Elbit Su 967 head-up display (HUD), seven active-matrix liquid crystal displays (AMLCD) and primary cockpit instrumentation provided by Thales systems. The HAL-built aircraft are equipped with multifunction displays (MFD) supplied by Samtel Display Systems.


The Su-30MKI is powered by two Al-31FP turbojet engines. Each engine generates a full afterburn thrust of 12,500kgf. The power plant, equipped with thrust vector control, provides a maximum speed of Mach 1.9 in horizontal flight and a rate of climb of 300m/s.

Pic: Al-31FP of Su-30MKI

Thrust vectoring is the ability for the exhaust nozzles of the aircraft to pitch and yaw, directing the thrust in some direction other than straight back.  When used in concert with the normal control surfaces of the aircraft, this augments the aircraft’s maneuverability, allowing it to pitch and turn at tighter angles.  This makes the aircraft more lethal in a dogfight, as it helps get the aircraft’s nose onto the enemy faster than the enemy can get its nose around to a lethal position.

Pic: Thrust Vectoring of Flanker

Su-30MKI Display Systems:

Pic: CGI of Display Systems of Su-30MKI

Pic: Front seat pilot 

Pic: Rear seat weapons officer

Elbit Su 967 head-up display (HUD)

Pic: HUD SU-967

Samtel Display Systems:


Indian Contribution in Su-30MKI:

The Su-30MKI is the fighter which contains the avionics and equipments from round the world not only Russian, French, South African and Israeli Customer Furnished Equipment (CFE), but also a substantial percentage of Indian developed and manufactured avionics.

Indian avionics have been received and acknowledged enthusiastically by the Russian principals.

The following are the components developed by Indian agencies:

  • Mission Computer cum Display Processor – MC-486 and DP-30MK (Defence Avionics Research Establishment – DARE)
  • Radar Computer – RC1 and RC2 (DARE)
  • Tarang Mk2 Radar Warning Receiver (RWR) + High Accuracy Direction Finding Module (HADF) (DARE
  • IFF-1410A – Identification Friend or Foe (IFF)
  • Integrated Communication suite INCOM 1210A (HAL)
  • Radar Altimeter – RAM-1701 (HAL)
  • Programmable Signal Processor (PSP) – (LRDE)
  • Multi Function Displays (MFD) – Samtel/DARE

The 32-bit Mission Computer performs mission-oriented computations, flight management, reconfiguration-cum-redundancy management and in-flight systems self-tests. In compliance with MIL-STD-1521 and 2167A standards, Ada language has been adopted for the mission computer’s software. The other DARE-developed product, the Tarang Mk-2 (Tranquil) radar warning receiver, is manufactured by state-owned BEL at its Bangalore facility.

These avionics equipment have also been certified for their airworthiness in meeting the demanding standards of Russian military aviation. The cumulative value of such indigenous avionic equipment is estimated to exceed Rs. 250 lakhs per aircraft. Since the core avionics were developed by a single agency (DRDO) – they have significant commonality of hardware and software amongst them using a modular approach to design. This obviously results in major cost and time savings in development; it also benefits the user in maintenance and spares inventories.

The DRDO has gone a step further and come out with a new design of the Core Avionics Computer (CAC) which can be used with a single module adaptation across many other aircraft platforms. Thus the CAC which is derived from the computers designed for the Su-30MKI will now be the centre piece of the avionics upgrades for the MiG-27 and Jaguar aircraft as well. The CAC was demonstrated by DRDO at the Aero India exhibition at Yelahanka and attracted a good deal of international attention. Taken together with the systems already developed indigenously for the LCA (such as the Digital Flight Control Computer and HUD), clearly Indian avionics have a significant export potential in the burgeoning global market for avionics modernisation.

Super Sukhoi Upgrade:

There is a pressing need for speeding up the Su-30MKI program in order to restore the Indian Air Force’s technological superiority over the Chinese. Essentially, India needs to pull off the same trick it did in the mid-1990s, when it responded to China’s mass procurement of Su-27/30 fighters with the original Su-30MKI program. Two decades on, India needs to respond to China’s Su-35 and J-31 jets with the Sukhoi Super 30.

The Possible Upgrades to the MKI is adding more effective Multi role, like Multiple ejector Rack, AESA radar, more powerful EW and Jamming systems, along with High performance Engines,

Some report spreading in media claimed that Under super-30 Updgrade program IAF Su-30 MKI will be upgraded to SU-35+ standards which will be far superior to the SU-35 currently been operated by Russian and  Chinese Airforce but here we have to wait for final technical specifications to make comments for these comparisons.

Superiority of Su-30MKI over world’s most produced Fighters (F-16 & F/A-18)

Pic: Formation IAF Su-30MKI with Singapore (RSAF) with F-16.

The Su-30MKI’s structural and aerodynamic configuration incorporates the latest research and technological achievements. It is basically a triplane (a combination of conventional design with fore-planes) with a lifting fuselage and developed wing-root extensions. The interaction of the fore-planes and wing-root extensions creates a controlled vortex effect similar to that of the adaptive wing. The F-16 and F-18 designs were developed in the early and mid-1970s. In terms of maximum aerodynamic efficiency, the Su-30MKI, like all Su-27-family aircrafts, is unparalleled in the world and outperforms the above foreign counterparts by at least 50 to 100 percent.

In terms of conventional maneuverability characteristics, all these fighters are very similar. However, according to preliminary assessments, the Su-30MKI’s super-maneuverability gives it a 30-percent superiority over its competitors in close air combat. Aircraft multiple capabilities put into the forefront the problem of effective weapon employment. To solve this problem, the Su-30MKI has a copilot/weapon operator to improve the crew’s performance, weapon employment efficiency and provide for group missions.

Notably, in terms of quantity and types of weapons, the Russian fighter considerably outclasses the F-16C Block 50 and F-16C Block 60 aircraft but Boeing F-18E/F is very close to the Su-30MKI  for this case.

the Su-30MKI’s super-maneuverability and better air-to-air missiles give this aircraft superiority in close air combat in which it excels the F-16C Block 50 by 10-15 percent, F-16C Block 60 by 20-30 percent (as the high wing loading significantly limits its maneuverability in close-range combat), and F-18E/F by 15-20 percent.

In terms of ground strike capabilities, the Su-30MKI outperforms the F-16C and F/A-18 percent owing to its better surveillance and fire control radar system, higher survivability, better maneuverability, heavier combat load and longer flight range. The F-18E/F, following its modernization which has increased its flight range, armament suite and ammunition load and upgraded its surveillance and fire control radar system, still lags behind the Su-30MKI in strike capability by 15 to 20 percent.

The above comparative analysis of the Su-30MKI’s combat performance and technical characteristics demonstrate that this aircraft is capable of attaining air superiority, repulsing massive air raids, supporting combat actions of other air groups, destroying a wide range of ground and naval targets, and executing various special missions.

Compared to the F-16C Block 50, a heavy weapon load carried by the Su-30MKI significantly (by 20 percent) reduces the time required to defeat ground targets by one sortie, especially when using aerial bombs. The F-18E/F fighter is planned to have a similar combat load capacity in the future.

Why IAF need MMRCA instead of more Su-30MKIs?

This question was initially feel the heat when (in 2015) Defence minister Manohar Parrikar hinted that if the deal to buy French Rafale deal collapses and MMRCA tender is scrapped, India will go for Additional Sukhoi-30MKI which are already built in India and Operated by Indian Air Force in good numbers .

During Kargil War, Mirage-2000 armed initially with 250 kg “dumb” bombs and later with Laser-guided bombs which struck repeatedly heavily defended Mountains with precision. Mirage-2000 was declared best aircraft capable of optimum performance under the conditions of high-altitude seen in the zone of conflict , Aircraft not only took out Ground targets but also kept Pakistan Air Force operated Mirage-III and F-16 jets in vicinity in check due to its capabilities to engage in Air-Air roles if required.

Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) requirements were first felt after Kargil War, An aircraft which had the ability to multi-role between Air to Ground roles to Air to Air roles while flying same mission. IAF back then had recommended purchase of more modern Mirage-2000/V aircrafts since IAF had required skilled manpower and infrastructure already in place since it already operated Mirage-2000s in its fleet.

To speak in very light note SU-30 is a Long Range Air Dominance Multi-role Combat Aircraft where as the Rafale And Typhoon are Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA). India keeping in mind the two fronted war(Pakistan and China) needs a fleet of fighter which can dominate the air completely (SU-30 MKI) and also undertake the ground defense system of enemy and give support to the Air dominance Fleet (RAFALE from France). India need SU-30 MKI for different purpose and Rafale for different purpose.

MMRCA requirements were never about getting better jets then Sukhoi-30MKI which was heavily optimized for Air Superiority, but to have Multi-Role Combat Aircraft which has ability to carry out several different level of combat missions in conflict zone.

MMRCA was never about Sukhoi’s, there was a reason why Russian Sukhoi’s were never allowed to compete in tender in first place. Sukhoi-30MKI no doubt is very  capable aircraft among modern fighter aircrafts operated around the world , but it belongs to Heaver class of aircrafts which is heavily optimized for Air Superiority roles both which neglects “Medium ” and ” Multi-Role” requirements which IAF wanted in the new aircrafts. Purchase of Additional Sukhoi-30MKI may be a quick fix, but “Medium ” and ” Multi-Role” requirements, which IAF wanted in the new aircraft’s, will remain due to falling numbers of strike aircrafts in IAF fleet.

 Note: credits to the respective owners of data used here.

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