Ukraine-Russia War Pushes IAF to Stall Plans to Modernise Its Su-30 MKI Fighter Fleet

With the Indian Air Force plans to modernise the Sukhoi Su-30 MKI fighter fleet shelved amid the ongoing Ukraine-Russia war, it’s an opportunity for Indian Air Force to reassess its fighter jets requirement for the future

By Girish Linganna

Indian Air Force

The ongoing crisis between Ukraine and Russia has forced the Indian Air Force (IAF) to shelve plans to modernise the Sukhoi Su-30 MKI fighter fleet, which has a budget of $4.5 billion. There were plans to upgrade 85 Su-30 MKI fighter jets with cutting-edge electronic warfare capabilities and more powerful radars by the IAF in collaboration with Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), an Indian aircraft manufacturer, and Sukhoi, a Moscow-based defence manufacturer that manufactures the Su-30 MKI fighter jets.

The acquisition of 12 sophisticated Su-30MKI aircraft is also to be put on hold. The delay is said to be due to a change in policy that would compel stakeholders to exponentially increase the amount of made-in-India content in planes. HAL also announced a couple of days ago that it signed a contract with Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) for the co-development as well as co-production of a long-range dual-band Infrared Search and Track System (IRST) for the IAF’s Su-30 MKI fighter jets.

The prolonged tension between Ukraine and Russia has also led to delays in the supply of replacement parts for fighter aircraft

The prolonged tension between Ukraine and Russia has also led to delays in the supply of replacement parts for fighter aircraft. However, thanks to the Uri strikes and the continual conflict with China, India stocked up on them, making the situation manageable.

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During the 37th PC Lal memorial lecture, Indian Defence Minister, Rajnath Singh remarked that the situation in Ukraine is proof that military conflicts can damage defence supply as well as commercial contracts.

Relying on Russian Fighter Jets

The Su-30 MKIs are the pillar of the Indian Air Force, with 272 of them ordered in various batches due to the IAF’s repeated orders of these planes whenever they ran short of fighter jets. There was approval by India’s Ministry of Defence for the purchase of 12 Su-30 MKI fighter jets and 21 MiG-29, as well as upgrades to 59 existing MiG-29s for $2.4 billion, following border tensions with China in 2020.

The Su-30 MKIs are the pillar of the Indian Air Force, with 272 of them ordered in various batches due to the IAF’s repeated orders of these planes whenever they ran short of fighter jets. There was approval by India’s Ministry of Defence for the purchase of 12 Su-30 MKI fighter jets and 21 MiG-29, as well as upgrades to 59 existing MiG-29s for $2.4 billion

A spokeswoman from Russia’s Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation, Valeria Reshetnikova, stated that the company had offered to deliver 21 MiG-29 fighter jets to India in 2021. Numerous military commanders and defence experts have highlighted IAF’s engagement with Russian jets in the past.

The then-chief of the Air Staff of IAF, Birender Singh Dhanoa, revealed that India was in talks with Russia to upgrade Su-30MKI fighter jets deployed by the Indian military, in 2019. Dhanoa confirmed that New Delhi was on board with the plans to modernise the Russian MiG-21, MiG-27, and MiG-29 fighters operated by the IAF, in an interview with Krasnaya Zvezda, the Russian Armed Forces’ official newspaper.

Are the Rafale Fighter Jets Better?

However, experts questioned India’s logic for choosing MiG-29 fighters over the latest Rafale jets. Tom Cooper, an aviation expert, questioned IAF’s preference for Su-30s and MiG-29s over the advanced Rafales fighters. According to him, while formidable on paper, the Su-30 lacks performance and combat capability when compared to Rafale jets and even MiG-29 fighters.

MiG-29 has proven to perform better at high altitudes than heavier fighter jets such as the Su-30MKI, despite concerns about its engine dependability. The MiG-29’s superior performance over the bigger Sukhoi fighters is no longer a secret.

MiG-29 has proven to perform better at high altitudes than heavier fighter jets such as the Su-30MKI, despite concerns about its engine dependability. The MiG-29’s superior performance over the bigger Sukhoi fighters is no longer a secret

Cooper also reminded that the Sukhoi Su-30 fighters failed to make an impression during the Kargil War in 1999 and the Balakot Airstrikes in 2019, and India had to lean on the ageing Dassault Mirage-2000s instead. He also stated that though the Mig 29 performs better than the Su-30 MKIs, it is not the best option for the IAF.

The MiG-29s that India aims to buy from Russia are old models that will be refurbished before being handed over and are simply not adequate for the job. Nevertheless, the latest development is a matter of concern for IAF, which has an already dwindling combat fleet. It has only 32 squadrons instead of the sanctioned 42.

New Delhi needs to deeply ponder on whether the IAF really needs more MiGs and Sukhois to battle China, or if it should invest in modern western fighters like Rafale and the indigenously developed LCA Tejas instead.

– The writer is an Aerospace and Defence Analyst & Director ADD Engineering Components (India) Pvt Ltd (An Indo- German Company). The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Raksha Anirveda

 

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