India is holding talks with Russia for upgrading the Indian Air Force’s (IAF) 194 Sukhoi Su-30MKI multi-role aircraft with the near fifth-generation level.
A senior Indian Defence Ministry official told the local media in New Delhi over the weekend that the Narendra Modi government recently allocated USD 8 billion for the project. The official, who wished to remain anonymous, also said that the IAF would rename the upgraded version of fighter jets ‘Super Sukhoi’. He informed the press that a Russian delegation visited the Indian capital earlier in July to discuss the upgrade plan with top IAF and Defence Ministry officers. According to the official, the project will be finalised by the end of 2016.
Earlier, the IAF urged the Modi government to upgrade its existing fleet of 272 Su-30MKI to the near fifth-generation level in an attempt to increase its combat worthiness. Speaking at the press conference, the ministry official said that the new project would not affect the proposed Indo-Russian Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) worth USD 25 billion.
In 2011, India and Russia signed a Preliminary Development Agreement to jointly manufacture the FGFA. However, the two friendly nations are yet to sign a final accord that will clear the payment of around USD 6 billion as India’s share in the development of the FGFA. The official stressed that the two sides would have to resolve issues relating to work share in production, the order from IAF and the incorporation of FGFA by IAF before signing the final agreement.
However, IAF Air Marshal (Retired) Muthumanikam Matheswaran is of the opinion that the new project will affect the FGFA acquisition. “Upgrade of the Su-30 will certainly slow the FGFA acquisition primarily due to financial limitations. But upgraded Su-30 is not the same as FGFA,” he said. At the same time, he appreciated the IAF’s decision to upgrade Sukhoi jets, saying: “An upgrade at the maximum will be about half the cost of the original aircraft in Su-30 generation. A new aircraft in place of Su-30 means FGFA, which is far more expensive.”
Meanwhile, defence analyst and IAF Air Marshal (Retired) Daljit Singh has explained the difference between FGFA and Super Sukhoi. He stressed that Super Sukhoi would not come at the cost of the FGFA, as “FGFA is a programme already approved and Super Sukhoi is not yet approved”.
Singh further said: “FGFA has some distinct features, which Super Su-30MKI will not have. These include internal weapon-carrying bays to enhance(d) stealth features, integrated internal fit of electronic warfare suite, super-cruise capability and inherent stealth design. Su-30 cannot be redesigned as a stealth aircraft. Any changes of wing design and material to improve stealth would be very expensive and time consuming and would be akin to a different design. Therefore, FGFA project may not be cancelled in total in view of the Su-30 upgrade.”
The IAF wants to upgrade its Sukhoi fleet, as it has significant shortage of combat aircraft. Currently, the IAF’s fighter aircraft strength is down to 25 squadrons (one squadron means 18 aircraft) as against the required strength of 45 squadrons.