Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Sukhoi Su-30 Of The IAF & Other Air Forces - Recent Developments

Putin's ongoing, month-long '2-Day' invasion of Ukraine has thrown a spanner into upkeep of the Indian Air Force [IAF] fleet of Soviet/Russian Aircraft. With a pivot in Russian priorities, coupled with the imposed Western sanctions, there is a genuine growing concern among Indian planners that the OEM support henceforth would be unreliable.
IAF Sukhoi Su-30MKI Aircraft - 01
With an impending crisis looming over the horizon, the IAF, over the past month, has floated a number of Request For Proposals [RFP], seeking 1:1 Indian substitutes. This also ties in with it's plans to improve availability numbers by reducing their maintenance downtime. Russian dependency for core elements, though, would remain. Aircraft engines, for example, is a major Achilles Heel. Unlike their Western counterpart, it is no secret that Russian Engines suffer from inferior Service Life & shorter MTBO. This concern came out strongly during the deployment of IAF Su-30MKI Flanker to USA for Red Flag 2008. Unsurprisingly, when conceptualising the LCA Tejas, ADA designed it around the Western GE404 Turbofan Engine, despite more convenient availability of Russian examples. HAL's Engine Division at Koraput has taken up a big share of the manufacturing process of the Klimov RD-33 [for MiG-29] & Saturn AL-31FP [Su-30MKI], resulting from the License Manufacturing under Transfer of Technology [ToT]. This includes final machining & assembly. However, forged rough cut billets & bars continue to be supplied from Russia. Nobody parts with Metallurgy.
Amidst the kerfuffle, India plans to push for acquisition of another 12 Su-30MKI airframes. This is yet another of the IAF's stop-gap measures to shore up dwindling squadron strength. Then IAF Chief, ACM Bhadauria, in 2019, confirmed plans to procure another 23 MiG-29 & 12 Su-30 MKI, for which the Acceptance Of Necessity [AON] had been released. The papers, 3 years hence, have reached tables of the Defence Acquisition Council [DAC], that is expected to green-light it this week. Meanwhile, the Russian Air Force has lost multiple Su-30 aircraft in it's current invasion.

An unwise decision. Acquiring additional Mk.1A variants of the LCA Tejas should be the way, instead. 83 are expected to be inducted, starting 2024. The Aircraft being replaced by these proposed Flanker & Fulcrums, primarily the MiG-21 Bison, is far outperformed by the indigenous Tejas, in baseline Mk. 1 iteration. Setting up a parallel Assembly line, in collaboration with the private sector, with a guarantee of a long production run, would reap rich dividends, instead of these piecemeal, knee-jerks. To elaborate on this boondoggle, the IAF Flankers, it's most expensive asset, were supposed to be the tip of it's fighting spear with 40 such birds in it's fleet, with lower-costing [operational & capital] aircraft, like the Tejas, making up the bulk of the fleet. Today, the at almost 300, Flanker is more numerous than the MiG-21 itself!
The Ugandan Air Force recently tied-up with HAL for maintenance of it's Su-30K aircraft. They would fly into HAL's Bengaluru facility for repair & overhaul. Angola, another country in Africa operates Flankers that, in fact, were previously IAF operated. Another potential customer for MRO services for HAL.
The MKI variant was specifically designed keeping in mind IAF requirements. It incorporates Western Avionics into the Russian Airframe, something never attempted before. Air Commodore [Retd] NS Jamwal, as the Commanding Officer [CO] of the No. 20 Squadron, oversaw the induction of the first Flanker Squadron. He was also the designated display pilot for the aircraft. In a recent episode of the Blue Skies Podcast, he gives a fine account of the aircraft's capability & story behind the acquisition. "From the horse's mouth", couldn't get a better illustrative example.