The Game Changer Sukhoi Su-30MKI: Specifications, Operations and Armament

Designed to meet Indian specifications, the Su-30MKI seamlessly integrates Indian systems and avionics, in addition to incorporating French and Israeli sub-systems. It shares numerous features and components with the Sukhoi Su-35, highlighting its capabilities in the air superiority domain.

The Sukhoi Su-30MKI (NATO reporting name: Flanker-H) stands as a two-seater, twinjet multirole air superiority fighter developed by the Russian aircraft manufacturer Sukhoi. It is built under license by India’s Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) specifically for the Indian Air Force (IAF). As a variant of the Sukhoi Su-30, it qualifies as a heavy, all-weather, and long-range fighter aircraft.

Designed to meet Indian specifications, the Su-30MKI seamlessly integrates Indian systems and avionics, in addition to incorporating French and Israeli sub-systems. It shares numerous features and components with the Sukhoi Su-35, highlighting its capabilities in the air superiority domain.

India aims to enhance the Su-30MKI’s beyond-visual-range (BVR) engagement capability by equipping the entire fleet with the indigenous Astra BVR missile. This missile boasts a range of 110 km and is intended to replace the R-77 active-radar homing BVR missile due to its perceived inadequate performance. In September 2019, the Indian Air Force initiated multiple user-trials of the Astra missile to assess its lethality and suitability for integration with the Su-30MKI. This move underscores India’s commitment to optimizing the capabilities of its Su-30MKI fleet for modern air combat scenarios.

Specifications:

The Su-30MKI features a highly integrated twin-finned design, incorporating a robust airframe constructed from titanium and high-strength aluminum alloys. To ensure a continuous streamlined profile, the engine intake ramps and nacelles are equipped with trouser fairings. The fins and horizontal tail consoles are attached to the tail beams, while the central beam section between the engine nacelles houses the equipment compartment, fuel tank, and brake parachute container. The fuselage head, comprising the cockpit, radar compartments, and avionics bay, is constructed using semi-monocoque techniques.

Equipped with advanced navigation capabilities, the Su-30MKI is fitted with a satellite navigation system (A-737 GPS compatible), allowing for all-weather, day and night flights. The navigation complex includes the high-precision SAGEM Sigma-95 integrated global positioning system and a ring laser gyroscope inertial navigation system. The ongoing development of the MKI, specifically in Phase 3, aims to integrate avionic systems being developed for the Indo-Russian Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft program.

In terms of electronic warfare (EW) capabilities, the Su-30MKI is equipped with a Radar Warning Receiver (RWR) derived from previous work on the Tranquil system for India’s MiG-23BNs. The Tranquil system has been succeeded by the more advanced Tarang series. The standard EW pod for the MKI is the Elta EL/M-8222, a self-protection jammer developed by Israel Aircraft Industries. This pod, also used by the Israeli Air Force on its F-15s, is a power-managed, air-cooled system with an Electronic Support Measures (ESM) receiver integrated into the pod. Featuring antennas on both ends, the pod receives hostile radio frequency signals, processes the information, and delivers an appropriate response.

As of March 18, 2022, reports indicated that India had placed an order for 12 Su-30MKIs. However, in May 2022, the Indian government decided to suspend the Su-30MKI order. The decision was driven by concerns over Moscow’s capability to deliver necessary parts to Hindustan Aeronautics and issues related to payment transfers.

In a significant development on September 15, 2023, India preliminarily approved Rs 11,500 crore for the procurement of 12 Su-30MKIs for the air force. This procurement is notable for its emphasis on achieving more than 60% indigenous content, aimed at replacing jets that had previously crashed. This decision reflects India’s commitment to enhancing its air force capabilities while also prioritizing indigenous manufacturing and technology integration in its defense programs.

Armament:

The Su-30MKI is armed with a diverse array of weaponry, highlighting its versatility in combat situations. At the forefront, it features a 30 mm Gryazev-Shipunov GSh-30-1 autocannon. The aircraft is equipped with 12 hardpoints, strategically distributed across its airframe. These include 2 wing-tip air-to-air missile (AAM) launch rails, 6 pylons under the wings, 2 pylons under the engine nacelles, and 2 pylons in tandem in the “arch” between the engines. Additionally, the number of hardpoints can be expanded to 14 using multiple ejector racks.

With a considerable payload capacity of up to 8,130 kg (17,920 lb), the Su-30MKI can be configured with various combinations of weaponry. In the rocket category, it can carry 4 × S-8 rockets and 4 × S-13 rockets. For air-to-air engagements, the aircraft can deploy an array of missiles, including 10 × R-77, 10 × I-Derby ER, 10 × Astra Mk1, 6 × R-27ER/ET, 2 × R-27R/T, 6 × R-73, 3 × K-100, and MICA, which has been successfully tested.

In the air-to-surface missile category, the Su-30MKI can be armed with 3 × Kh-59ME, 4 × Rampage, 6 × Kh-29T/L, and 2 × Nirbhay (Future). To engage naval targets, it can deploy anti-ship missiles such as 3 × Kh-59MK, 4 × Kh-35, 6 × Kh-31A, and 1 × BrahMos. Additionally, the Su-30MKI is equipped with anti-radiation missiles, with options including 6 × Rudram-1 and 6 × Kh-31P.

This comprehensive and flexible armament suite underscores the Su-30MKI’s capability to effectively engage a wide spectrum of targets, including airborne threats, ground-based installations, naval assets, and radar facilities, solidifying its position as a highly proficient and adaptable multirole fighter.