Upgrading of the Su-30MKI fleet of the Indian Air Force (IAF) will be finalised in the next 6-9 months with some aircraft undergoing the upgrade in Russia and the rest in India.

Discussions with the IAF and the Russians (United Aircraft Corporation-UAC) are currently at an advanced stage, V Seshagiri Rao, CEO, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) MiG Complex told the media in response to a question at a press conference held at Aero India 2021 in Bangalore.

HAL, which assembles the Su-30MKI in India has completed the last of the 222 aircraft assemblies under licence from Russia and is expecting a new contract for the upgrade of the Su-30MKI fleet, he said.

The HAL executive statement was corroborated by Sergei Kornev, head of Rosoboronexport delegation at AI 2021 who told the Russian media, "The project (to upgrade Su-30MKI) is at the stage of discussion and the Russian side is ready to offer India a modern upgrade package."

However, both did not disclose details of what systems of the aircraft will be upgraded. Nevertheless, various reports have stated in the past that a modern radar, improved engine, avionics and communication systems would form part of the upgrade.

A modern active electronically scanning array (AESA) radar was one of the main upgrade priorities.

Su-30MKI upgrade plan. Illustration courtesy HAL Via YouTube

Sources told defenseworld.net that a version of a Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO)- made AESA radar called ‘Uttam” is being considered for the Su-30MKI should it complete development in time for the aircraft upgrade program. Having been tested on the TEJAS jet, ‘Uttam’ AESA could be suitably modified to fit on the larger Su-30MKI, they said.

However, changing the AL-31FP engine of the Su-30MKI with the more powerful AL-41F-1S (article 117S) from the Su-35 would be expensive and impractical given the extensive engine maintenance facilities set up for the current AL-31FP in India.

Russia’s UAC has proposed an upgrade based on the Su-30SM2- an in-development aircraft with the engine, avionics and radar borrowed from the more potent Su-35 jet. However, given the large number of non-Russian systems and components in the Su-30MKI, India may prefer as many locally-made systems as possible. It would still need Russian help to integrate and qualify the new equipment on the Su-30MKI jet.

The integration of the BrahMos heavy air-to-ground missile in the Su-30MKI has given the confidence to HAL-IAF to prefer the indigenous route for the Su-30MKI upgrade.

Full details of what components will go into the upgraded Su-30MKI will be known only after the upgrade deal is finalized between HAL, IAF and the Russians.