Moscow: A Russian defence industry delegation will soon travel to India to carry forward long-drawn-out talks for an upgrade of the Indian Air Force’s (IAF) Sukhoi Su-30MKI fleet. This proposed upgrade will include better radar, a more potent weapons package, a new cockpit system, and the integration of electronic warfare abilities.

Russia is also hopeful that India will move ahead with plans to place an order for an additional 12 Su-30MKIs to replace the fighter jets it lost to crashes over the years. Further, Moscow hopes to finalise the contract for 21 more MiG-29s meant to firm up the IAF’s depleting fleet strength.

While the French-made Rafale is the frontrunner for a mega contract for 114 new fighters that the IAF is looking at, Russia believes it is the only country capable of offering a true Transfer of Technology (ToT) with over 60 per cent Indian content.

The IAF is considering the acquisition of 114 fighters through the Make in India route.

“We have, several times, offered our vision of an upgrade program (Su-30MKI). It is a continuing discussion and we have put on the table our complete offer. We plan to visit India in the near future and have a meaningful discussion on that offer,” Yury Slyusar, CEO of Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) said in response to a query at ARMY-2022, an international military exhibition being held here in Moscow.

The UAC, a public joint stock company of which the Russian government owns a majority, is the largest manufacturer of aircraft in the country. In June, Russia’s flagship manufacturers, the Sukhoi and MiG aviation companies, were merged into the UAC.

The Super Sukhoi

New Delhi and Moscow have been in talks with each other about an upgrade for the Su-30MKI, which India first ordered in 1996. The upgraded aircraft, if the proposal is approved, will be known as the Super Sukhoi.

The IAF has more than 160 Sukhoi Su-30MKIs in its fleet, but talks regarding an upgrade have been stuck due to various issues — with cost being the most basic and important factor owing to the IAF’s plan to also procure 114 new fighters on a limited budget.

While the exact numbers are not known, IAF sources have explained that the asking price for an upgrade is too high because it will involve a complete revamp and not just a simple extension of life.

While the Su-30MKI is the IAF’s frontline fighter, it is besieged by numerous issues, among them the inability to carry out electronic warfare and the lack of a more potent weapons system. The integration of about 40 Sukhois with the BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles — which have a range of over 300 kilometres — has, however, been a saving grace.

As part of the proposed upgrade, the fighter jet’s N011 Bars passive radar will be replaced with ‘Uttam’, India’s own Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar.

The MKI version is the oldest member of the Su-30 family, which includes the Malaysian Su-30MKM (2007 model) and the Russian Su-30SM (2011 model).

It is hoped that the upgrade will bring the MKI up to par with the Russian SM, which is equipped with multiple long-range missiles and smart bombs developed as part of Russia’s 2011-2020 State Armament Program for the Su-30 SM.

‘MiG Only Aircraft That Can Truly Offer ToT’

UAC chief Slyusar said talks are also underway between India and Russia for the IAF’s 114 fighter jets program, adding that the MiG is the only aircraft that can truly offer ToT with 60 per cent indigenous content.

He was referring to the MiG-35, which Russia is keen to offer India.

Asked about a possible collaboration with New Delhi — given India’s plan to develop its own fifth-generation fighter aircraft called AMCA (Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft) — the top Russian aviation official said that although there is no news on that front, Moscow is ready to collaborate if New Delhi so desires.

Asked about the pending order for 12 Su-30MKI and 21 MiG-29s, Slyusar said it was under consideration by India.

IAF’s plan to purchase additional MiG-29s in 2019. Of the 1980s vintage, the jets are no longer in production, but 21 airframes built then remain in Russia.

The jets purchased by India will be upgraded to the latest version before they are delivered.