NEW DELHI — Over 270 Sukhoi Su-30MKI combat aircraft from the inventory of the Indian Air Force will be equipped with a new AESA radar. Such are the plans of Ministry of Defence. A new version of an active electronically scanned array [AESA] radar is already under development.

The DRDO and the Indian Air Force will jointly finance the project, with the latter providing the majority of funding. The air force greenlit the project after assessing Uttam’s progress and performance. The service will lend a few Su-30 MKIs for the radar’s “development, integration, flight-testing and certification,” Delhi Defence Review revealed, citing sources.

According to officials familiar with the development, the new radar will be ready by 2024. The first flight tests of Su-30MKI with the radar are planned. 2026 is the deadline set by MoD for the full operation of the new radar.

India has no tradition of developing such technologies. Many experts questioned the ability of the Indian defence industry to meet this challenge, however, Indian engineers have not only developed such a radar but is said to be a notch better than the ones already available in the global market. If New Delhi succeeds in integrating these radar on the Russian fighter jets, then Moscow will stand to lose billions of dollars.

The Su-30MKI is the backbone of India’s air combat capability. But India has invested heavily in the development of its indigenous TEJAS fighter. An AESA radar will allow New Delhi to improve the radar capabilities of its indigenously produced fighter jets as well. Perhaps this is why DRDO has decided that the future AESA radar will be based on the already existing UTTAM radar.

Last but not least, the upgrade of India’s Su-30MKI will improve flight control. A positive effect will also be seen in the integration of hypersonic missiles in Indian fighter jets. The latter project, however, depends on Moscow, as the two countries work together to develop and upgrade the BrahMos missile.

The new Indian radar will be an alternative to the Russian Irbis-E and N036 Belka. The first is integrated into the Su-35, and the second is into the Su-57. It is said that the second radar is AESA and the first Russian-made of its kind. The basis of its development is Irbis-E. Russia’s limited resources are also currently influencing India’s decision. The war in Ukraine is pushing Russia to focus not on new developments, but on manufacturing old technologies to augment its supplies for the war.

However, if India manages to produce a relatively stable AESA radar, the Su-30MKI will establish itself as one of the best fighter jets not only in South Asia but the entire world. In truth, the Su-30MKI is one of the best-quality variants of the Su-30, which has an amalgamation of technologies from Indian, French and Israeli sources. When it was introduced in 2002, it was the most powerful operational fighter in this part of the globe. Later, however, China stepped in and began not only to upgrade old fighters to a higher generation but also produced its own fifth-generation fighters. Equipping Shukhois with an AESA radar will bring parity with the Russian made Chinese jets, which is claimed to be equipped with Chinese made KJL series of radars.

However, nobody knows how good these Chinese AESA radars are, as this information is highly classified. It’s not just about range. There are a lot of other variables. Electrical power (how much can a small underpowered single engine fighter jet generate?), resistance to jamming, resistance to spoofing etc, computing power (ie agility, number of targets it can track and process reliably), cooling cycle, different modes and how reliable is it from a systems perspective? How good is the interface? How easy is it to use during fight? All these parameters count to asses how good an AESA radar functions on any combat jet platform.

Though, Indian authorities don't hesitate to disclose such numbers the Chinese on the other plays its cards close to its chest mainly as a precautionary measure not to reveal its technological shortcomings if any, as it would shred its bluster to bits.

Uttam AESA radar is maintenance friendly and is better in terms of operational life. Not only this, it can perform 16 different kinds of operations and can also work as a simultaneous multimode radar. It has all the capabilities of a modern AESA radar like Auto Acquisition, Anti Jamming, Electronic Counter Measures, Terrain Avoidance and Mapping, Navigation, etc. It's a highly modular system which makes it ideal for our indigenously developed systems writes Sadish Sharma. 

Lastly, the Russians use the Phazotron's Zhuk-AE for its Sukhoi jets which is a AESA technology based radar.