NEW DELHI — Russia has lost 11 Sukhoi Su-30 Flanker-C fighters in Ukraine. They all have different fates. Six were shot down while on a mission or returning from one. They were shot down either by surface-to-air missiles or during air combat with aircraft from the inventory of the Ukrainian Air Force. The remaining five were destroyed on the ground.

Airborne has an interesting down and active period. For example, Russia lost five of the six downed Su-30s between March and April, the sixth in September. This means that in May, June, July, and August, the Su-30 was able to avoid the enemy’s man-portable surface-to-air missiles or air defence systems of Ukraine.

Of the five destroyed on the ground, one burned up on the runway at an air base on February 25, the day after Russia invaded Ukraine. Whether it was destroyed as a result of a Ukrainian attack on the air base, an accident on the runway caused by a malfunction, or the carelessness of the Russian service personnel – there is no information. The remaining four fighters left during the Ukrainian attack on the Saki airbase in Crimea on August 9.

All these dry data are a signal to India and China. Both countries have Russian Su-30 fighter jets, but India’s situation is a bit more worrisome. India produces the Su-30MKI under license and it is the backbone of the Indian Air Force. 262 Su-30MKI fighters fly under the Indian flag. In a conflict with China, this means that Russian fighter jets, along with the French Dassault Rafale fighter jets, will oppose Chinese fighter jets. And since the Su-30MKI will be the backbone of the Indian Air Force for at least another decade, they need an upgrade.

Su-30 Modernization

India is taking steps in this direction so as not to follow the fate of the Russian fighters – those six shot down in the air. In October, a program was launched for the renewal of the first tranche of Su-30 MKI fighters – a total of 84 will be renewed in the next five years. At least that is the maximum period it should take for the modernization of the first tranche.

India intends to upgrade infrared search and track systems. A new dual-band infrared seeker is expected to be integrated by the Make-II category. I.e. local upgrade following the Made in India program. Make-II is in development.

The N011M Bars radar will be replaced by a locally developed AESA radar. According to Indian sources, the new radar will be ready in 2024. Then the first flight tests of Su-30MKI with Indian AESA radar are planned. 2026 is the deadline set by the Indian Ministry of Defence for the full operation of the new radar.

Modernization is also pending in the power systems of the Indian Su-30MKI. The Russian AL-41F-1S engine will be fitted to the Indian fighter jets. More powerful, providing more thrust will allow Indian Air Force pilots to be more manoeuvrable in the air.

In general, India will try to modernize its Su-30MKI fighter jets with indigenously produced technologies. But modernization is a must, and that view is prevalent, both among current Air Force chiefs and retired generals. Vijainder K Thakur, former squadron commander of the Indian Air Force says that India should follow in Russia’s footsteps and upgrade its Su-30 MKIs from SMD level to SM2 level.

It would be nice, the former military man thinks, if New Delhi can synchronize with Russian modernization. I.e. Russia has already started the modernization of its fighter jets to the SM2 level and Thakur suggests that India should do it together with Russia. This will save not only time but also money, says Thakur.

There is analysis and speculation that the Russian Su-30SM2 modernization program is trying to merge the Su-30 with the Su-35 to the maximum extent possible “to minimize logistics and maintenance”.