A Sukhoi Su-30MKI equipped with ASTRA beyond-visual-range air-to-air missiles

Rumour has it that Armenia is "keen" on having India supply weapons and train fighter pilots for its Russian-built Su-30SM Flanker fighter jets. While no such arrangement has been confirmed, New Delhi could certainly improve these Armenian aircraft markedly. But is that really a priority for Yerevan? reported an international portal.

India has an enormous fleet of 272 Su-30MKI Flankers, most of them built by New Delhi under license. Aside from operating such a large number of these fighters for 20 years, India has also acquired and developed formidable non-Russian armaments for them.

"What makes the Indian Su-30MKI different from the Flankers operated across the world is that it is a beautiful integration of various weapons, sensors, and avionics from all over the world," an ace Indian fighter pilot told local media in January.

These missiles notably include an air-launched version of the indigenous BrahMos supersonic cruise missile, giving the Su-30MKI a substantive standoff capability, and the Astra beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile (BRAAM).

Defence ties between India and Armenia have noticeably increased in recent months. Yerevan became the first foreign customer for the Indian-built Pinaka multiple-launch rocket system (MLRS) when it ordered four batteries for an estimated $250 million in 2022. Furthermore, the two countries are concerned about growing trilateral military ties between Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Pakistan. Therefore, it would make sense if they cooperate to improve Armenia's Su-30 fleet.

The Su-30SM fighter in service with the Armenian Air Force may receive an unexpected update from India. The Astra air-to-air missile and the BrahMos air-launched air-to-surface missile can be under the wings of the Su-30SM.

The Armenian Air Force has 14 combat aircraft. 10 Su-25K and four Su-30SM aircraft. The four planes were bought by Moscow, although Yerevan originally wanted to buy three times as many. However, the month-long war that broke out in Nagorno-Karabakh in 2020 exposed a fact long denied by the government: the planes were delivered from Moscow without weapons. This caused public anger against the Ministry of Defence of Armenia and the governing bodies.

Yerevan made a mistake years ago by refusing to pay for the armament of its fighter jets to Moscow. At the outbreak of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Azerbaijan attacked Armenian targets with Israeli Harop kamikaze drones and Turkish Bayraktar TB2 drones. Thus, after the end of the conflict then, the Su-30SM was derisively called the “White Elephant”.

India is now ready to correct Armenia’s mistakes by stepping in to help it. The two countries have signed a military cooperation agreement in recent years and their relationship is warming. It is said that Yerevan is about to start negotiations to arm its Su-35SM and upgrade them.

Russia can fulfil this order, but not now. All its forces are focused on the conflict with Ukraine. Any delay from the Russian side would be disastrous for Armenia. However, India does not go to war, it manufactures its own missiles for its fighters and manufactures precisely the Su-30MKI under a Russian license. The experience of India, whose Air Force backbone consists of more than 220 Su-30MKI fighters, could be of significant benefit to Armenia.

The Indian Flanker-E is one of the most combat-capable aircraft in its class. New Delhi has invested heavily in the development of its weapons. In India, they call the Su-30MKI upgrades “beautiful integration”, referring to the combination of Astra and BrahMos missiles.

It is an indisputable fact that if Yerevan turns to New Delhi, Armenia will not only be able to modernize its fighters but will also significantly increase their combat capability. Indian sources say that in this configuration the S-30SM will have increased lethality. Especially now, when Yerevan cannot afford the purchase of new planes.

Military analysts point out that the modernization of Armenia’s combat aircraft is preferable to the purchase of new ones, not only because of the financial savings but also because of the deterrence of Azerbaijan. I.e. a purchase of new fighters would provoke Baku to also increase its aerial arsenal of combat aircraft. There is even a potential supplier now – the Sino-Pakistani JF-17. A squadron of JF-17s armed with Chinese PL-15 BVRAAMs would be disastrous for Armenia.

Therefore, the average approach from Armenia, i.e. renewal is preferred. Indian technicians can easily and quickly integrate the Astra and BrahMos missiles under the wings of the four Su-30SMs. This will allow Yerevan to use the Su-30SM to engage Azerbaijani targets beyond visual range, saving the expensive fighters.

Armenia and India are in a position where the only friendship between the two nations will bring benefits to both countries. Especially against the background of the trilateral exercises between Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Pakistan. In particular, Pakistan supplies Azerbaijan with weapons, and Baku on the other hand has provided Islamabad with geopolitical, geo-economics, and geostrategic advantages.