SOURCE: TUSHKAR SHIRODKAR / FOR MY TAKE / IDRW.ORG
Exactly today, 42 years ago, the first prototype of Sukhoi-Su-27 took off from a remote Soviet air base piloted by Major General Vladimir Sergeyevich Ilyushin who was Chief test pilot working for Sukhoi OKB, which went on to change the course of History in Soviet Aerospace engineering and became the definitive Soviet fighter design coming from a era where it’s derivatives still dominate the skies and still is most feared Soviet-Russian fighter jet in the sky.
Sukhoi-Su-27 was conceived as Soviet union’s answer to American development of F-15 Eagle Air superiority fighter and once in production export variants were quickly offered to India and China in the early ’90s but India was rather later to react and China which had last imported Mig-21 fighter jet and copied it into J-7 variant, leading to a self imposed arms embargo on China But after the fall of Soviet Union which was cash trapped, China was quick to place orders.
IAF under political pressure agreed to procure 40+ Flankers but with more modern and advanced configuration which could have required considerable time for integration and testing before it was available for production due to which IAF agreed to place orders for 18 interim Twin-seater Su-27UB variant which was called Su-30 in India. By 1997, Final configuration for development of Sukhoi-Su-30MKI Block-I was frozen and the first batch was inducted in 2001.
Fast forward 18 years ahead, In 2019, nearly 260 Sukhoi-Su-30MKI have been inducted and are operational with Indian Airforce and it is likely more 18 will be ordered to slow down slid of fighter jet fleet in the airforce due to retirements of other older types but the technology in Sukhoi-Su-30MKI is nearly 20 years old now and will need Mid-life up-gradation which can keep the fleet technically superior for the next 20-25 years ahead.
Talks on upgrading and modernizing the current fleet of Sukhoi-Su-30MKI under ” Super Sukhoi” program has been going for a while now but high development cost has been one of the main reason why it is still to be executed after recent events and aerial clash with Pakistani air force suggests that induction of Dassault Rafale alone will not be able to bring back aerial supremacy which IAF enjoyed for long against PAF, which now has been threatened due to rivals own advancement and modernization.
Russian air force already has inducted Sukhoi-Su-30SM which is a Russian variant of the Indian Su-30MKI and are already working on the development of Upgraded Su-30SM which will borrow many of the technologies from other newer advance fighter jets like Su-35 and Su-57 program. India has been invited to be part of the Upgrade program so that the integration and development cost can be further reduced and technology tested and developed can be smoothly adapted to the current fleet of jets, severing with both the airforce.
IAF is yet to take a call on Russian offer, nor it has proposed any other alternative proposals. In a bid to save funds for procurement of new jets, up-gradation of the Su-30MKI program has been delayed and slipped out of focus of the top brass at the IAF Up-gradation of Su-30MKI should be taken as a priority mission once the new government is sworn in and if IAF doesn’t want to pursue Russian offer then local up-gradation offer should be considered.
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