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The Indian Air Force (IAF) is set to significantly enhance its air superiority capabilities with the “Super Sukhoi” upgrade package, which includes the equipping of 84 Sukhoi-30MKI aircraft with the domestically manufactured Virupaksha Gallium Nitride (GaN) based Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar.

This advanced radar system will replace the existing Russian NIIP N011M Bars (Panther) radar, which dates back to the early 1980s. The “Super Sukhoi” upgrade, proposed in 2012, initially explored the possibility of Russian radar replacements. However, the decision to opt for the indigenous Virupaksha radar reflects India’s commitment to self-reliance and the development of cutting-edge defence technologies.

Development of the Virupaksha radar was initiated by the Electronics and Radar Development Establishment (LRDE) approximately three years ago. It is an upscaled variant of the Uttam Mk1 AESA radar, originally developed for the LCA-Tejas Mk1A program. Virupaksha incorporates Gallium Nitride (GaN) based components, which offer significant advantages over their Gallium Arsenide (GaAs) based counterparts. GaN technology enables radars to achieve greater range, improved performance, and higher efficiency.

The Su-30MKI’s distinctive large nose cone provides ample space for accommodating 1800 to 2200 Transmit/Receive (T/R) Modules. This impressive number of T/R modules empowers the radar with an exceptional search and tracking range, effectively enabling it to function as a “Mini-AWACS” within its operational sector. The radar’s ability to provide deep surveillance into enemy airspace makes it a formidable asset.

It is worth noting that the power requirements of the Virupaksha radar will be optimized to align with the current AL-31F engines of the Su-30MKI. Consequently, the number of T/R modules, while technically lower than the maximum feasible, will still render Virupaksha one of the most potent AESA radars in the IAF’s inventory.

The induction of the Chinese J-20A fifth-generation fighter aircraft has added a new dimension to the security landscape in the region. China’s growing inventory of stealth aircraft, including the J-20A and the anticipated J-31, underscores the need for advanced radar systems. Virupaksha is expected to excel in detecting stealth platforms, at least within a certain range. While Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radars can detect stealth aircraft to some degree, Virupaksha’s Gallium Nitride (GaN) technology enhances its capability to penetrate aircraft stealth and generate target-engagement data.

The adoption of the Virupaksha radar in the “Super Sukhoi” upgrade not only boosts the IAF’s air superiority but also reduces India’s dependency on Russian defence systems. This indigenous radar system streamlines the integration of Indian-made weaponry, bolstering the Sukhoi-30MKI fleet’s formidable capabilities well into the future, potentially until 2050.

The “Super Sukhoi” upgrade with the Virupaksha AESA radar represents a significant step forward in enhancing India’s air force capabilities. The radar’s advanced features, including GaN technology and the ability to detect stealth threats, will be pivotal in addressing evolving security challenges in the region.

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