India and Russia have certified the latest Sukhoi fighter configuration, a leading defence weekly reported on Thursday. The new variant of Sukhoi — also known as MK3 model — differs from the earlier MKII models; Jane's Defence Weekly reported quoting Russian manufacturer NPK Irkut.
The MKII model can only serve as an interceptor while the MK3 can fire anti-ship and anti-radiation supersonic Kh-31A/P series and television-guided Kh-59 subsonic cruise missiles. The NO11M radar provides targeting for laser and television precision-guided missiles.
It allows the MKIII to engage two air targets simultaneously with the R-27 missile or four with the RW-AE missile. It can also engage one air and one ground target at a time while searching for threats. The Su-30MKIII will be built under licence at the Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd complex at Bangalore, with 140 platforms to be manufactured by 2017. The agreement has an overall value of $5billion, the report said. The certification follows delivery of four Su-30MKIII from NPK Irkut earlier this month. Six more are due by the year-end, fulfilling a series of contracts signed in 1996-1998. These contracts covered 18 Su-30Ks delivered between March 1997 and December 1999 and 32 Su-30MKIs to be delivered between July 2002 and January 2005.
A Russian official was quoted as saying that talks are under way concerning a mid-life upgradation of Su-30MKIs. This would involve integration of avionic systems being developed for the Indo-Russian fifth generation fighter, called the T-50 by Sukhoi, together with more powerful engines and an improved logistics system.
Originally launched as a long-range fighter with outstanding agility, since then, like its western counterpart, the F-15 Eagle, the Flanker has blossomed into an extra-class multi-role fighter aircraft.
F-15C pilots of the US Air Force's 19th Fighter Squadron, stationed in Elmendorf, had the opportunity to take a closer look at the capabilities of the Su-30K during a visit to India in February. During the air battles carried out as part of exercise “Cope India 2004” they apparently lost 90 percent of the engagements. Precise details of the scenarios used for training purposes are not known, but the factors stated to have been critical to the superiority of the Flanker are its agility combined with the long-range R-27ER/ET (NATO-Code: AA-10) air-to-air guided missile and the short-range AA-11 “Archer” missile, with its “round the corner” launch capability. Apparently the Eagle and Flanker mostly detected each other at the same distance.
Naturally these results come at just the right time for the US Air Force, as it calls for more money for the F/A-22 Raptor programme, and should therefore be treated with caution. Nevertheless they are yet another proof of the potential of the Flanker when flown by well-trained pilots and now that the shortcomings in the electronics have been eliminated through the installation of western systems or new Russian developments.
There has never been any doubt about the flying performance of the Su-27/Su-30, even if its spectacular displays at the Berlin, Paris and Farnborough air shows are already receding into the past. Thus, the Su-27 has, somewhat unfairly, receded from the spotlight here in Germany, even though Sukhoi has of late been just as active as ever in development and production.
When it comes to Sukhoi's efforts in the export area, the Russian arms agency, Rosoberonexport, is concentrating on the Asian market. After China, India is the biggest export customer for the Su-27 and Su-30. Its air force took delivery of a first batch of 18 two-seater Su-30K's back in 1997/98. First deliveries of the Su-30MKI, produced in Irkut and currently the most advanced variant of the Flanker, then followed in August 2002.
This aircraft has distinctive small canards in front of the main wings and boasts a new, digital fly-by-wire flight control system. Moreover, it was the first fighter in the world equipped with thrust vector nozzles to enter service. The nozzles on the Saturn (Lyulka) AL-31FP engine can be moved 32 degrees in the horizontal plane and 15 degrees in the vertical plane. The radar is the Phasotron N011M Bars, which uses passive electronic beam steering and, in the Mk3 version, is supported by Indian computers.
Otherwise, the equipment is international. Thales (formerly Sextant Avionique) is supplying the VEH3000 head-up display and the liquid-crystal cockpit displays, while Sagem is contributing the Totem navigation platform with laser gyro and GPS integration. Parts of the electronic warfare (EW) suite come from Israel.
Integration of these systems was not simple and resulted in significant programme slippage. Finally, on 26 November 2000 the first Su-30MKI (fuselage number 05) took off on its maiden flight in Irkut. After flight-testing with four prototypes, deliveries then commenced some 18 months later.
A ceremony to mark the entry into service of the first ten, “Phase I” standard Su-30MKI's took place at Lohegaon airbase, near Pune on 27 September 2002. Twelve further, “Phase II” aircraft followed in the autumn of 2003, and the remaining ten are to be delivered in the course of this year. The Su-30MKI's are to be flown by No. 20 Squadron (“Lightnings”) and No. 30 Squadron (“Rhinos”).
It is still planned to upgrade the 18 Su-30K's, which are in-service with No. 24 Squadron (“Hunting Hawks”) in Baksi-ka-Talab, to MKI standard. On top of this, on 28 December 2000 India signed a contract for the production under licence of up to 140 Su-30MKIs (although recently the talk is of only 120), plus engine and radar. Hindustan Aeronautics' Nasik factory received the first two parts kits for assembly in June. The Indian share of production is to gradually be increased. A production rate of ten Flankers per year is planned.
China, too, is building the Flanker under licence, at its aircraft factory in Shenyang. Under the designation of J-11 (Jian-11), up to 20 aircraft per year have been rolling out of the hangar since 1999, and to date between 70 and 80 planes have been delivered. About 60 to 70 percent of its components now come from domestic production. There are even plans to build a “WS-10A” derivative of the AL-31F engine under licence.
Whereas the Su-27SK is a single-seat fighter with limited air-to-ground capability, the Chinese two-seat, multi-role Su-30MKK boasts an extensive weapons arsenal that includes the air-to-surface Kh-59M and Kh-29T missiles, the anti-radar Kh-31P guided missile and laser-guided bombs such as the KAB-500/KAB-1500.
The airframe of the Su-30MKK, which is built in Komsomolsk-on-Amur, has been reinforced for a maximum take-off weight of 38,800kg. Its identifying features are the higher vertical stabiliser and the twin-wheeled nose gear. The cockpit is fitted with large colour displays, while the N001VE radar is supported by new computers and new software, which also permit use of the air-to-air R-77 (RVV-AE) guided missile.
China originally ordered 76 Su-30MKK's in two separate contracts, and these had all been delivered by 2003. On top of these are 24 Su-24MK2's for the Chinese navy. An initial batch of six aircraft was handed over in February, and apparently the other planes had all been delivered by August. The new version has the N001VEP as its radar, now enhanced to incorporate new operating modes for naval combat. It can also generate ground maps and is capable of guiding two air-to-air missiles at once onto different targets. The MK2's armaments have been supplemented to include the Kh-31A anti-ship guided missile.
Apparently China is currently negotiating for a further 24 Su-30MK2's plus an improved MK3 variant that would be fitted with an advanced fire control system and a new radar (either Zhuk MS or Bars). Apparently a prototype has been flying since the spring of 2004.
Another customer for the Su-30MK2 is Vietnam, which on 1 December 2003 placed an order worth $100 million for four aircraft plus a further eight options. Some months earlier, on 5 August 2003, Sukhoi had sold 18 Su-30MKM's to Malaysia in a contract worth around $900 million, which was signed in the presence of President Putin and Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad. The Su-30MKM is a derivative of the Su-30MKI. Deliveries are scheduled to commence in 2006/2007.
Another prospect in Southeast Asia is Indonesia. Although a contract for eight aircraft was cancelled on 9 January 1998, another order was placed in April 2003, this time for two Su-27SK's and two twin-seat SU 30MK's. Following the training of 12 pilots from the Tentara Nasional Indonesia Angkatan Udara (the Indonesian national defence air force), all four aircraft were transported by An-124 to the Iswahyudi airbase on Java, where the 11th Squadron is stationed, on 27 August. Additional Flanker orders are expected, as the aim is to equip at least two squadrons.
Another prospective customer is Thailand. A government delegation visited Moscow in September to sound out the possibility of purchasing six Su-30's in exchange for 250,000 tonnes of chicken meat.
Meanwhile the Russian Air Force is taking delivery of “new” Su-27's – or rather, existing aircraft that have been upgraded to Su-27SM standard by the KnAAPO factory. The first five aircraft officially entered into service on 26 December 2003 at the combat training centre in Lipezk. Another seven are to be delivered before the end of the year.
The Su-27SM, which was given preference over the Su-30KN proposal from Irkut, had its maiden flight on 27 December 2002 in Komsomolsk-on-Amur, with test pilot Yevgeny Frolov at the controls. This builds on the systems in the Chinese Su-30MKK and, for example, has a glass cockpit. The N001M radar is supposed to be capable of detecting even hovering helicopters and has a range of 135km to 150km. It can identify hostile targets by their signatures. Armaments include the R-77 (RVV-AE) plus an extensive array of air-to-ground guided missiles.
As well as the Su-27SM, KnAAPO is continuing to work on the Su-27KUB, a naval version with a modified nose in which the crew sit next to each other. A prototype has been flying since 29 April 1999. In 2003, it was fitted with advanced Zhuk MSF radar for further trials, enabling it to also serve as the basis for a land-based fighter-bomber version.
However, this latter role is already performed by the Su-27IB (Su-32), built in Novosibirsk, in which the crews also sit next to each other. Development of this significantly modified variant dates back to the Soviet era. A first prototype flew on 13 April 1990, but progress since then has been very slow. However, the eighth aircraft (T10V-8) flew on 20 December 2003, now equipped with more modern systems. The older prototypes, T10V-4 to T10V-7, are to be upgraded accordingly, so that deliveries to the Russian Air Force can probably commence in 2005.
Sukhoi is apparently examining the Su-35BM as the next development step, although this variant has little in common with the previous Su-35 and its airframe is closer to the Su-27 (without canards). The most visible signs of progress are in the systems area, with glass cockpit displays, an Irbis radar and the Knibny EW system The aircraft is to be powered by the Saturn AL-41F1, which produces just under 140kN of thrust. Its weapon systems, which were shown on a Su-35BM model at the Dubai Air Show in December 2003, include the Onyx/Yakhont 3M55A anti-ship missile and the Ks-172, an air-to-air guided missile with an extremely long-range.
Thus, the Flanker family has by no means exhausted every possible avenue of development. It could still earn further valuable currency – money that would come in handy to fund development of the next fighter generation, on which Sukhoi is currently working.