HAL argues additional Sukhois can be fitted with BrahMos air-launched cruise missiles (ALCM)
By Ajai Shukla
Bengaluru, 15th May 18
With the Sukhoi-30MKI fighter – the backbone of the Indian Air Force (IAF) fleet – nearing the end of its production run, its manufacturer, Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), is taking up a case to build 40 more.
If the defence ministry accepts HAL’s proposal, the IAF’s inventory of the Russian fighter would be enhanced from the currently planned 272 to 312 Su-30s (sixteen squadrons).
With HAL offering to price the additional Su-30s at just Rs 425 crore (4.25 billion), the fighter will be barely one-third the cost of the Rafale. According to a Business Standard analysis (November 24, 2017, Clouds over fighter jet: How much did Rafale actually cost?) the IAF is paying Rs 1,125 crore (11.25 billion) per Rafale, excluding the price of weapons and logistics.
HAL chairman, T Suvarna Raju, said: “We will offer a very competitive price. Since 2010, we have been delivering the Su-30 at Rs 425 crore. We can deliver another three squadrons at that same price.”
At that price, the IAF would pay Rs 17,000 crore (170 billion) for 40 additional Su-30s.
However, that would involve buying the fighter in ready to assemble kits from Russia and putting them together in Nashik. “HAL has already absorbed the technology for building and supporting the Su-30. Now, the aim is to build those three new squadrons as quickly, and as cheaply, as possible”, said Raju.
Rationalising the proposal for 40 additional Su-30s, Raju says they are needed to carry the BrahMos air launched cruise missile (ALCM).
“We are required to modify 40-odd Sukhoi-30s to carry the BrahMos ALCM. Instead of upgrading older fighters, with a shorter residual lifespan, it would be better to build three more squadrons of Sukhois with the capability to carry BrahMos missiles”, said Raju.
The air-launched version of the BrahMos has been downsized to eight metres and 2,560 kilogrammes. Even so, mounting it on a Su-30 fighter requires reinforcing the aircraft’s underbelly and installing a heavy-duty mounting station. After years of development, the BrahMos was successfully test-fired from a Su-30 in November.
“It is easier and better to kit out new Su-30s to carry the BrahMos, rather than carrying out structural modifications to old aircraft”, said Raju.
Ministry sources indicate that a proposal to build more Su-30s would be considered positively, given the shortfall of IAF fighter squadrons.
HAL is currently building the last 23 Su-30 fighters, of the 222 it was mandated to build. The IAF’s first 50 Su-30s were built in Russia
Even as HAL Nashik builds the last Su-30s on order, HAL and Sukhoi are negotiating the upgrade of the Sukhoi fleet.
HAL officials say they wanted to be the lead agency, but Sukhoi has indicated it wants a 50 per cent share in this lucrative contract to upgrade the fighter’s avionics, including radar, glass cockpit displays, electronic warfare systems, warning systems and jammers.
“The IAF has already frozen its upgrade requirements. We are now waiting for the commercial proposal from Russia”, says the HAL chairman.
HAL estimates that an avionics upgrade for the Su-30 would cost upward of Rs 100 crore (one billion) per aircraft, placing the cost of upgrading 312 fighters at Rs 31,200 crore (312 billion).
HAL officials say the upgrade will have two distinct parts. In Phase I, Sukhoi would take over some IAF Su-30s and use them as prototypes to install and certify new-generation avionics and weapons upgrades. Subsequently, HAL would install those upgrades into the entire fleet.
Phase II, which would involve India-specific enhancements, would be designed and developed by HAL and also incorporated onto the fighter by HAL alone.