Why India Pays Premium For Su-30MKI “Dud”?

Although India licensed produced Sukhoi aircraft, India heavily dependent on French Mirage and Rafale fighters. Every bombing mission in Kashmir or fight with Pakistani Air Force, India sent 40 years old French Mirage to do the job, not the latest build Su-30MKI.

The Indian Air Force portrays Su-30MKI as the air superiority fighter but in reality, last year’s Kashmir skirmish, India’s attempts to use Su-30MKI against 30 years old F-16 of Pakistani Air Force has spectacularly failed.

GDC previously reported that Su-30MKI costs $121 million a piece which is more than double the cost of Chinese Su-30MKK and Vietnamese Su-30MKV. Let’s look at why Su-30MKI is so expensive comparing Chinese or Vietnamese variants?

Comparing the Indian Su-30 MKIs with Chinese Su-30 MKK jets as clashes between Indian and Chinese troops were escalating. One pertinent question amongst our readers was the difference between Indian Su-30 MKI’s and Su-30s and why the Indian jets were more expensive?

ToT Agreement

The Su-30 MKI is developed by Russia’s Sukhoi and built under licence by India’s Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) for the Indian Air Force. The MKIs are much more expensive than the Russian produced Su-30 or the Chinese version – MKK.

According to the government of India, the higher cost of MKIs is due to the difference in specifications, a smaller scale of production & transfer of technology and license manufacturing fees.

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Despite the recent arrival of the Rafales, the Su-30MKIs produced by HAL will continue to be the backbone of the Indian Air Force (IAF). After India commissioned the first Su-30s into the IAF, a deal was inked between Moscow and New Delhi under which Su-30 MKIs (Modernizirovannyi Kommercheskiy Indiski – Modernised Commercial Indian) would be built in India.

Indian Su-30 MKI

The development of the Su-30MKI for the IAF began in 1995. Sukhoi and Irkutsk Aircraft Production Association (now known as Irkut Corporation) were initially responsible for the development and production of the aircraft respectively.

Sukhoi built two prototypes of the Su-30MKI between 1995 and 1998. The first prototype made its first flight in July 1997. Production began at the Irkutsk plant in 2000.

The first pre-production aircraft completed its maiden flight in November 2000. India signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Russia in October 2000, to start the licence production of Su-30MKIs at HAL’s plant.

The Indian version of the Sukhoi has advanced Israeli avionics and electronic warfare systems, making them different from the standard Su-30s or the Chinese versions. Additionally, the S3-30 MKI has a variety of missiles including the Russian origin R73/77 and the Indian made Astra and Brahmos.

Media personnel take images of missiles of an Indian Su-30MKI fighter aircraft, which was being flown by Indian pilots over Kashmir last year in February, put on display at Pakistan Air Force headquarter in Islamabad on February 24, 2020, to commemorate Pakistan Air Forces ‘Operation Swift Retort’ against the Indian Air Force. (Photo by Aamir QURESHI / AFP)

The airframe of Su-30MKI is built on Su-27 with a phased array radar and TVC engines, Indian Su-30MKI comes with French and Israeli components. The Russian radar and R-77 missiles limit Su-30MKI to engage enemy aircraft at a distance over 70km, makes Su-30MKI a close combat aircraft rather than an aircraft capable of fighting at BVR range.

The Astra missiles developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) increase the target range of the Su 30MKI and makes it more potent than ever before. The MKI also has thrust vectoring technology thus making it more manoeuvrable than Chinese Su-30.

Currently, the IAF has 260 MKI’s as part of its fleet and only recently India ordered an additional 12 Su-30MKI from Moscow amidst tensions with China. The Indian Su-30 MKIs offers more manoeuvrability in comparison to the Su-30 of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) and better weapons in comparison to Russian Su-30s.

Lack of Combat Readiness of SU-30MKI

Among the 260 Su-30MKI, India lost almost 18 aircraft in accidents which is attributed to Engine fires. Indian Air Force also maintains 45 percent operational readiness of Su-30MKI which means at any given time, India has less than 100 Su-30MKI is ready for combat missions. Given that India is surrounded by Pakistani F-16C and Chinese J-20, J-11 and J-16, Indian Air Force carries enormous burden to fulfill operational requirements, training and combat missions using just under 100 Su-30MKI aircraft.

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IAF lost numerous Su-30MKI in accidents due to engine failure.

On the contrary, Pakistani Air Force and PLA Air Force combat readiness are higher than the Indian Air Force.

Cost Of Su-30MKI

However, the exorbitant cost of HAL co-developed Su-30MKI raised a lot of questions in the Indian parliament. Responding to the questions, Subhash Bhamre, India’s Minister of State for Defence had then stated that the main reason for the higher cost is that the specifications of the Russian SU-30 and indigenously manufactured SU-30MKI are not the same; hence, a one to one comparison of cost may not be appropriate.

HAL is currently producing the Su-30MKI at an estimated cost of around $121 million per aircraft, which is around $76 million higher than the Su-30MKK jets supplied by Russia. The Russian domestic version of the jet costs around $30 million. An export variant of Su-30SME for Myanmar costs around $34 million. The Vietnamese Air Force bought Su-30MKV for $37 million a piece.

Corruption In Indian Defense Sector

The Defence Ministry of India has been accused of corruption with a large of its procurement shrouded in secrecy with low levels of accountability.

The Transparency International said that the Indian army was found to be illegally running golf courses on government-owned land while the air force officials used government-owned land for unauthorized use, such as the building of shopping malls and cinemas. It also says that India’s defence institutions have been found to be involved in the exploitation of natural resources.

The report says, awards for defense contracts by Ministry of Defence accounted 135 percent of the actual tender cost,– the most of the contracts are awarded through kickbacks and bribing government officials.

“India has no designated body tasked with responsibility for ethics or anti-corruption within the ministry of defense. There is no Inspector General position. The Public Accounts Committee, the CAG have held the MoD to account for the illegal use of land for private golf clubs,” the report says.

Failed to Create An Indigenous Variant

Additional modifications are incorporated in the indigenous Su-30MKI to enhance the operational capability and to suit IAF requirements. Owing to the low volume of production of the Indian SU-30 MKI as compared to the —Russian SU-30, economies of scale come into play,” Bhamre had argued while replying to a query raised by a fellow parliamentarian.

He added that being a Transfer of Technology (ToT) programme, the total cost also involves payment of license fee to the Russian side. HAL imports raw materials and proprietary components from Russian firms and assembles them at its production facility in Nasik, Maharashtra.

Import of raw materials and proprietary components from Russia involves dependency on Russian Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) for the offered kit costs, which are not proportionate with the kit contents,” Bhamre added.

The Indian defence ministry has also argued that indigenous manufacturing will create advanced skill sets in the country, a step towards self-reliance. “Indigenous manufacturing will result in a lower life cycle cost and reduced dependency on OEM on repair and maintenance and faster turn-around time and quick support to IAF bases.”

The purpose of indigenous Su-30MKI is to use domestic components and reduce licensing costs, which India has failed miserably and China successfully reverses engineered Su-30MKK into J-11A/B, and J-16. The Hindustan Aeronautics also failed to produce any spare parts for Su-30MKI limiting operational capability of IAF.

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