SU-30s: Strategic Take-off Into Next Century

16 Nov, 1999    ·   286

Wg. Cdr. N. K. Pant that the SU-30 fighter aircraft will be the mainstay of the air delivery component of the triad as conceived by draft nuclear doctrine

India 's proposed nuclear doctrine outlining the minimum nuclear deterrent, envisages a triad of missiles, submarines and aircraft as the delivery platforms for the weaponized atom. Russia is said to be providing an unspecified number of Tu-22M3 long-range bombers to India on lease to enhance IAF's strike capability. But, without doubt, the long range and multi role SU-30s should form the mainstay of air delivery of the deterrent for the proposed strategic strike command as and when it is set up. Seen in the post Pokhran and Kargil regional security scenario, India 's bold decision to acquire state-of-the art Sukhoi-30 MK seems to be futuristic and justified as a strong component of deterrence.





The IAF formally inducted its first lot of eight SU-30 aircraft as its Pune air base in early July 1997, barely six months after the Rs. 6300 crore ($1.46 billion) contract to supply 40 machines was finalized. According to some western experts, the initial batch appeared to be an enhanced SU-27 'PU' variant which was modified with a particular Indian navigation kit. The remaining 32 planes are to be delivered in three batches in accordance with the terms of the agreement. The previous BJP-led coalition government is believed to have contracted for another ten Sukhois, bringing the total acquisition to 50 aircraft. 



The fly-by-wire SU-30 is believed to be the most flexible air combat platform in the world at present and is reported to have better performance parameters than the latest American F-22. As an air combat platform it can fly slow, fast, high and low. It maneuvers like a normal fighter plane, yet it can carry cruise missiles and armaments related to long range bombers, and hence combines the versatility of air superiority fighters with the deep penetration tactical bomber. Its normal and maximum take off weight is 24,800 and 30,450 kg respectively. It has a refueling probe fitted over its fuselage for mid-air refueling. Its highly automated avionics gives it the capabilities of broad reconnaissance and combat duties. All type of tactical and strategic ordnance can be utilized with the emphasis being placed on long range stand off weapons. 



The onboard counter measures suite includes an illumination warning system, an active jamming station and passive dispensers far chaff and flares. To carry out mission planning, the co-ordinates and elevation of every navigation and mission dependent data points from take off to landing can be loaded into the aircraft's computers. It also enables the ground based senior commanders to pass on the mission updates over the communication system in case the changed combat scenario warrants it any time during the flight of the aircraft. Unlike other aircraft, the SU-30 does not need to be configured on the ground to switch from an offensive to defensive role. 



The SU-30 has ten hard points for air to ground 100 kg, 200 kg and 500 kg bombs and air to air missiles like R-73E, and R-27 RIE which are, incidentally, inter-operable with IAF's MiG-29 fighter interceptors for weapon delivery. The all weather SU-30 multi-role fighter has a range of 3000 km, which can be enhanced to 5200 km by attaching drop tanks for extra fuel or by restoring to mid-air refueling in case operational necessity so requires. The Russians have especially developed the revised version SU-30MK in accordance with the Indian defence QRS and have also agreed to permit the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) to participate in developing avionics for this sophisticated combat aircraft. 



The only other multi role military aircraft in the inventory of the IAF is French built Mirage-2000 which amply proved its operational utility during the recent Kargil conflict. The air forces of the next century would prefer such air combat machines on their squadron strength for a variety of reasons. A multi role aircraft gives an air force greater flexibility in mobilizing resources over a large war front as the same squadron can be deployed for air defence, interdiction or deep strikes, ground support to own troops, air reconnaissance and even electronic counter measure (ECM) roles. 



Such acquisitions of multi role aircraft with versatile force multiplier capabilities would enable a compact sized force to achieve the same objectives on the battlefield as was effected through employment of much larger force levels of other types of aircraft designed for a particular role. The induction of SU-30MKI heralds an era of modernization of the IAF and its transformation from a tactically defensive force into a strategic air power, capable of delivering deterrent weapons to far distance and thereby acting as the tools to prevent war in the years to come.