India, which is looking to upgrade its mainstay Su 30MKI fighter fleet to modern standards, hopes to get a toehold into the export market as well by offering the package to friendly foreign nations that operate the Russian origin aircraft.
The `Super Sukhoi’ upgrade for India’s fleet of the frontline fighters – a total of 272 combat aircraft have been ordered by the air force – is in advanced levels of discussions, with modernization plans for avionics, engines and weaponry on offer.
Officials told ET that the upgrade has the potential to unlock exports given the large fleet of Su 30s in service around the world that would also require upgrades in the future. “There is a market outside. We are already the only ones doing overhauls for the aircraft and once we conduct the upgrade, we can offer a better solution to the outside world as well,” HAL chairman R Madhavan told ET.
Over 600 aircraft of the Su 27/30 type have been manufactured and large operators include Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and Algeria. China also operates the type but has already reverse engineered it as the Shenyang J 11.
Among the nations that India could approach with the upgrade solution is Malaysia that is already interested in collaboration for maintenance and upkeep of its fleet of 18 Su 30 fighters. India plans to help Malaysia set up a Maintenance Repair and Overhaul (MRO) unit there and train its technicians as part of bilateral cooperation pacts. Other potential partners for the program could be Vietnam which operates 46 fighters of the type.
On the Indian front, the `Super Sukhoi’ upgrade has been talked about for a while but there seems to be a sense of urgency with the IAF, Hindustan Aeronautics LimitedNSE 1.34 % and the Russian government have been working on the upgrade program. Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa confirmed last month that technical proposals are being shared given that the aircraft have been in service for almost 20 years while Russia raised the issue in 2017 at top level meetings between leaders of the two nations.
The HAL chief confirmed that proposals have been discussed as recently as last month. “The configuration has not yet been finalized but the upgrade basically will include beyond visual range capability, new electronic warfare suites, an engine upgrade as well as a new radar,” Madhavan said.
As reported by ET, the state-owned company has separately also pitched for an order to manufacture four additional squadrons of the Su 30 MKI jets to quickly meet gaps in fighter squadron strength. The air force for now seems to be only keen on ordering replacements for aircraft that have been lost in accidents.