The Indian Air Force (IAF) has initiated the procurement of a fresh lot of 40 additional Su-30MKI air dominance fighters at an estimated $75 million apiece, reliable diplomatic sources disclosed to Arming India.
The procurement is being taken up as a follow-on order to the 222 Su-30MKI fighters already contracted to be made under transfer of technology at Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL)’s Nasik division.
Along with the initial 50 aircraft acquired in a flyaway condition from Russia in the late 1990s, the latest increment of 40 aircraft will take the total number of Su-30MKIs ordered for the IAF to 312.
This is a significant development running concurrently with the rapid headway in India-Russia talks on finalizing an agreement on an Indian commitment to the futuristic Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA). Arming India had on Feb. 3, 2016 exclusively reported a $3.7 billion deal-in-the-works for India’s contribution to the development costs of the FGFA, and a further commitment to buy a minimum of 60 of these fighters.
The rebound to Russia takes places amidst a continuing impasse in Indo-French price negotiations for the import of 36 Rafale fighter aircraft for the IAF.
Observers also see these developments as a consequence of a determined rearguard action by Russia to protect its turf and reinforce its pre-eminence in the Indian defense aerospace market. Russia’s traditional dominance in the Indian market has sought to have been challenged by the U.S., Israel and Europe in the last decade-and-a-half.
The reliance on the Sukhois extends the life of the Su-30MKI assembly line in Nasik by another decade. An estimated 175 of the 222 Su-30 MKIs contracted to be assembled in India are reported to have already been rolled out. The roll-out rate is between 10 and 12 aircraft a year. Post the Sukhois, the Russian complex at HAL will be kept alive with the licensed manufacture of the FGFA.
Interestingly, India and Russia are set to sign a deal for faster delivery of Sukhoi spares for the IAF. The Economic Times had reported in early December 2015, quoting Sukhoi Managing Director Valery V. Chishchevoy, that an Indian delegation was to deliberate on the spares supply deal later that month and the contract for the same would be signed at the earliest.
The Sukhoi resurgence and the FGFA inroads will directly impact on the market for the Rafale in India, keen observers of defense trade reckon. Although the initial negotiations are for only 36 Rafale jets for the IAF, France is already pursuing a detailed roadmap to notch up sales even beyond the original Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) number of 126 and also pitch the Rafale for the Indian Navy, sources inform Arming India. The Russian jets, clearly, stand in the way of these plans.
What is hard for a resource-strapped Indian defense establishment to ignore is that the Rafale is, reportedly, two-and-a-half times more expensive than the Rafale. The cost of 40 follow-on Sukhois to the Indian exchequer is about $3 billion, as against the reported $7 billion to $8 billion for the 36 Rafales.
However, IAF chief Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha has made it clear on more than a couple of occasions that Sukhois aren’t a replacement for the MMRCA, under which Rafale is the chosen one.