Amid a gridlock between India and Russia on the development of their fifth-generation fighter aircraft (FGFA), India has decided to set up negotiations with Russia to upgrade 194 Sukhoi Indian Air Force Su-30MKIs to a near fifth-generation level for about $8 billion, Defence News reports.
The improved Su-30s will feature advanced stealth technology, longer range missiles and radars, a jointly developed BrahMos supersonic cruise missile, and an advanced suite of avionics.
“[A] major part of the upgrade [to Super Sukhoi] involves avionics and sensors. These are completely new with new systems and new software. Hence it has no relation to old problems with software. Engine issues will have to be dealt with,” retired Indian Air Force Air Marshal Muthumanikam Matheswaran told Defence News.
But even improved Su-30s won’t do the job needed by the IAF, who have fallen behind with aircraft maintenance.
Furthermore, the move to upgrade the existing aircraft while India and Russia wait for a new generation of fighters represents a kind of half-measure, and it complicates the already fraught joint venture between India and Russia to develop the FGFA.
“Upgrade of the Su-30 will certainly slow the FGFA acquisition primarily due to financial limitations,” Matheswaran said. “But upgraded Su-30 is not the same as FGFA.”
Indeed the difference between “near fifth generation” and “fifth generation” is a huge. A fifth generation jet should employ an integrated stealth design, internal electronic warfare capabilities, and super-cruise abilities. No matter how much the Su-30 is upgraded, the basics, like an airframe lacking internal weapons bays and other stealth features, cannot be tacked on at this late stage.
In fact, the FGFA, also known as the PAK FA or the T-50, already hardly meets the requirements of the “fifth generation” aircraft as defined by planes like the F-22 and F-35.
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