The Defense Ministry and the Irkut Corporation,
an affiliate of the United Aircraft Corporation,
have signed a supply contract for 30 Su-30SM multirole
fighter aircraft, a Defense Ministry spokesman
told journalists Thursday, March 22. “Under the
contract, Irkut Corporation will build for Russia’s
Ministry of Defense 30 planes of this type by
2015,” he said.
Rumors that Irkut, a long-standing exporter,
may supply several dozen fighter aircraft to the
Russian Air Force began circulating late last
year. Now the rumor has become a reality
a contract in black and white.
But why did the Defense Ministry choose the
Su-30s? After all, they have been mostly
supplied to customers abroad rather than to the
Russian Armed Forces, where just a few planes
of this type are in use.
The Su-30, properly speaking, is an entire family
of aircraft and the most famous Russian-made (not
to be confused with Soviet-made) fighter plane
outside of Russia. It was developed in the Soviet
Union on the basis of the Su-27UB combat trainer
aircraft as a command plane for Air Defense air
regiments flying ordinary Su-27 interceptor aircraft.
In 1993, its export version, the Su-30K, was
developed, sparking record demand and the sale
of several hundred planes.
The family is further subdivided into two parts:
the Chinese Su-30MKK/MK2, which were
produced in Komsomolsk-on-Amur and exported to
Venezuela, Indonesia, Uganda, Vietnam, and of
course China; and the Indian Su-30MKI,
manufactured in Irkutsk and purchased by India,
Algeria and Malaysia.
The model ordered by the Russian military is
a localized version of the Indian
Su-30MKI. Earlier, Komsomolsk-on-Amur delivered
to the Air Force four localized Su-30MK2s.
A flying multi-tasker
As a basic platform for the multirole heavy
fighter aircraft, the Su-30MKI is remarkable primarily
for its universality. It boasts a so-called open
architecture, making it relatively easy
to add new systems in the basic electronic equipment
and to use advanced guided weapons (supplied by
The Su-30MKI sports a Russian radar and optic
locator, French navigation and heads-up display
systems, Israeli EW and weapon-guidance systems,
and Indian computers.
The Chinese line is based on a different
logic that prescribes parallel installation of
new systems that fall short of full integration.
Most likely, the military is attracted by how
easy it is to add different weapons and equipment
to the Su-30MKI, transforming it into an attack
fighter-bomber, a heavy interceptor aircraft,
or something else.
Who placed the order?
It is hard to pinpoint who exactly ordered these
30 aircraft. The contract was signed by Defense
Minister Anatoly Serdyukov and Irkut President
Alexei Fedorov. After the signing ceremony, Serdyukov
commented that the planes would increase
the Air Forces combat power.
By contrast, Fedorov went on record as saying
last summer that the Defense Ministry was going
to order 40 aircraft. Later the press reported,
citing the Irkutsk aircraft plants general
director Alexander Veprev, that the deliveries
were likely to be made in two installments: the
first 28 aircraft were intended for the Air Force
and another 12 as an option for naval aviation.
Air Force C-in-C Alexander Zelin confirmed the
figure of 28 in fall 2011.
As we can see, the first batch of Sukhoi-30s
has been purchased. The remaining 12, as some
military sources intimated to the press, were
intended for the Black Sea Fleets naval
Given that naval aviation has seen cuts in combat
aircraft, it seems logical to reinforce it with
heavy Su-30SM two-seaters that are efficient both
in air-to-air combat and against ground and surface
Thus far, however, there is no mention of plans
to buy the Su-30 for the Navy. Possibly the option
will be realized later.
There is another simple explanation for choice
of the Su-30MKI. Irkut has been churning out these
planes for 10 years thanks to its completely streamlined
production method. This means that its products
are of high quality, relatively cheap (which pleases
the Defense Ministry in particular) and will be
supplied on time.
It is one thing if, in order to make 30 aircraft,
you have to breathe life into an idling plant,
to fine-tune (or develop anew) your technological
method, buy additional equipment, and still
worse hire personnel. But its quite
another if you have been manufacturing standardized
aircraft for years and years and can easily divert
your workforce to produce an improved
modification for your own countrys Air Force.
The cost of this batch on the side is dramatically
This approach (buying quickly and on the cheap
what can be produced immediately) has been growing
in popularity in the Russian military. We have
mentioned the Su-30M2 combat trainer aircraft
intended for the Russian Air Force. The same goes
for the carrier-based MiG-29K, which in its present
form was developed for the Indian Navy.
This approach is logical in its own way. The
military expects certain fundamentally new models
that are being tested with some degree of success.
The Air Force is eying the T-50, the fifth-generation
fighter aircraft, and the Navy has been trying
to get into shape its Lada project involving the
construction of non-nuclear submarines. The Land
Forces have boycotted the purchases of all currently
existing armor models, urging manufacturers to
invent something totally new.
In the meantime, the Armed Forces will buy cheap,
mass-produced, well-equipped, if ordinary, military
hardware, like the Su-30SM.
(The author is RIA Novosti military affairs columnist