Fahad Masood

Since mid of the previous century, as the sub-continent gained independence from the British Raj, India has a bent of mind towards the Russian weaponry, especially in the military aviation domain. This idea was bolstered through an emergency measure by the Indian government for a perceived 50 squadron air force, later reduced to 45 after the humiliation in the 1962 war by China in the Himalayas. India found a ready and willing supplier of modern aircraft in the Soviet Union . The then Soviet Union collaborated with ready-arsenal of MiGs and Sukhois to bolster the IAF.

With the advent of the 4th Generation of fighter aircraft in the late nineties, a need was felt to upgrade the IAF fleet with the then top of the line Sukhoi Su-30, namely the Su-30MKI for the Indian version. There have been many upgrades, from the initial canard-less version of the 90s to the AL-31FP Turbofan engines of the 2000s, as well as, multiple French and Israeli avionics and weapon pushes till date. With these improvements, the jet had ushered from the 4 Generation fighter aircraft to 4 plus generation. The difference between generations mostly caused through introduction of high-end avionics and radar packages, in which arena the Sukhoi has evolved greatly since its humble beginnings in the mid 90s. 

Looking at the employability range of the aircraft, the Flanker is considered to be an all-encompassing aerial platform which can generate omni-role capabilities just like the Rafale which IAF has recently started to acquire. Press release by India’s aerospace corporation Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) mentions that it has completed the licensed production of 272 Sukhoi Su-30MKI multirole combat aircraft. 

Avionics wise, the MKI fares well in comparison of its radar capability N011M passive electronically scanned array radar. There is intent of upgrading to the IRBIS-E Stealth Hunter version by the IAF, let’s see how far this interest goes. The SU-30 MKI performs multiple roles from strategic bombing to strike fighting and is an all-weather aircraft that can strike locations on land and sea with pinpoint accuracy in day and night; with two after-burning engines, the twin-seater, multi-role fighter that can simultaneously be operated as an air to air interceptor, bomber and trainer. It is capable of attaining a maximum speed of two Mach with a maximum climb rate of 270 metres per second. The Su-30MKI is equipped with the Akash other Russian BVR missile arsenal. The Sukhoi-30 can be modified into a naval version, if the Indian Government chose to deploy it on an aircraft carrier. 

Having said all this, the million dollar question is why the IAF is hell-bent to switch from the Russian camp to the West?!

There is a realignment of the different blocks of the countries world-over in the contemporary times and India is no exception. It perceives itself more secure a country choosing the American block instead of its cold-war ally. Considering USA’s aerial weapons of war instead its comrade of the past directly indicates a clear Foreign Policy shift. But at the air force level there are many issues germinating with this swing. Multiplicity of aircraft types, starting from the Russian MiGs and Sukhois to the French Mirages and now Rafales to the American C-17s and Chinooks with back-shops, supply chain and maintenance challenges are just the tip of the iceberg.

The Russians are a regional if not a global force to reckon with, as of now. Flexing its military muscle by showing up in the Middle East with its Su-34 Fullback and co., they have shown their commitment to be a major player in geo-political happenings around the world. After visiting and revisiting literature as well as researching this geo-strategic alteration and repositioning of nations, this researcher finds it ill-advised for the Russians to continue enhancing ties with Indian Air Force. Statements like that of Vinod Kumar Narang, a retired Indian Air Force air vice-marshal, “The [Su-30MKI] fleet is prohibitively expensive equipment and faces problems due to high, premature failure rate of subsystems like engines, radars, missiles, avionics, etc.,” receive a negative marketing instead of the required positive ones. 

It is said in military aviation, ‘Fly the jet as it is supposed to be flown’. Employment of air power is a science and an art. Even more important, utility of this military arm is done by exploiting the edge of the envelope competency; exactly how the Russians aviate.    

    During an interview to BBC in 1965 Indo-Pak war, one of the young fighter pilots (on the right) from the Pakistan Air Force after a successful strike and subsequent even more triumphant dogfight commented, ‘You (Britain) should not sell their hardware to the India(n Air Force) because it is Bad Publicity’. Same holds valid for the Russians. For the purpose of long term success of Russian aviation manufacturing industry in global scenario, they should not sell their hardware to India. 

 Understandably it is only business but with the negative advertisement comes a sharp drop in sales. Money makes the mare go but the Russians ought not to lose repute in the bargain, which is a long term issue as well as challenging to attain. With a recurrence of the Operation:Swift Retort of 27 February 2019, it will be a long-standing loss to the Russia in general and the Russian aviation industry in specific. 

 Let’s also have objective look at the happening of 27 February 2019, where the PAF shot down the MKIs which was extricating from the battle on an exit heading. It’s not the best of non-personal non-paid advertisement to be printed in international media to be shot out of the sky by a numerically inferior Pakistan Air Force. Where we stand today, the countries of the world have to decide which way to bend to remain relevant in the future decades to come.

Russians, being as sane and smart as they are, may find it obvious to readjust their foreign policy towards India to ensure that they have a shot at re-attaining their global dominance of the Soviet-era.

‘Keep your friends close… and your enemies closer!’