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India's planned Desi Su-30 upgrades gains urgency amid worries over Russian spares

Source : The Economic Times

India's planned Desi Su-30 upgrades gains urgency amid worries over Russian spares
An Indian Air Force Sukhoi Su-30MKI equipped with BrahMos-A cruise missile under belly (IAF File Photo)

The ongoing conflict in Ukraine has increased the urgency over an upgrade of India’s frontline fighter fleet that depends heavily on Russian supplies, with officials urging that locally made systems need to be integrated into the Sukhoi 30 MKI combat aircraft at the earliest.

The aircraft, which form a bulk of India’s fighter fleet and were first inducted over two decades ago, have been waiting for an upgrade to the Super Sukhoi standard that will include major Indian-made components including radar, full-glass cockpit and flight-control computers.

Officials in the defence establishment have raised concerns about the ability of Russian companies to provide a steady supply of parts and spares for the fighter fleet, given stringent sanctions that have been imposed following the Ukraine offensive.

They said that enough spares are available for the coming months due to contingency planning but in the longer run, Russian suppliers are likely to face hurdles in meeting commitments as several components are procured from the west. Spares and supplies from Russia for the Indian fighter fleet amount to almost ?6,000 crore annually.

Dependent on External SuppliersSources involved in the project told ET that a key challenge in coming months would be the supply of Russian-origin electronics.

“In terms of raw materials and components required for the engines, the Russian industry is self-sufficient but there is a problem when it comes to avionics as they have dependencies on external suppliers,” said one of the persons.

More than 44 systems in the fighter jets – the Indian Air Force (IAF) has a Sukhoi 30 fleet strength of 272 – are to be replaced in a deep overhaul that will involve the Defence Research and Development Organisation, Bharat Electronics Ltd and Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. Discussions on such an upgrade have been on for almost a decade but the final plan is yet to be approved, with some blaming bureaucratic hurdles.

Experts agree that this is urgently needed to maintain India’s combat edge. “As the largest fighter fleet of the IAF, and now approaching two decades in service, there’s no question that the Su-30MKI is due for an upgrade. The global standards of military and aerospace technology have changed massively since the turn of the century, as has India’s own domestic capability,” said the Observer Research Foundation’s Angad Singh. One major upgrade will involve replacing the legacy radar in the fleet with an Indian-made Uttam Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) system that is expected to significantly enhance the combat capability of the jets. Dependence on Russian suppliers for the engines is expected to continue.

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