While India maintains a tight geopolitical relationship with the United States, it’s no secret that it also keeps a transactional relationship with Russia, particularly regarding its military equipment.

The same reason why India is not meddling with what’s going on between Russia and Ukraine, unlike other nations that strongly condemn the aggressor because of its dependency on defense supply. In a recent report, Russia is identified as India’s most prominent defense supplier, and up to 80 percent of the latter’s military platform originated from the former. This arms deal includes assault rifles, submarines, and fighter aircraft, including the Su-30MKI.

A Su-30 MKI is firing Brahmos-ER. (Image source: Wikimedia Commons)

Also known as “Flanker-H,” this twinjet multirole fighter aircraft is a variant of Sukhoi Su-30 tailor-made according to Indian specifications and its avionic system. India first bought 140 Su-30 fighter jets from Russia in 2000 before a special version was made for the India Air Force (IAF) in 2002 under license by India’s Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). Su-30MKI was commissioned to service in 2004 with the vision to make the aircraft the backbone of its fighter fleet to 2020 and beyond. Since then, the IAF has maintained an inventory of more than 270 aircraft since 2021.

Su-30MKI With Indian Flair

The Su-30MKI shares many features and components from previous “Flanker” jets, adding its flair of “Indian design and built processor hardware in the Mission Computers, Radar Data Processor provide under the Vetrivale (Lance) industry program, and some items of Israeli and EU hardware.” It also has “a Sextant Avionique HUD, and RLG (Ring Laser Gyro) INS/GPS, glass cockpits, NIIP N011M phased array, AL-31FP TVC engines, enlarged rudders, Su-33/35/37 canards, and aerial refueling probe, and an improved OLS-30 IRST package,” among its long list of notable features.

The modifications made by India in their Flanker-H piqued the Russian Defense Ministry, which reportedly ordered some of the India localized version, the Su-30SMs, for the Russian Air Force in 2012.

Su-30MKI Flanker H
(Image source: Air Power Australia)

General Specifications of Su-30MKI:

  • Role: Multirole fighter, Air superiority fighter
  • Crew: 2
  • Length: 21.935 m (72 ft 0 in)
  • Wingspan: 14.7 m (48 ft 3 in)
  • Height: 6.36 m (20 ft 10 in)
  • Wing area: 62 m2 (670 sq ft)
  • Empty weight: 18,400 kg (40,565 lb)
  • Powerplant: 2 × Lyulka AL-31FP afterburning turbofan engines, 123 kN (28,000 lbs) with afterburner
  • Maximum speed: 2,120 km/h (1,320 mph, 1,140 km) / Mach2.0 at high altitude
  • Range: 3,000 km (1,900 mi, 1,600 mi) at high altitude

The Su-30MKI has a variety of armaments, including guns and hardpoints for rockets, missiles, and bombs, among many others. For its avionics, its equipped with passive electronically scanned array radar (with bars), an EL/M-8222 jammer, a radar warning receiver, and a laser-optical infrared search and track.

Inside the Su-30MKI: Crew Station (Image source: Air Power Australia)

India’s Ace Fighter Jet

Since entering service in the 2000s, the Su-30MKI rose to prominence in the IAF and earned the title of its “most potent fighter jet.” It mostly participated in bilateral and multilateral air exercises—even beating U.S. Air Force’s F-15C at one point during the 2004 Cope India Exercise. Using its earlier versions, the Indian aircraft won the mock combat mission by 90 percent; note that the IAF heavily favored the parameters of that exercise. Regardless, it proves that IAF’s Su-30MKI is a capable combat aircraft.

A Su-30MKI was doing in-flight refueling from Ilyushin Il-78 of IAF during Konkan Shakti 2021. (Image source: Wikimedia Commons)

The closest combat action the Flanker-H had was in 2019, when four aircraft were on an strike mission in Pakistan against a terrorist training camp.  Two Su-30MKI were flying cover for the strike aircraft when they were reportedly targeted by multiple Pakistani F-16s using AMRAAM missiles but were unsuccessful since both Indian aircraft dodged it. As a result, all four fighter jets made it home, as the IAF confirmed in a statement, saying, “False claim by Pakistan of shooting down a Su-30 (Flanker-H) appears to be a cover-up for the loss of its own aircraft.”

It continued: “Prompt and correct tactical action by Su-30 aircraft, in response to AMRAAM launch, defeated the missile. Parts of the missile fell in an area East of Rajouri in J&K, injuring a civilian on the ground.”

Arms Deal Limbo With Russia

In June 2018, the IAF expressed disinterest in procuring more Su-30MKI despite Russia’s offer to sell 40 more units seeing its costly maintenance compared to Western aircraft. The Indian Defense Ministry said they were considering instead purchasing American F-18 and F-16, Russian MiG 35, and the Swedish Gripen.

However, the American and Swedish aircraft remained on the IAF’s shortlist while it announced the intention to procure 12 more Su-30MKIs and 21 MiG 29s from Russia in June 2020. The additional Su-30MKIs are needed replace operational losses of aircraft loss due to crashes. According to the arms deal with Russia, the Indian forces have to maintain the sanctioned strength of 272 Su-30MKIs. Since the introduction of the fighter jet in the 2000s, the IAF has reportedly lost 11 Su-30MKIs as of August 2019.

Russia has played a significant role in updating the military equipment of the Indian armed forces since the early 1990s because the former does not impose sanctions or embargoes and the business rapport it built with the latter. India likes that Russia doesn’t ask for “immediate payment after weapon delivery, nor did it request it in any hard currency.” Plus, the exclusivity it offered India to access its military hardware.