Problems Faced by Sukhoi Su-30MKIs of Indian Air Force

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“The [Su-30 MKI] fleet is prohibitively expensive equipment and faces problems due to high, premature failure rate of subsystems like engines, radars, missiles, avionics, etc…,”said Vinod Kumar Narang, a retired Indian Air Force air vice-marshal.

In this article we will look briefly into Sukhois of Indian Air Force aka IAF

Sukhoi Su-30MKI is a dual engine multirole air superiority fighter developed by Russia’s Sukhoi and built under license by India’s Hindustan Aeronautics Limited for the Indian Air Force. MKI is a special variant of the Sukhoi Su-30 designed for IAF and it is a heavy, all-weather, long-range fighter. The IAF operates ~260 Su-30MKIs as of January 2020 with no further procurement. Apart from being a super maneuverable highly capable fighter jet, Su-30 MKI faces a lot of problems. Some of them will be discussed in detail below:

ENGINE & SPARE PARTS

NEW DELHI says India’s frontline fighter aircraft Su-30 MKI was forced to land on single engine 34 times since April 1, 2014 due to engine trouble mid-air as of July 14,2018. The fleet of twin-engine aircraft has encountered mid-air engine problems due to which single-engine landings were affected, Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar said in reply to a written question in Lok Sabha. There have been 34 occasions between April 1, 2014 and March 31 this year, when Sukhoi 30 MK-I fighter jets were forced to land on single engine due to mid-air engine problems.

The Su-30MKI is powered by two Lyulka-Saturn AL-31FP turbofans, each rated at 12,500 kg of full after-burning thrust, which enable speeds of up to Mach 2 in horizontal flight. The mean time between overhaul is reportedly 1,000 hours with a full-life span of 3,000 hours; the titanium nozzle has a mean time between overhaul of 500 hours. The high performing engines typically are specified to last 3000+ hours. F16 C/D’s engine has a life of 8000-12000 flight hours. Moreover, the thrust vectoring nozzle in Su30 has merely 500 flight hours life and needs to be overhauled often, which gives a blow to operational capabilities of Su30. Reportedly Su30 MKIs has only 55% operational availability as of 2018 due to shortage of spare parts, says Economic Times 2018, which means slightly above half of the full strength of MKIs in service of IAF will be ready for combat in any emergency situation.

Initial MKIs were powered by the AL31FU which were also used in Su37 and were more powerful than current engine and came with Pitch, yaw thrust vectoring, powerful enough to house Irbis-E Radar currently being used in Su35. But the service life of that engine was consumed in testing and less powerful AL31FPs were integrated in MKIs.

AVIONICS

6 Su30s have been lost by IAF since its induction and three of them were due to failure in fly by wire system. Indian Su30 have a radar weighing around 650 Kg due to which Canards were placed in the air frame along with reduction in speed due to increase in air drag. The cockpit still houses a lot of analogue systems in contrast to digital displays of western jets. India’s front-line fighter aircraft Su-30MKI flies with deficient radar warning receiver, which increases its vulnerability and safety parameters. In five years between 2004-05 and 2008-09, the Su-30MKI fleet could not achieve even 50 per cent of its task. In one year (2005-06), only 31 per cent of the tasks was completed whereas in other years only 40 per cent of the jobs were achieved.

COST

In 1996 there was a deal of 50 MKIs, which was just a concept bird at that time and India bought the jets even before the first prototype flew in the skies. In 2007 the per unit cost of Su30 was 40 million dollars which sky hiked in 2010 to 120 million dollars which IAF says they have secret upgrades in it. The final jet is to be delivered was to be delivered in March 2020 and in the same year the old Su30s are awaiting upgrades to keep flying increasing the operational cost of MKIs. Indian Sukhois are costly than Russian and Chinese Su27/30s.

RESULTS

MMRCA 2.0

India is currently evaluating couple of jets to replace the aging Migs and Jaguars of IAF often referred as flying coffins. IAF is preferring foreign platforms for which new facilities of maintenance and extensive training will be required. The reason why India isn’t procuring more Su30s in MMRCA 2.0 even they have facilities of it, seems to be the per unit cost which is around 70 million/unit manufactured by HAL as of 2020 along with the additional repair and maintenance of short life engines which is around 1000 flight hours.
Due to lack of spares and engine’s life, India sacked the Su57 aka FGFA deal with Russia as the similar engines are being used in it, which in case procured will have drenched the budget of IAF in repair and maintenance only.

Read our Exclusive on Dassault Rafale, F-16 Fighting Falcon, JF-17 Thunder Block-3 & Way Forward For PAF: https://pakstrategic.com/2020/07/29/exclusive-on-dassault-rafale-f-16-fighting-falcon-jf-17-thunder-block-3-way-forward-for-paf/

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