Why Su-30 MKI is a blessing for indigeneous aerospace industry ?
When the indigeneous weapons programs were stalled because of western sanctions and the risk of a Nuclear war loomed over. The headlines were filled with news of floods in eastern states including West Bengal. The deal was signed to manufacture Sukhoi Su-30 MKIs in phased manner.
In October 2000, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed for Indian licence-production of 140 Su-30MKIs; in December 2000, a deal was sealed at Russia’s Irkutsk aircraft plant for full technology transfer.
The MKI deal was signed for producing 140 Su-30MKI to be locally manufactured by HAL, Nashik. It was probably the first time when an export customer was delivered a weapon which is half a generation ahead than that operated by the home air force. Even before this deal India already had Su-30K and Su-30MK. After two years of evaluation and negotiations, on 30 November 1996, India signed a US$1.462 billion deal with Sukhoi for 50 Russian-produced Su-30MKIs in five batches. The first batch were eight Su-30MKs, the basic version of Su-30. The second batch were to be 10 Su-30Ks with French and Israeli avionics. The third batch were to be 10 Su-30MKIs featuring canard foreplanes. The fourth batch of 12 Su-30MKIs and final batch of 10 Su-30MKIs were to have the AL-31FP turbofans. This was a necessary and correct decision taken to neutralise the strategic advantage that China was getting by ordering heavy numbers of Su-27SK.
The MKI production was since the beginning supposed to happen in four phases, gradually increasing the indigenous content in the aircraft. In the first stage the Sukhois were built from completed knocked down kits moving to semi knocked down kits in subsequent stages.
In the fourth phase it is largely made from our own manufactured equipment.
The Sukhoi Su-30MKI, which Indian aviation enthusiasts venerate more than any other fighter, owes much of its success to the DRDO-run Project Vetrivale, which was possible only because of the sweat and toil that went into the LCA programme. In the process, the nation has developed a respectable system of specialised companies and suppliers that can contribute to future projects. Astra Microwave, Data Patterns, and Samtel are just a few examples of companies that cut their teeth on the LCA and now offer world-class aerospace components, subsystems and services.
The benefits of the technologies and infrastructure developed as a result of these programmes extend beyond individual projects. Owing to their strategic nature, they have the potential to strongly influence economic and national security outcomes for the better. One could argue that they already do. They have enabled the manufacture of engineered systems for civilian and military use that are tailored to local requirements, as well as spin-offs in other sectors of the economy.
To take just one example, some of the technologies developed in the course of the Tejas’ Kaveri engine programme are now used by Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL) in the manufacture of gas turbine engines for power generation. If exploited properly, they shall go a long way towards limiting the expenditure of foreign exchange on imported weaponry that generates very little economic benefit. More importantly, they shall empower the nation to take (or threaten) military action while limiting the risks of coercive pressure from hostile countries that might use technology embargoes or the termination of military sales to restrict the supply of critical military equipment.
The upgrade programs of many old fighter planes in IAF was facilitated due to the advanced avionics developed for Su-30 MKI. It all happened because of Project Vetrivale. That we were able to use them thus creating greater orders for the big aviation ecosystem in India.
And that is the real benefit of inducting a locally-made jet in large numbers, even though it may fall short on certain performance parameters. As Shiv Aroor so rightly says, the endless bickering over minute technical details has to stop.
And with the technological know-how as well as an industrial ecosystem largely in place, the development of the next generation of fighter is bound to be a little smoother, a little less uncertain, and constrained by fewer technological hurdles than the LCA was.
The manufacturing sector ecosystem developed by Su-30 MKI and advanced test facilities developed by LCA program. This why we must celebrate the success of Sukhoi Su-30 MKI.