President Pratibha Patil became the first woman head of state to fly aboard a Su-30MKI fighter on Wednesday (November 25). She has done this to demonstrate the importance of cooperation with Russia for India’s defences.

The Indian Air Force, the fourth largest by the number of aircraft and helicopters after the United States, China and Russia, has mainly Soviet and Russian-made planes. The Su-30MKI fighter is one of the key projects of the current decade. India has approximately 100 such planes and intends to increase the number to 280-300 in the next decade.

Su-30, which has a considerable flight range, combat payload and modern weapons, can fulfil many tasks, from ensuring air superiority to fighting surface warships. It largely determines the Indian Air Force’s combat possibilities and forms of warfare.

Work on the project started in the 1980s, when the command of the Soviet Air Defence Force considered turning the Su-27UB two-seater into a fighter that could also be used to control the operation of one-seat fighter planes. At that time, only the heavy MiG-31 interceptor had such capabilities but was considerably more expensive.

The new aircraft passed all trials in 1987-1990 and its mass production began in 1991. However, the Russian Air Force received several new planes only because the disintegration of the Soviet Union led to sizeable cuts in Russia’s defence spending. Seeking other markets, the Sukhoi Design Bureau and the Irkutsk Aircraft Production Association (IAPO) overhauled the aircraft into a Su-30MK, its export variant, where “MK” stands for “modernised, commercial.”

The aircraft was turned into a multi-role fighter capable of attacking both air and surface targets and was equipped with a variety of air-to-surface weapons and also the cutting-edge R-77 air-to-air missiles.

India showed interest in the new plane. In 1996, it signed a contract for the delivery of 40 planes, which were adjusted to India’s requirements and called Su-30MKI. The first plane of the series performed its maiden flight in 1997. It was equipped with a thrust vectoring nozzle previously installed on the Su-37 fighter.

Following a trial period, India decided to order more such planes and later acquired a licence for the production of 140 Su-30MKI aircraft. The number was subsequently increased and now the Su-30MKI planes make up the core of the Indian Air Force. By the end of the next decade, they will constitute the majority of fighter planes in the Indian Air Force.

Another crucial event in Russian-Indian cooperation is a tender for the purchase of 126 medium-range fighter planes, which are to replace the old MiG-21s made in the 1970s. The MiG-35 fighter is one of the favourites at the tender.

The MiG-35 Fulcrum is a 4++ generation multi-role fighter that has made a highly positive impression on the Indian military, which saw it at many air shows and attended its air trials. It is a fundamentally new plane based on the MiG-29, one of the best fourth generation fighters. It has a much better manoeuvrability, thanks to a thrust vectoring engine and competitive electronic equipment, and costs less than its American analogues.

The Indian Air Force has the MiG-29 fighters and India has ordered the MiG-29KUB two-seaters for its Navy. The country is also creating the maintenance and repair infrastructure for these planes, which will simplify the use of technologically similar aircraft. Taken together, this should boost the Russian plane’s position at the tender.

An additional argument in favour of MiG-35 is extensive cooperation between the Mikoyan design bureau and India’s Air Force, which received the first MiG-21 planes in 1963 and subsequently used nearly all modifications of that plane, as well as the MiG-23 and MiG-25 fighter planes, the MiG-27 fighter-bomber, and the MiG-29 fourth generation fighter.

Moreover, the MiG-35s are to be purchased under the rearmament programme for the Russian Air Force. Practice shows that planes on combat duty in the producer country usually sell abroad better.

Nevertheless, it is unclear if the plane will win the Indian tender. The contract may be divided between two or three frontrunners, and the choice may be influenced by political considerations. But regardless of the outcome, India will continue to buy Russian aircraft in the next decade.

In particular, it plans to buy the Il-214 medium-class aircraft with a payload of up to 20 tons designed under the multi-role transport aircraft (MTA) project by the Ilyushin design bureau jointly with the Irkut aircraft producer and India’s Hindustan Aeronautics (HAL).

The first plane of this series is to start trial flights in 2013 and enter mass production in 2015. The plane is designed for both Russia and India. It should replace the An-12 and An-72 planes in Russia and the An-32 planes in India.

Another Russian-Indian project is a fifth generation fighter based on the T-50, an advanced frontline aviation aircraft system that is a stealth-enabled fighter jet designed to compete with the U.S. Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning Joint Strike Aircraft and the Lockheed Martin/Boeing F-22 Raptor.

Unlike the Russian modification, the two-seat plane built for India will have a different set of equipment, including some western-designed systems, and will be adjusted to operation in India’s conditions.

India is also using other Russian-made aircraft and buys and develops jointly with Russia different types of aircraft equipment and weapons, in particular the BrahMos supersonic anti-ship cruise missile, one of the most promising international projects in this sphere.

Russian-Indian cooperation under other joint projects has a good future based on mutual trust. The Indian President’s sortie in a Russian fighter plane is evidence of this. — RIA Novosti

(The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.)

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