Wednesday, 2 March 2011

India Equipping More SU-30MKI to Counter Chinese Threat

From Weapons and technology


The India`s eastern sector bordering China got little fortified recently with the induction of the Sukhoi-30 MKI fighter aircraft at the Chabua Air Force station. The Chabua station (102 Sqn, 14 Wing) is the easternmost fighter base of the country. It is the first line of defence in the east and the induction of the SU-30 will strengthen its capability. Chabua is the second airbase in the northeast after Tezpur to house the Sukhois, capable of striking targets inside China with a cruising speed range of 3,200 km, which can be more than doubled with mid-air refuelling by IL-78 aircraft.

The Air Force base at Chabua was constructed in 1939. The air field was extensively used for launching operations against the Japanese. In 1962, the IAF commenced operations in response to the Chinese invasion of Tibet and threat to the northeast.

While India is only now trying to counter China's massive build-up of military infrastructure all along the 4,057-km Line of Actual Control, the People's Liberation Army (Air Force) already has at least six fully-functional airbases in Tibet and three in south China. The Linzi airbase, for instance, is not even 30 km away from the LAC in Arunachal. Though only few SU-30 wont be able to counter china`s massive Airforce and Army. India`s eastern sector lack support with rest of the country and is bottle neck around assam and bhutan. If this bottle neck is closed east sector is out of reach. The construction of infrastructure is needed for army to move in and prepare for last defenses.

Chabua Airbase

The Air Force Base at Chabua in Upper Assam takes pride in being called the ‘Eastern Bastion’. The airfield at Chabua was in fact a second world war airbase of the Allied Forces. Constructed in 1939, the airfield was extensively used for launching operations against the Japanese and was abandoned after the war. In 1962, in response to the Chinese invasion of Tibet and the subsequent threat it posed to the North-East, the IAF commenced operations from this airfield. Initially Dakotas and Vampires, later Hunters, Otters and Mi-4 helicopters commenced air operations form Chabua air base. In the mid-seventies, subsequent to the runway upgradation and renovation, the supersonic MiG-21 bacame the mainstay fighter aircraft operating from here till date.

The operational conversion unit operating with the MiG-21 (FL) fighter at this airbase has the onerous responsibility of training young fighter pilots, thus, enabling a smooth transition to an operational role in the frontline squadrons of IAF. No matter how old the unit is, it would always have young pilots in its fold. The unit calls itself ‘the young ones’. Formed in October, 1966 with the motto Abhyasen hi Kaushalayam, the unit has a glorious and chequered history since its establishment. Seven Vir Chakra, a Vayu Sena Medal and five Mention-in-Despatches won by the unit is a testimony to the gallantry of the unit. More recently, the unit has been declared as the `best fighter squadron' of EAC for the current year.

Tezpir Airbase

It is located in Tezpur in the state of Assam, India. It is also known as Salonibari Airport based on the village/township of Salonibari where it is located.It is also a major Indian Air Force base, with Tezpur Air Force Station being the home of several Sukhoi Su-30 combat aircraft. The location of the aircraft bears great significance since it lies strategically between Bhutan, Tibet, China, Myanmar and Bangladesh.

SU-30MKI

The SU-30MKI is the first Russian aircraft designed in collaboration with a foreign customer. It was born when the IAF decided to acquire the Su-30MK and include modifications according to its needs. Its competitor was the Mirage-2000-5, an excellent multirole aircraft in its own right. It had the advantage over the Su-30 given that the IAF was extremely satisfied with the results from the Mirage-2000H. However, the SU-30MKI was found to be a lot cheaper than the Mirage-2000-5, which ultimately proved to be the deciding factor.

The induction of the Su-30 into the IAF is a bit confusing for some. This is due to the fact that three different deals where signed, delays in the program and also due the fact that IAF has been operating Su-30s (since 1997) which are not Su-30MKIs but Su-30MKs. However, since they are being operated by the IAF, they are referred to as Su-30MKIs by some. Here Su-30MKI refers to the final version of the aircraft, and not those which saw service with the IAF since 1997.

Deal I (30 Nov 1996) : The IAF signed a US $1462 million (equivalent to Rs 5122 crore) deal with Sukhoi on 30 November 1996 for the delivery of 40 Su-30 aircraft and the associated equipment from the Irkutsk plant in phased manner, spread out over four years - from 1997 to 2000. The contract provided for setting up of a Service Support Centre in India which was to undertake extended second line repair tasks of aircraft, avionics, aero-engines and aggregates to avoid the need to despatch them to the manufacturer.

Deal II (September 1998) : The IAF decided to buy 10 additional Su-30Ks for US $277.01 million (equivalent to Rs.1187 crore) and thus bring the total number of IAF Su-30s on order to 50. These 10 were originally destined for Indonesia, but due to the financial crisis there Indonesia was unable to take delivery. The first 4 units were delivered in June 1999. These have updated electronic warfare suites, PGM (Precision Guided Munitions) capability and possibly updated radar. These planes are currently in service with IAF with serial nos SB009 to SB018 in the No. 24 Hawks squadron based at Lohegaon AFS.

Deal III (October-December 2000) : A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed allowing the license production of 140 Su-30MKIs and in December 2000, the deal was sealed in Russia at the IAPO factory. The deal combines license production with full technology transfer and hence called a 'Deep License'. For instance, HAL Koraput will also produce 920 AL-31FP engines, while the mainframe and other accessories will be manufactured at HAL's Lucknow and Hyderabad Divisions. Final integration of the aircraft and its test flight would be carried out at HAL's Ozhar (Nasik) Division. The original plans called for the first Su-30MKIs from Nasik to be delivered to the IAF in 2004-05, with production increasing to a peak of 10 aircraft per year from 2007-08 onward at this rate the production would have stretched to 2017-18. At Air Force Commander's Conference held in Oct-2002, the Air Chief Marshal Krishnaswamy, asked the HAL to complete the project in 10 years. This was confirmed by N.R.Mohanty on 12-Nov-2002 while speaking to the press . Therefore, the new schedule would mean that a maximum of 14 planes per year will be churned out by HAL and hence finishing in 2013. The original costs of Rs. 20,000 Cr remained as it is, even though such an action is expected to raise costs. According to Mohanty, HAL planned to counter the inflation by "outsourcing in low and medium type jobs while the critical items will be HAL's own."

Deal IV (May 2005) : It was originally planned that the 24 Sqn aircraft will be upgraded to the Su-30MKI Phase-III standard once the delivery is complete. However, the latest Russian offer is to replacethese aircraft with newly built airframes at $270 Million in 2007. The reasoning being that some of the aircraft have already aged quite a bit - the first ones entered service in 1997. More importantly, the upgraded airframes would not have the same capability as the new airframes. The offer has reportedly cleared by the Defence Acquisition Council, but the exact status is not known at the moment.

Deal V: Another 40 Su-30MKI were contracted from Russia.

Deal VI : IAF will eventually acquire a total of 230 Su-30MKI. Out of these 90 will be made in Russia by Irkutsk Aircraft Production Association (IAPO) while the rest will be produced in India by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). Production might be increased if necessary. HAL chairman Nalini Ranjan Mohanty has said that the Indian-built Su-30s will cost only about $22.5 million a unit against the current import price of about $37.5 million.

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