Saturday, 26 November 2011

The SU-30MKM

From Fighter Planes

In August 2003, Malaysia signed a $900 million contract with Irkut Corp. for 18 SU-30MKMs. Malaysia flies the F/A-18D Hornet, and was offered Boeing’s F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet, but chose the SU-30MKM instead. The SU-30MKM is an advanced variant, whose performance involves considerable improvements over SU-30MK/MKK fighters. Canards, stabilizers and fins would be manufactured by India’s HAL Nasik under a $25-30 million value subcontract.

On May 24/07, a rollout and demonstration ceremony was held for the first 2 Su-30MKM fighters for the Royal Malaysan Airforce (RMAF) at Russia’s Irkutsk Aviation plant. Their fighter fleet will now consist of R/F-5E/F Tiger IIs (to be phased out), F/A-18D Hornets, MiG-29 Fulcrums (until 2015), and SU-30MKMs. The results from their internal training and air combat exercises would be interesting, to say the least. Irkut was to deliver all aircraft by the end of 2008, but the 18th plane didn’t arrive until the summer of 2011.

The SU-30MKM (Modernizirovannyi Kommercheskiy Malaysia – Modernised Export Malaysia) is strongly similar to India’s SU-30MKI. Like its Indian counterpart, the SU-30MKM is a substantial advance upon the original SU-30K export version, maintaining much of basic airframe but incorporating a number of advances from the SU-35/SU-37 project.

The SU-30MKI/M can legitimately claim super-maneuverability via digital fly-by-wire, canards, and 2 thrust vectoring Lyulka AL-31FP engines producing 27,500 lb thrust each with afterburners. This gives them an edge in close-in fights, allowing the pilot to rapidly point the plane at potential targets to draw them within the AA-11/R-73 Archer’s wide infrared seeker cone, then launch and quickly change energy state and direction. SU-27/30s have become somewhat famous at international airshows for their unique maneuvers, and the MKI/MKM’s additions take that capability to new levels. Sukhoi’s former general designer Mikhail Simonov has reportedly said that:

“We even made a corkscrew spin a controllable manoeuvre – the pilot can leave it at any moment by a single motion of the stick that engages thrust-vectoring and aerodynamic surfaces.”

For longer range aerial combat, the SU-30 MKM also bears the NIIP N011M phased array radar system that can officially track up to 15 targets and simultaneously engage 4. Their standard aerial weapon for beyond visual range engagements is the AA-12/R-77, but they can also carry infrared-guided AA-10s that provide no advance lock-on warning, and could even be equipped with long-range “AWACS-killer” missiles the Russians have developed.

SU-30s are fully multi-role, with strong ground attack capabilities if required. The SU-30MKM is no exception, and its Damocles targeting pod adds to that capability. For strike missions, it can carry large (up to 8,000 kg/ 17,650 lb) and diverse weapon loads over a very good unrefueled radius (more than 700 nm).

Many observers consider the SU-30MKI/M to be superior to all US aircraft except the F-22A Raptor; this would include the Boeing Super Hornet it beat for the Malaysian order, as well as the new F-15SGs bought recently by neighboring Singapore.

The main difference between the MKI and MKM versions is the replacement of Indian and Israeli avionics, ECM (electronic counter-measures), and LITENING pods with Russian, French and South African equipment. This includes original Russian equipment, Thales of France’s HUD, NAVFLIR, and Damocles surveillance and targeting pod; Avitronics South Africa missile approach warning sensors and laser warning sensors. Integration of all the avionics systems is carried out with active participation of Su-30MKM Project Team, which includes RMAF officers and is based in Moscow.

India’s SU-30MKI Mk3 will also be equipped with an on-board health-and-usage monitoring system (HUMS) from South Africa’s Aerospace Monitoring And Systems (Pty) Ltd (AMS), to provide hands-off monitoring of its various components. There is no announced word on whether the Malaysian SU-30MKMs will be equipped with a similar system.

As is often the case in these deals, there were offsets involved. Some are industrial, including a service center for the aircraft in Malaysia, but one offset was especially interesting. According to Victor Komardin, Deputy Director General of FSUE Rosoboronexport:

”...the offset clause of the Contract with Malaysia envisages the on-site setup of the Service center for the Russian-made aircraft as well as the assistance in promoting the Malaysian national space program. In autumn 2007 the first Malaysian cosmonaut is due to visit the International Space Station as a member of the 16th space crew.”

And it was so, as orders progressed, and a competition to replace Malaysia’s MiG-29 fleet opened up another opportunity for Sukhoi…

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