Purchases by India of the Sukhoi Su-30MKI fighters, which have significantly enhanced combat capabilities of the Indian Air Force, and previous sales of the Su-27 and Su-30 fighters to China and Vietnam may determine further development of air forces in the Asia-Pacific region and help maintain the balance of power.
The competition on the Asia-Pacific military aircraft market, made ever keener by the recent sales of the Su-30MKI fighters, requires from potential buyers a clear understanding of basic specifics of aircraft.
The flight performance, technical characteristics and combat capabilities of any aircraft primarily depend on their assigned role, tactical tasks and mission environment. These factors alone distinguish the Russian fighter from its foreign counterparts.
The Su-30MKI design, having retained the best features of the unsurpassed Su-27 air-superiority fighter, boasts enhanced functional capabilities. It should be noted that comparison of the Su-30MKI, a heavy-class fighter, with the F-16C Block 50, F-16C Block 60, and F-18E/F aircraft is largely theoretical, as they belong to conceptually different fighter classes and have their own, preferential areas of combat employment. For example, the F-18E/F version, owing to the F/A-18 basic design, features a more pronounced strike-mission capability, while in terms of dimensions, this aircraft is close to the Russian fighter.
The basic tactical and technical characteristics determining the capabilities of any aircraft include its flight performance and avionics and armament characteristics. Their analysis makes it possible to compare aircraft and assess the level of their technical perfection.
The Su-30MKI’s structural and aerodynamic configuration incorporates the latest research and technological achievements. It is a triplane (a combination of conventional design with foreplanes) with a lifting fuselage and developed wingroot extensions. The interaction of the foreplanes and wingroot extensions creates a controlled vortex effect similar to that of the adaptive wing. The F-16 and F-18 designs were developed in the early and mid-1970s. In terms of maximum aerodynamic efficiency, the Su-30MKI, like all Su-27-family aircraft, is unparalleled in the world and outperforms the above foreign counterparts by at least 50 to 100 percent. This is why the latest modernization programs, which gave birth to the F-16C Block 60 and F-18E/F versions, involved the increase of wing span, fuselage length and control surface areas and significantly changed the structural configuration and general layout of their basic versions.
Engines with thrust-vectoring nozzles enable the Su-30MKI to perform such maneuvers as «cobra,» vertical reverse, roll in «bell,» turn in «cobra,» etc. In these maneuvers, an angle of attack can reach 180o. These are not purely aerobatic maneuvers: this supermaneuverability can be effectively used in combat. As for the F-16 and F-18 aircraft, their maximum angles of attack are 30o and 40o, respectively, and they cannot use armament at supercritical angles of attack.
In terms of conventional maneuverability characteristics, all these fighters are very similar. However, according to preliminary assessments, the Su-30MKI’s supermaneuverability gives it a 30-percent superiority over its competitors in close air combat. Aircraft multiple capabilities put into the forefront the problem of effective weapon employment. To solve this problem, the Su-30MKI has a copilot/operator to improve the crew’s performance, weapon employment efficiency and provide for group missions.
The role of avionics in aircraft combat employment is ever growing. A number of the Su-30MKI fighter’s subsystems (navigation and communications equipment, cockpit instruments) are being developed jointly with foreign companies. Consequently, these subsystems will be technologically on a par with the best foreign counterparts. The superiority of the Su-30MKI’s radar in terms of target detection range, scanning sectors and jamming immunity makes it highly effective in long-range air combat.
Modern Russian fighters are equipped with an advanced optronic system designed to search, detect, lock on, automatically track aerial and ground targets and destroy them by onboard weapons. An optical locating station and a helmet-mounted sight incorporated by the system provide for effective weapon employment against aerial targets. The high accuracy and jamming immunity of the system interfaced with the onboard radar make it possible to detect targets at a range of up to 50 km and engage them in good time, significantly enhancing the fighter’s overall combat capabilities. The helmet-mounted sights have only recently appeared on foreign fighters. As for optronic equipment used against ground targets, the capabilities of the F-16’s LANTIRN and F-18E/F’s ATFLIR systems are close to those of the Russian-made analog, although foreign developers maintain a priority in this field.
Compared to the F-16C Block 50, a heavy weapon load carried by the Su-30MKI significantly (by 20 percent) reduces the time required to defeat ground targets by one sortie, especially when using aerial bombs. The F-18E/F fighter is planned to have a similar combat load capacity in the future.
Notably, in terms of quantity and types of weapons, the Russian fighter considerably outclasses the F-16C Block 50 and F-16C Block 60 aircraft. Only the F-18E/F is close to the Su-30MKI in this respect.
In terms of target designation angles, maneuverability, etc., the R-73E close-range air-to-air missile in service with the Su-30MKI significantly outperforms similar foreign missiles and is rightly considered the world’s best in its class. The high energy and ballistic parameters of the Su-30MKI’s long-range air-to-air missiles, combined with the capability of its radar, allow it to deliver preventive strikes against aerial targets, including its potential rivals.
Fitted with 12 weapon stores, carrying a full complement of air-to-air missiles and featuring a multichannel target engagement capability, the Su-30MKI fighter can be effectively used to repulse a massive air raid.
The Su-30MKI has a twofold advantage over the F-16 aircraft in the number of simultaneously carried air-to-ground guided weapons, which are also more efficient. High-power guided weapons carried by the Su-30MKI enable it to defeat deeply buried, hardened and superhardened priority targets. The Su-30MKI’s medium-range guided missile can be launched at stand-off ranges. The F-18E/F fighter is expected to be armed with similar missiles after 2005. It will be also equipped with air-to-surface missiles guided by a satellite navigation system, although export deliveries of these aircraft are unlikely in the near future.
Antiradar and antiship missiles in service with the Su-30MKI fighter excel their foreign couterparts in their mean speed.The Su-30MKI’s gun features higher accuracy and better armor piercing capability against lightly armored vehicles. Owing to its unique features which favorably distinguish it from foreign counterparts, the Su-30MKI is rightly considered one of the best multirole fighters at the beginning of the 21st century.
Aircraft combat capabilities are usually assessed using complex efficiency indicators defining aircraft overall performance. According to preliminary estimates, in long-range air combat, the Su-30MKI outperforms the F-16C Block 60, F-16C Block 50 and F-18E/F aircraft by 15, 20 and 12-15 percent, respectively, owing to its radar’s greater detection range, higher jamming immunity and multichannel capability, as well as better maneuverability.
The Su-30MKI’s supermaneuverability and better air-to-air missiles give this aircraft superiority in close air combat in which it excels the F-16C Block 50 by 10-15 percent, F-16C Block 60 by 20-30 percent (as the high wing loading significantly limits its maneuverability in close-range combat), and F-18E/F by 15-20 percent.
In terms of ground strike capabilities, the Su-30MKI outperforms the F-16C Block 50 by 50 percent and the F-16C Block 60 by 100 percent owing to its better surveillance and fire control radar system, higher survivability, better maneuverability, heavier combat load and longer flight range. The F-18E/F, following its modernization which has increased its flight range, armament suite and ammunition load and upgraded its surveillance and fire control radar system, still lags behind the Su-30MKI in strike capability by 15 to 20 percent.
Another distinguishing feature of the Su-30MKI is its high versatility. It can be used as an air defense interceptor, a strike aircraft or a flying command post. It can be used as a leader aircraft of combined fighter groups (including those of light fighters), ensuring their cooperation and concentration of efforts. In addition, the SDU-10MK digital fly-by-wire control system makes it possible to use the Su-30MKI as a combat trainer.
The above comparative analysis of the Su-30MKI’s combat performance and technical characteristics demonstrate that this aircraft is capable of attaining air superiority, repulsing massive air raids, supporting combat actions of other air groups, destroying a wide range of ground and naval targets, and executing various special missions.
The Su-30MKI can operate over short ranges and also fulfill autonomous long-range missions. Unlike the F-16 and F-18 aircraft, the Su-30MKI’s short-range operation will not reveal all its capabilities, yet its advantages here are still obvious. Hopefully, the above assessment will allow potential customers to evaluate the combat capabilities of the Russian fighter and its main rivals on the Asia-Pacific aircraft market.
According to all local and foreign specialists, the Su-30K fighter of the fourth generation aircraft, is one of the best combat fighters in the world. Developed at Sukhoy Design Bureau, the aircraft is intended to defeat cruise missile carrier aircraft at stand-off ranges and other air targets, as well as bomb ground targets day and night, in VFR and IFR weather conditions, under active and passive jamming conditions, operating singly and as part of the group and may be used as a trainer aircraft. Owing to integral aerodynamic layout, powerful mechanization combined with high engine thrust-to-weight ratio, the Su-30K fighter features high maneuverability, short turning radius and time, and wide speed envelope, ensuring the effective performance of close maneuvering combat and also timely initial line approach for launching an attack to intercept high-altitude/high-speed targets.
The in-flight refueling capability considerably increases the air patrol time and aircraft operational range.
The division of weapon control and aircraft piloting functions decreases the load on the crew and consequently ensures the reliable performance of the combat mission.
The aircraft on-board equipment comprises a fire-control and surveillance radar system and optronic fire control complex integrated into the weapons control system to detect targets and guide air-to-air missiles and simultaneously track up to ten air targets at a range of up to 100 km and engage two targets at a range of up to 65 km;
- flight-control and navigation system, ensuring air navigation at all stages of flight, in VFR and IFR weather conditions, at any time and season, over land and sea, in any geographical latitudes;
- ECM equipment comprises an illumination warning system, an active jamming station and a passive jamming device (a chaff/flare dispenser);
- monitoring system to check working parameters of the aircraft and outside operational situation.
The Su-30K fighter is provided with a wide range of airborne weapons, carried on ten suspension points:
- 50 to 500-kg aerial bombs;
- air-to-air missiles, type R-27R1, R-27T1, R-73E.
The aircraft is also armed with a 30mm built-in automatic rapid-firing gun GSh-301 with an ammunition load of 150 rounds.
The high flight/technical aircraft performance, its capability to engage in air fighting and destroy ground and sea targets, as well as increased maneuverability and load carrying capacity, mounting of new local and foreign equipment and armament determine the high effectiveness of the Su-30K fighter and present good sales opportunities on the international markets of aircraft materiel.
Su-30M: Basic version, as described.
Su-30MK: Irkutsk-built. As Su-30M, for export.
Su-30MK: Designation re-used for advanced two-seater combining two-seat Su-30 concept with avionics, canards and thrust vectoring of Su-37. Known internally (by KnAAPO) as Su-35UB (T10UBM) and Su-37UB. First and second true Su-30MKs, 01 (produced through the retrofit of canards to `56') and 06 (converted from a T10PU-6 in Sukhoi OKB's own workshop) first flown on 1 July 1997 and 23 April 1998, respectively. Equipped with foreplanes and AL-37FP thrust-vectoring engines; demonstrated to Indian officials at Zhukovsky, 15 June 1998 as Su-30MK-1 and Su-30MK-6, respectively. Su-30MK-1 had the new twin-wheel nosegear, which may become a feature of the production MKI, but was lost while displaying at Paris Air Show on 12 June 1999. Additionally, 01 was exhibited at Aero India, December 1998. AL-37FP power plant, as specified for India, extends length by 40 cm (15? in) and incurs weight penalty of 110 kg (243 lb), engine life remaining unchanged at 5,000 hours (1,000 hours TBO). Nozzle movement is 15? up or down. Flight control system helps pilot to set power and thrust vector for each engine, according to required manoeuvre. Indian radar choice will be between improved version of Phazotron N010 (Zhuk-27) and NIIP N011M multimode, dual-frequency radar with electronically scanned antenna. Expected to be known as Su-30MKR if produced (at Irkutsk) for Russian Air Forces.
Su-30MKI: Version for India in four configurations, sometimes referred to as Su-30MKI, MKII, MKIII and MKIV. First eight delivered March 1997 to basic Su-30PU (Su-30K or even Su-37UB) standard, with AL-31F engines; eight for 1998 delivery were expected to have French Sextant avionics including VEH 3000 HUDs, high-resolution colour LCD MFDs, a new flight data recorder, a Totem ring laser gyro dual INS with embedded GPS, Israeli EW equipment, a new electro-optic targeting system and rearward-facing radar in tailcone, but batch delayed by Israeli embargo in wake of Indian nuclear test; 12 originally to have been delivered 1999 were to add canards, as on Su-37; final 12 (originally scheduled for delivery in 2000) were to have AL-37FP engines with single-axis thrust-vectoring nozzles inclined outwards 32? from the centreline for improved yaw control, especially in single-engined case. AL-37PP claimed to offer 3-D thrust vectoring, with nozzle actuation via the fuel, and not the hydraulic, system.
Completion and delivery of balance of 32 was repeatedly delayed; decision taken that all these would be completed to final standard before delivery. (In interim, India contracted on 18 December 1998 for 10 standard Su-30Ks which had been cancelled by Indonesia; all had been delivered by October 1999.) First prototype full-specification Su-30MKI flew at Irkutsk on 26 November 2000; under renegotiated contract, IAF to receive six full-specification aircraft by 2002 and balance of 26 in batches beginning 18 to 24 months later; thereafter eight 1997-delivery aircraft will be raised to full standard. Licensed production of 140 Su-30MKIs by HAL was agreed in September 2000, followed by contract signature in Irkutsk on 28 December 2000. Sometimes referred to by KnAAPO as Su-35UB.
Su-30MK VERSUS MIRAGE 2000: CAPABILITY ANALYSIS
Alexander Gusev, Cand. Sc. (Technology)
Export contracts for armaments and military hardware are almost invariably subject to fierce competition among manufacturers from various countries. The Sukhoi Su-30MK contract for India is one such example. Some Western publications have recently featured biased reviews which criticized the combat capabilities of Russian tactical aircraft and highly rated those of modern European fighters.
We present here the Su-30MK fighter and its major competitor on the Asian armament market, the Mirage 2000, and analyze their combat capabilities from a purely technical point of view.
Also, we seek to identify the connection between aircraft flight performance and technical characteristics, on the one hand, and aircraft tactical capabilities, on the other.
Aircraft technical characteristics, its flight performance and tactical capabilities are primarily determined by a design concept which develops from specified aircraft roles, tasks and mission environment. One can see here the principal difference between the Su-30MK and Mirage 2000.
The Su-30MK concept envisaged the maximum retention of features of its forefather – the Su-27 air-superiority fighter – with a focus on the significant build-up of multirole capabilities. This aircraft belongs to the so-called heavy-class fighters. Its main feature is a capability for autonomous employment, i.e. the execution of interception or ground attack missions, including deep-penetration strike missions, without targeting information from ground-based control systems.
The Mirage 2000C is a light-class fighter intended mostly for air defense missions with the use of information delivered mainly from ground-based control systems. The latest Mirage 2000-5, a more potent version compared to the basic design, is now aggressively being marketed internationally. These French aircraft considerably yield to the Su-30MK when performing combat actions at long ranges from home airfields due to relatively low capabilities of onboard systems for autonomous missions.
Consequently, the comparative analysis of these two fighters is basically theoretical, as they conceptually belong to different classes and have their own preferential areas of tactical employment. The latter factor is specifically considered by potential buyers choosing aircraft to meet their requirements. However, there are a number of objective factors which can be used to compare these aircraft and rate their technological perfection: aircraft performances, and the characteristics of avionics and armament suites.
The Su-30MK's high performances are attributable to its structural and aerodynamic configuration. It is a triplane (a combination of normal configuration with foreplanes) with lifting fuselage and developed wingroot extensions. The interaction of the foreplanes and wingroot extensions creates a controlled vortex effect similar to that of an adaptive wing. In terms of the aerodynamic efficiency, the Su-30MK, like all other Su-27-family aircraft, has no rivals…