Warplanes: India Battles Russia Over Quality Control


August 21, 2012: India has made public yet another complaint about the Su-30 fighters it buys from Russia. This time it's an unspecified "design flaw" in the electronic flight control system for the aircraft. This bit of information was made public because India has found that more discreet communications about these matters results in little or no action from the Russians. For example, India has been pressuring Russia for several years to do something about component failures in the Russian designed AL-31 engines that power the Indian Su-30MKI jet fighters. There have been several AL-31 failures because of this in both Indian and Russian Su-30s.

There are currently two Russian engines being built for recent fighter aircraft designs. The $3.5 million AL-31 (for the Su-27/30 and the Chinese J-11 and J-10) and the $2.5 million RD-33/93 for the MiG-29 and the Chinese JF-17 (a F-16 type aircraft developed in cooperation with Pakistan). India already assembles the AL-31 engine for the Su-30 and simpler engines for the older MiG-21 and MiG-27. The assembly process is exacting and India has created thousands of technicians and engineers with valuable experience working on these engines.

So far, India has not been able to develop the technology to manufacture core components (that deal with very high pressures and temperatures) and buys these components from Russia. It is some of these components that are failing and India is telling the Russians that the problem must be fixed, soon, or Russia will lose more export sales.

India also does maintenance on all the engines it builds but really wants to manufacture and assemble the most modern engines completely within India. Russia has been reluctant to export the high-end technology needed to manufacture key jet engine components. Meanwhile, Indian personnel maintaining the AL-31 engines have made it clear that there is a growing component quality problem. It's gotten so bad that the Indian prime minister raised the issue during a visit to Russia. A related issue was the exorbitant prices Russia is demanding for upgrades to the Su-30. Indian engineers have enough experience with aircraft, and the Su-30, to know they are being gouged by the Russians. Moreover, as part of the sales contract, India is not allowed to get upgrades elsewhere without permission from the Russian manufacturer.

India buys bare bones fighters from Russia and equips these Su-30MKIs with Israeli sensors and communications gear. India has about two hundred Su-30MKIs in service and is building about one a month under license. India bought fifty in the late 1990s, and additional batches of 40 or so since. India wants to have nearly 300 within three years, partly because of the increasing threat of invasion by China. The first 18 Su-30s India received from Russia have been retired after a decade of service. In many respects, the Indian made Su-30s, the Su-30MKI, is the most capable version available, due to its Israeli and European electronics and the well trained Indian pilots.

The 38 ton SU-30MKI is most similar to the two seat American F-15E fighter-bomber. Even though equipped with Western electronics, the aircraft cost less than $40 million each, about half what an equivalent F-15 costs. The Su-30MKI can carry more than eight tons of bombs and hit targets over 1,500 kilometers away.





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