Procurement: Russian Rejects Priced To Sell

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May 30, 2012: Nine years after being rejected by India for quality issues, Russia is still trying to sell a tainted (by the rejection) batch of 18 Su-30MK fighters. These aircraft did not have all the maneuverability features the Indians wanted, and India refused to accept them. Since India was planning to buy over a hundred Su-30s from Russia, and build more under license, the Russians took back the 18 rejected Su-30s. Since then, these aircraft have just sat around, but now Russia is offering to upgrade them if the price is right.

Since the late 1990s, Russia has been exporting the Su-30MK, then the latest version of the Su/27/30 line of aircraft. Russia claims this is the most lethal air superiority fighter in service. This is part of a marketing effort to sell even more of an already popular aircraft. The Russians point out that the Su-30MK can fly as fast as the F-22 and is more maneuverable. What the Russians play down is the fact that the F-22 can go very fast far longer (because of its "supercruise" engines) than the Su-30MK and does not depend on acrobatic maneuverability for combat superiority. High maneuverability comes in handy for a close range dogfight but the F-22 was designed to avoid that. The F-22 is harder to detect on radar than the Su-30MK and has a superior radar (and electronics in general) as well, which enables the F-22 to spot the enemy first and remain undetected long enough to fire missiles.

The Su-30MK was designed for an earlier age, when the engine was the most complex and expensive component of the aircraft. Now it's electronics and external components (that provide stealth and make the aircraft more difficult for radar to see). That's why the Su-30MK is considered a 4th generation fighter, while the F-22 and F-35 are fifth generation.

The only potential Su-30MK equipped U.S. opponent is China, which has several hundred of them. Many American commanders believe F-16Cs, F-15Cs, or F-18s, with experienced pilots, could handle the Su-30MK. In the past Russian fighters have always done poorly against U.S. aircraft, and the Russians have always blamed inexperienced pilots. So the big question remains, will any potential foe manage to obtain modern fighters and well trained pilots (who are expensive to recruit, train, and retain).

 

 


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