After negotiating for more than a year, India has firmed up an order with Russia for the purchase of 42 upgraded Sukhoi-30 MKI aircraft to strengthen its aging fleet. An agreement confirming this purchase will be signed during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Russia starting Thursday.
While the Cabinet Committee on Security had taken a decision on buying 42 additional Sukhoi MKIs last year, negotiations have taken longer because India was also keen to include some of the features found in fifth generation fighter aircraft. Finally, the Russian side agreed to upgrade the SU-30 MKIs to its latest version known as ‘Super Sukhoi’ with additional characteristics.
The new version is expected to include a new cockpit, an upgraded radar and certain stealth features to avoid radar detection. Significantly, the upgraded Sukhoi-30 MKIs will be able to carry a heavier weapons load, especially the airborne version of the Brahmos cruise missile. India is also looking to upgrade most of its SU-30 MKIs in the long run.
While Russia may have lost out in the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft deal because of not being able to offer certain additional features, officials said, Moscow has assured New Delhi that it will roll out its best in upgraded SU-30 MKIs.
“The defence cooperation is robust and excellent. Our two countries have developed maturity that individual deals will not affect the ties,” said Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai while responding to a question on whether the MMRCA rejection will impact defence ties.
The deal, estimated at over Rs 20,000 crore, will be operational in three years with the first delivery expected in 2014 and the last by 2018. Once the 42 aircraft are inducted, the total strength of SU-30 MKI fleet will go up to 272.
It may be noted that by 2017, India plans to phase out 120 MiG 21s and with the MMRCA still not a done deal, the SU-30 MKI fleet will be the mainstay.
Meanwhile, India and Russia have still not finalised the agreement for two more reactors at Koodankulam. Though indications are that the deal will not be signed during the PM’s visit, Mathai said that a call is yet to taken on the subject.