Su-30MKMs Fly, India's Little Victory

This may be a touch parochial, but the delivery of the first two Su-30MKM fighters to the Royal Malaysian Air Force on May 24 at Irkutsk, Russia, is an important milestone for DRDO, and particularly the Defence Avionics Research Establishment (DARE), Bangalore. In 2003, shortly after Malaysia entered the $900 million deal to buy 18 Su-30MKM fighters from Moscow, the former chose Indian radar computers developed by DARE for the fleet as part of the mission avionics suite, which includes other systems from France and South Africa. The deal with the Indian government, worth Rs 21.15 crore, happens to be DRDO's largest single export to date, and should therefore be the source of some satifaction and encouragement towards more business abroad. The Indian radar computers will control the NIIP N011M phased array radars that will come fitted on the MKMs when deliveries are complete by mid-2008.

Also decided on at the time the order was placed in 2003 was that HAL would supply certain aft-fuselage sub assemblies, canard foreplanes, and horizontal/vertical stabilisers. It was also agree upon in principle at the time that a small team of Malaysian weapons systems operators and pilots would be trained by the Indian Air Force Lohegaon -- this is almost certain to now be the case, as a report quoted the RMAF's Su-30MKM team leader Col Syed Salim Syed Abu Bakar.India's experience with the Su-30 in the late 1990s until 2003 contributed in a big way to Malaysia's decision.

Between 2002-02, at least three RMAF teams (these were the ones reported on -- there may have been more) visited Bareilly and a couple of pilots were even given demo sorties on the Ks. What helped the Malaysian decision even more was an unacceptably conditional proposal that the US made in its pitch of the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet as a rival to the deal. The Americans inexplicably withheld export licensing clearances for weapons and targeting sensors, virtually sealing the deal for the Russians -- the latter engineered a tacit understanding with India to give the Malaysians demonstrations of the fighters (incidentally, these demos were offered to the Malaysians, they did not ask to see the fighters in India), which had obvious sub-contracted export opportunities for India (the canards and radar computers).

What was peculiar about the American decision to withhold missiles and weapons export licenses indefinitely was that a good part of the RMAF's fighter inventory is American -- including eight F/A-18 Hornets purchased in the 1990s. In fact, the 18 new fighters it was in the market for in 2003 were specifically to replace 14 Northrop F-5s, the ageing component of its fleet. Either way, the bulk of its air superiority fleet is dominated by a squadron of 16 Fulcrum-Ns. Singapore, on the other hand, went on to choose a dozen Boeing F-15 Strike Eagle in 2005, trouncing contenders, the Rafale and Typhoon.

Two years before Singapore's decision -- and what went on to actually influence the Singaporeans -- was the South Korean decision in 2002 to buy 40 F-15s, trouncing similar rivals from Europe and France. Malaysia plainly adds to an already Flanker-rich region -- Indonesia, Vietnam and India, quite apart from China and Russia. With HAL quite simply the largest manufacturer now of Su-30s, more users will automatically mean more business. Until that time, here's godspeed to the MKMs, which will soon be flown to Malaysia.

Labels: , , ,