– By Subodh Sharma

The Su 30 MKI of the Indian airforce was at the receiving end as far as a refreshed set of allegations (in public since 2015) were concerned. The long list of issues related to its engine, mean time between failures for radar, and lack of compatibility between the subsystems were circulating across the internet circles and even more in recent times.

The defense enthusiast of the country and abroad were divided into two camps. One which believed that purchase of Rafale was to cover up the failure of Su30 MKI while others who failed to understand the logic, if the systems were not compatible why IAF decided to buy these aircraft in such a large number?

Thus, to put a full stop on this debate, we decided to cover this topic and get a say from experts. Before we dig further into this let’s understand the criticism in detail.

In a report published by the Observers research foundation (ORF), the Su30 MKI of the Indian airforce was referred as “white elephant”. The paper states 3 major problems related to the Su 30 MKI as a justification to call Su30 MKI as a “White Elephant”.

ORF paper 2015

Sukhoi’s construction and quality, its engines are highly prone to foreign object damage. (Reference given is Cope India exercise, where Su30 took off with a gap of one minute, assumed in paper to avoid foreign object damage.

ORF paper

In aviation and aerospace, any foreign object that is alien to the aircraft can cause damage and result in a crash.

These include bird strikes, Sand, Stone, hail, ice, ash-clouds or objects left on the runway.

To avoid “this” the runway of USAF and USN are inspected closely before performing any sortie. As the process is manual in the case of the United States Navy, thus the carrier deck inspection site is common. Does that imply, the construction quality and engines of F/A-18 super hornet are highly prone to foreign object damage? certainly not.

Deck of USN carrier

The time taken to recalibrate the new engines on the aircraft. As per the paper, is up to one month.

ORF paper

This impacts the availability of the fighter jet. One month seems to be an outlier case but the serviceability of the aircraft has been an issue.

In 2017-18, Shri. Manohar Parrikar acknowledged that the availability of the Su30 was just over 50%. He also said, to increase the number India will be signing a “long term spares agreement”. It was anticipated that this agreement will boost the availability of the fighter jet to 65-70%. Please note that India has signed a performance-based logistic agreement with France for 36 Rafale with the availability agreement of 75%.

An agreement was signed between India and a Russian company that manufactures the Sukhoi planes, for the supply of spare parts including the engine. During Indo-Russia Military-Industrial Conference (March 17-18), 2017 held in New Delhi, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) had signed an agreement with Russian Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) United Aircraft Corporation (UAC), and United Engine Corporation (UEC) for long-term support on after-sales service of Su-30 MKI aircraft.

It’s a known fact that Russian engines are qualitatively inferior to their western counterparts but at the same time, those engines are cheaper than their western counterparts. The age of the engine is also limited and thus maintaining the fleet of Su30 MKI costs IAF a hefty sum of money. However, this doesn’t mean IAF does not understand this, and the choice was made without considering geopolitical implications.

“The radar seems to have an abysmally low Mean Time Between Failure (MTBF) – of around 100 hours. This is combined with a persistent problem – evident since at least 2005 – of a repeated blanking of the displays.”

ORF paper

The paper suggests that these problems were solved in 2014 but since the authors could not acquire confirmation thus they believe it exists, even today after 6 years.

The Independent sources confirmed this multiple times that aircraft had teething problems, which is the case with any new aircraft but assuming that problem exists after approximately 20 years of service and 290 aircraft on the order book, is a “classic case” of being ignorant at the least.

The Su30 MKI deal was signed in 1996, when experts in India operated Compaq Presario PC and believing that blanking problem still exist when we operate iPhone SE (2020) is another “classic case” of ignorance.

 “The integration of the Elta ELM-8222 jammer too has been a failure.”

ORF paper

The paper suggests that the Elta ELM-8222 jammer and other electronics of Su30 MKI do not work in synchronization. The Radar warning system developed in house triggers a false alarm.

Before understanding the integration of two systems, lets understand how embedded systems are integrated.

Each of these systems, be it the Tarang or ELM 8222 are an embedded system and they can operate as a stand-alone unit. The operator initiates the operation as per the requirement and the system performs the task independently based on the master-master configuration or master-slave configuration.

Hear it from expert – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raghunath_Nambiar

Exception handling: The ELM 8222 was rolled across the fleet after the fighter jets were acquired from Russia. The aircraft was already equipped with the Russian origin jammers but to enhance the capability the Israeli jammers were acquired. Thus, the integration was done retrospectively.

The retrospective integration has its own challenge and inherited teething issues, but these issues aren’t insurmountable.

Hear it from experts (Group Captain : Sivaraman Sajan :http://www.bharat-rakshak.com/IAF/Database/21807 ; Group Captain Harsh Vardhan Thakur :http://www.bharat-rakshak.com/IAF/Database/22105)

Testing of Embedded systems:

As the pod was integrated retrospectively, there are high chances that aircraft was tested during the routine flight.

Stress tests: Tests that deliberately burden the input channels, memory buffers, disk controllers, memory management systems, and all other systems.

Boundary value tests / Limit tests: The Inputs which represent “boundaries / Limits” within a specific range and input values that would ensure the output transition across a parallel boundary / Limit in the output range.

Exception tests: Tests that should trigger a failure mode or exception mode (Likely when Tarang created the false alarm).

Error guessing: These tests are based on prior experience with testing regime or from testing similar systems in past.

Random tests: Usually, these are minimum fruitful form of testing but still used widely to evaluate the robustness.

Performance tests: This is part of certification process that decides the performance limit of the system.

Certification Process: All the aircrafts flying with the Indian airforce require certification before they could fly in a specific air envelope for a specific loadout and configuration. When the aircraft is under the integration process it is certified as initial operation clearance and once all the subsystems are integrated and operate satisfactorily as per the defined requirement the aircraft is certified with a final operation clearance certificate.


The hardware is usually added earlier than the software and once the software is certified it is deployed across the fleet. Appears the writer while interviewing for the paper received the inputs about the system when those were in the integration process.

Hope the needless bashing of the aircraft ends here..

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By Alpha Defense

Alpha Defense initially a solo venture but now a defense group by people from various demographics of India covering defense news and updates. We believe in unbiased analysis of every subject in hand. Our mission is to provide simplfiied defense information to the public.

7 thoughts on “The “Classic case” of Su30 MKI”
  1. If it’s true then i think we should have exploited and tested Su30mkis capabilities during balakot operation and action on Feb27. But what we got was sfdr missing and incapable missiles. If we are deploying Aircrafts for cap missions and that too against F16s. We should have deployed long and short range A2A missiles but it did not happened.
    Conclusion is something is missing.

    1. In near Future the Su-30MKI will be equiped with Desi-SFDR…..Astra Mk-3….which will slove the issue with long-range A2A missiles…..

    2. We had both Mig-21 and Su-30Mki’s there but morons like you won’t research and the create controversy. If we did manage a kill with Mig-21 to F-16 then what is wrong it is a proud moment. But again hater’s won’t like it.

  2. In near Future the Su-30MKI will be equiped with Desi-SFDR…..Astra Mk-3….which will slove the issue with long-range A2A missiles…..

  3. Thank you for the insights but still. IMHO IAF’s performance during Balakot leaves a lot to be answered. I agree that the 2 Flankers may have been overwhelmed by the sheer number of PAF fighters in air, but I always thought that the MKI held a distinct advantage over at-least any aircraft in PAF inventory. TBH it came as a shock to me that SU30’s couldn’t match the radar-missile combination sported by the F-16s and that mostly spent their time fending off or dodging the AMRAAMS fired at them. It is like the hunter became the hunted. In all sincerity I used to think of SU30 Mki as our (cheaper) version of F-15 and thought they ensured air superiority. In the end, it was the good old Bison that came to our rescue.

    1. See one can debate about that! The BVR of Su30 had a range of 80KM and Pakistani AMRAAM had a range of 100 KM but in reality the thing that matters is no escape zone of these missiles (Which is more or less same). F16 Fired AMRAAM and turned blue so Su30 chases that where 11 Gen 4 fighters were waiting for it. Its called Ambush.
      All Pakistan wanted was a kill of Su30 even at the cost of 2-3 F16 as it would have fallen into POK… Best is Pakistan still won the propoganda battle.

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