More Sukhois

By Sayan Majumdar


New Delhi, 07 October 2006  

The recent suggestion of Air Chief Marshall Tyagi to go for 40 more Sukhoi Su-30MKI multi-role strike fighters to arrest the declining squadron strength of Indian Air Force (IAF) represents a judicious and logical choice. Indeed, if any in-service aircraft type needs augmentation then it should be the only 4.5-generation (arguably 4.75-generation) type in IAF service.

It needs to be conceded that IAF had and will remain numerically smaller in relation to air forces of its potential contiguous adversaries in combination, a negative balance that will be further aggravated if units of Middle East airpower are made available to our western neighbour in contingencies. Thus qualitative superiority should be the IAF mantra with an emerging ratio of 40:60 or above between IAF air dominance fighters and multi-role strike fighters, medium and light. Air dominance fighters hold the key to aerial superiority, take note of the critical roles projected and played by United States Air Force (USAF) F-15 Eagle/Strike Eagle and United States Navy (USN) F-14 Tomcat during the height of Cold War to keep the numerically superior Warsaw Pact air power “in check”. 

No doubt, increasing the production numbers and rate of production of proven Su-30MKI multi-role strike fighters will arrest the declining IAF force levels in medium term with perhaps a force of 12 to 15 such squadrons alongside force multipliers like Airborne Warning & Control Systems (AWACS) and Air-to-Air Refuelling (AAR) platforms bound to represent a “knockout punch” to any potential adversary. Simultaneous production in India and Russia will ensure rapid replenishment in addition to integration of ever pristine sets of avionics and electronic warfare equipments. The Flanker design has already established itself as one of the Classics in history of fighter aviation. One important consideration should be integration of United States, European and Israeli missile systems and strike ordnances beyond reach of our potential adversaries for increased effectiveness of IAF platforms. European MICA, Meteor Beyond Visual Range Air-to-Air Missile (BVRAAM), Israeli Python 5 close-combat missiles serves as a few examples.

It has been realised that mere defence of national airspace does not guarantee national security. One needs to have sufficient punch to be able to mount irrecoverable damage to rouge and failed States to deter them from pursuing terrorist activities in multiple forms. The best anti-dote against “nuclear blackmail” is perhaps capability to mount stand-off strikes against enemy nuclear infrastructure including buried ones with precision conventional strikes along with a fearsome assured retaliatory self-nuclear force as insurance. Note the changing specifications of Medium-Multi Role Combat Aircraft (M-MRCA) platforms, initially restricted more or less to lightweight types, now expanded to heavier strike oriented ones. 

Finally, a robust Air Defence Ground Environment System (ADGES) supported by state-of-the-art Anti-Tactical Ballistic Missile/Surface-to-Air Missile (ATBM/SAM) network may be logical while facing quantitatively superior combined air power. The mountainous terrain will certainly facilitate mounting radars on mountaintops to promote better detection. The Peoples Liberation Army-Air Force (PLA-AF) fleet of China totally comprises of aircraft designed for medium altitudes including the new Su-27/Su-30MKK types and much vulnerable to deadly efficient ADGES/SAM network. Thus even a 36 combat squadron IAF in combination with a robust ADGES/ATBM/SAM network will represent a formidable force.

Proposed ATBM/SAM networks in calibre of United States Patriot PAC-3 or French Aster 30 offers impressive slant range. In the process they render operations of enemy AWACS and AAR platforms at high or medium altitudes extremely risky well within their own airspace, blunting their operational effectiveness and impact to a considerable degree. Time has also arrived to embark on strategic alliances based solely on national interests to ensure that we need not fight any major wars alone.

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