HAL offers 40 more Sukhoi-30s at one-third Rafale’s cost - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Monday 14 May 2018

HAL offers 40 more Sukhoi-30s at one-third Rafale’s cost

HAL argues additional Sukhois can be fitted with BrahMos air-launched cruise missiles (ALCM)

By Ajai Shukla
Bengaluru, 15th May 18

With the Sukhoi-30MKI fighter – the backbone of the Indian Air Force (IAF) fleet – nearing the end of its production run, its manufacturer, Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), is taking up a case to build 40 more.

If the defence ministry accepts HAL’s proposal, the IAF’s inventory of the Russian fighter would be enhanced from the currently planned 272 to 312 Su-30s (sixteen squadrons).

With HAL offering to price the additional Su-30s at just Rs 425 crore (4.25 billion), the fighter will be barely one-third the cost of the Rafale. According to a Business Standard analysis (November 24, 2017, Clouds over fighter jet: How much did Rafale actually cost?) the IAF is paying Rs 1,125 crore (11.25 billion) per Rafale, excluding the price of weapons and logistics.

HAL chairman, T Suvarna Raju, said: “We will offer a very competitive price. Since 2010, we have been delivering the Su-30 at Rs 425 crore. We can deliver another three squadrons at that same price.”

At that price, the IAF would pay Rs 17,000 crore (170 billion) for 40 additional Su-30s.

However, that would involve buying the fighter in ready to assemble kits from Russia and putting them together in Nashik. “HAL has already absorbed the technology for building and supporting the Su-30. Now, the aim is to build those three new squadrons as quickly, and as cheaply, as possible”, said Raju.

Rationalising the proposal for 40 additional Su-30s, Raju says they are needed to carry the BrahMos air launched cruise missile (ALCM).

“We are required to modify 40-odd Sukhoi-30s to carry the BrahMos ALCM. Instead of upgrading older fighters, with a shorter residual lifespan, it would be better to build three more squadrons of Sukhois with the capability to carry BrahMos missiles”, said Raju.

The air-launched version of the BrahMos has been downsized to eight metres and 2,560 kilogrammes. Even so, mounting it on a Su-30 fighter requires reinforcing the aircraft’s underbelly and installing a heavy-duty mounting station. After years of development, the BrahMos was successfully test-fired from a Su-30 in November.

“It is easier and better to kit out new Su-30s to carry the BrahMos, rather than carrying out structural modifications to old aircraft”, said Raju.

Ministry sources indicate that a proposal to build more Su-30s would be considered positively, given the shortfall of IAF fighter squadrons.

HAL is currently building the last 23 Su-30 fighters, of the 222 it was mandated to build. The IAF’s first 50 Su-30s were built in Russia

Sukhoi-30 upgrade

Even as HAL Nashik builds the last Su-30s on order, HAL and Sukhoi are negotiating the upgrade of the Sukhoi fleet.

HAL officials say they wanted to be the lead agency, but Sukhoi has indicated it wants a 50 per cent share in this lucrative contract to upgrade the fighter’s avionics, including radar, glass cockpit displays, electronic warfare systems, warning systems and jammers.

“The IAF has already frozen its upgrade requirements. We are now waiting for the commercial proposal from Russia”, says the HAL chairman.

HAL estimates that an avionics upgrade for the Su-30 would cost upward of Rs 100 crore (one billion) per aircraft, placing the cost of upgrading 312 fighters at Rs 31,200 crore (312 billion).

HAL officials say the upgrade will have two distinct parts. In Phase I, Sukhoi would take over some IAF Su-30s and use them as prototypes to install and certify new-generation avionics and weapons upgrades. Subsequently, HAL would install those upgrades into the entire fleet.

Phase II, which would involve India-specific enhancements, would be designed and developed by HAL and also incorporated onto the fighter by HAL alone.


  1. This will be an extremely good step, to include more SU30 MKI rather than having more new variants. In my opinion, this number is very few, as supplementary three squadrons more would be needed as IAF's role over safeguarding & power projection over Oceans has opened new vistas, as proven by Gagan Shakti. IAF is well versed in planning missions with this aircraft so this will be a better choice.

  2. why build the regular SU-30 MKI's, why not upgrade them . And what about the Super Su-30 MKI's?

  3. It is telling that HAL would prioritise a screwdriver job assembling Su-30 MKI over boosting the Production rates of indigenous Tejas. With Patriots like HAL who needs enemies! Nonetheless, this is a good opportunity to involve a private sector enterprise to compete with HAL for the Production of Tejas. And let the market decide on HAL's fate should it not be able to match the private sector competitor's economics. Meanwhile India should continue reducing Russian inventory in the Indian arsenal and thereby India's reliance on Russia.

  4. The question isn't what cost saving is this new deal causing to the nation. Rather, it is - In which deal will the powers-to-be make more money. I suspect the Rafale manufacturers are offering a better cut, so they will win.

  5. Ajai aren't 3 squadrons supposed to be 60 aircrafts?

  6. How can 40 Sukhois comprise 3 squadrons? Maxm it will be 2 squadrons....

  7. I think the Rafale purchase was specially transacted to benefit one person whose name is well known to everybody, that also was done in a hasty & hush hush manner.

    India Inc has fund shortage if you look at the various such "funds shortage" phrases from Indian Armed forces sources every now and then. In fact Indian budget is 5 times smaller than Japan whose population is 10 times smaller than India. 25% of the Indian budget goes for "debt service" since the GOI owes 70.2 percent of its GDP ratio to its creditors at home and abroad.

    Despite above cash crunch our PM runs to France for emergency purchase of Rafale at exorbitant price and later on says even the price of individual Rafale can not be disclosed as there exists a confidential clause.

    This is Modi's India.

  8. HAL's move is to purely keep its line running otherwise they will have redundancies, which will happen anyways. IAF will not agree for more of these jets because they will have no case for MMRCA (damn the aircraft segmentation etc). going by the rate at which decisions are taken upgrades are years away so the line will be dry in a couple of years and HAL was sleeping all throughout and usual reacted to the situation. after producing for close to 15 years their production is 1 per month which is criminal. imagine if all were delivered 5 years ago IAF strength would have been better. I doubt if IAF is interested in even replacing the 7 jets lost.
    the bigger joke is the price! again in desperation they are dangling this carrot. by this calculation LCA is costlier than Su-30mki's (83 for 50k Cr)! So what does it prove - there are inefficiencies and low accountability. in an election year, expect nothing, just status quo as always.....

  9. We need the brahmos for air defence role.

    RAFALE AND TEJAS WITH FRENCH MISSILE SYSTEM will be potent enough for PAK. Chinese stealth fighters will need tobe addressed

  10. HAL is too self centred.
    Let them start manufacturing LCA full steam. They ignored learning about it though it has been flying since 2001.

    The IJT , LCH, LUH and HTT are delayed too. KA-226 agreement is taking its own sweet time. Time to complete them.

    If at all IAF needs to add capacity quickly, they best buy 50 MiG-29, modernised to latest standard (UPG ?).

  11. Those who are commenting on hush-hush Rafale deal. Please check the HAL run-rate and post winning the order increase cost escalation cases first.

    Our country security is more important than your favorite hate story.


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