India Planned To Upgrade Its Air Force Backbone To A Sort Of Extremely Advanced Non-Stealthy 5th Generation Fighter Aircraft With Russia And Called It As Super Sukhoi Program. The Sukhoi 30 MKI is a heavy All Weather, Multirole advanced 4.5+ Generation aircraft which has shown its capability to the world whether its case of 9:1 kill ratio against American F-15’s, dodging several AMRAAM’s (Advanced Medium Range Air to Air Missiles) that were fired by Pakistan on 27 February 2019 and detecting J-20 (China’s Fake 5th Generation Aircraft) or whether it was the case of 16 Pakistani Air Force Aircraft against 2 Sukhoi’s on the day of 27th February. Some people believe it has a 12:0 Kill Ratio against RAF Euro-Typhoon. The Sukhoi is a time tested aircraft and worlds second most maneuverable aircraft, it has been there like a reliable firepower whenever India Required it. However they still lack some capability like maintenance issues, that of BVR Constraints, Modern AESA Radar (although its own N011 M Bars is very powerful, in fact more powerful than current AESA’s radar out there and have detected aircrafts like J-20, tracked F-16’s down and who Knows they might have also traced AMRAMMS later), EW (Electronic Warfare) Warfare capacities and Engine Constraints. So to address these problems India Decided to upgrade aircraft to fulfill these constraints to Super Sukhoi Standards.
Here in this article we wouldn’t be addressing the question of what Super Sukhoi is, We Would be Addressing the Most Asked Question
SUPER SUKHOI WITHOUT ENGINE CHANGE– POSSIBLE OR NOT?
First Let Us Know Something About Current Sukhoi and What’s The Difference In Super Sukhoi’s-
RADAR– Su-30MKI has a powerful 650kgs N011 M Bars PESA (Passive Electronically Scanned Array) Radar which has a range of 400 Km for an object of 5 sq.m and tracking range of 200Km as a result many people call it as a Mini-AEWAC (Airborne Early Warning Approach System). It can track 20 Objects at a time and engage 8 of them at once, so you see the N011 M Bars is a quiet powerful Radar but as said its PESA (Passive Electronically Scanned Array) hence it does a whole mechanical moment inside nose of the aircraft which means that it can be easily jammed, hence in SUPER SUKHOI N011M Bars is most probably going to be replaced by indigenous scalable Uttam AESA Radar (Active Electronically Scanned Array Radar) Scalable means that the TRM (Transmit Receive Modules) of the aircraft can be adjusted according to the power provided by the engines of Aircraft. Its very difficult to jam a AESA Radar, further the Uttam AESA is based on Gallium Arsenide and Gallium Nitrate. The Gallium Nitrate based radar consumes less power range and hence its possible that earlier batches of Super Sukhoi have Gallium Arsenide based Uttam while the last batches of Super Sukhoi can have Gallium Nitrate based Uttam, as Gallium Nitrate version of the Uttam are still under development while Gallium Arsenide version with adjusted TRM will be placed on Tejas MK-1A Cones in the order of 83 Tejas MK-1A 21st tejas of 83 will start to have Uttam AESA Radar.
Engine – The Current Su-30 MKI 2 x Saturn AL-31 FP Engines which generate a Thrust of 123 Kn’s Afterburner earlier some reports state India Was Offered Al-31 FU the engine which could generate a thrust of 145 Kns but ‘the Able Minded people of our Countries rejected that to do Russia’s Good and Russia Was Also Reluctant at that time because it was the most powerful thing they had made’. The New Al-41 Engines of Su-35 were based on Al-31 FU, now without criticizing much further, lets’ talk about Al-31 FP the Current Engines of the Aircraft, The AL-31 FP are extremely strong engines with 2-D Thrust Vectoring Control (TVC) with a thrust of123 kN’s and it made Su-30 Worlds most maneuverable Aircraft until Su-35 its Successor, arrived, however there are some maintenance issues like the engines are not Modular i.e if some part of the engine get damaged , only the part can be changed rather than sending the engine for repair in modular engine but this is not the case with Al-31s, then its frequency of overhaul of the Titanium Nozzles require the Overhaul every 500 hours and there were a series of problems, much of these problems have been addressed . The New Super Sukhoi’s were predicted to have new engines which according to many unofficial sources were Al-41’s, but we’ll talk about them later in the article.
ARMAMENT– The Major change in armament would be that the aircraft would be able to carry 3 BrahMos Missiles however its not clear BrahMos-A Or BrahMos-NG. Most probably it has to be BrahMos NG because BrahMos A are extremely heavy weapon and three of them appears somewhat very difficult other than this it can fire all kind of weapons from Astra MK-1, Astra MK-2, Astra MK-3, Astra –IR, R-77, R-73 , Spice-2000’s, BrahMos, DRDO Bombs, DRDO SAAW, Mica Missiles and much more in future and some of them being in present.
Astra MK-1 fired from Su-30 MKI
EW Capabilities/ Jamming-The current Sukhoi have analog avionics that with the subsystems of Israel, Russia, and France which are planned to be replaced by modern digital avionics. EW Capabilities of Sukhoi-30MKI would be enhanced by Indigenous DARE’s High Band Jammer Pod (HBT), Dhruti Radar Warning System, and a dual color missile Approach Warning System. The Su-30 MKI have Israeli Elta EL/M-8222, these were the same Jammers which jammed AMRAAMs and Made Sukhoi’s to dodge them, now they are even being replaced by more powerful Indian Jammers.
Now The Reason which tells us that Super Sukhoi is possible with Current Engines are-
1st) The Project cost is already estimated to be between 2 Billion-12 Billion and with such great amount of cost this project seems difficult, Now 12 Billion is Most Likely cost when Russian Instruments would be used extensively because they would be expensive and components of other nations would be used for advanced capabilities, now India itself have developed almost all instruments indigenously under project vetrival, some of the indigenously developed instruments are as follows-
High Accuracy Direction Finding Module (HADF) (DARE IFF-1410A – Identification Friend or Foe (IFF)
Integrated Communication suite INCOM 1210A (HAL) Radar Altimeter – RAM-1701 (HAL)
Radar Computer which is RC1 and RC2 (DARE) Tarang Mk2 Radar Warning Receiver (RWR).
HAL’s full LCD Modern Glass Cockpit.
Programmable Signal Processor (PSP) – (LRDE) Multi Function Displays (MFD) – Samtel/DARE
So Looking at these things it does not create a Need of high cost or any Imports which can Decrease the Cost significantly!
THE ENGINE CHANGE–
The most important topic of discussion is whether engines could be changed or not. Now the all above instruments of project vetrival are designed in such a way that they would be compatible to AL-31 engines and further as far as the radar upgrade is concerned the uttam aesa radar is a scalable radar and it can be adjusted by its trm according to the power provided by the aircraft, now many credible and official sources including project director have claimed that UTTAM AESA RADAR is compatible with AL-31 engines further as We know that With Power Provided by Current Al-31 Engines Sukhoi’s are already capable of Firing Almost all kinds of weapons listed above and A Single BrahMos-A Missile which weighs around 2500kgs and is capable of carrying 300 kgs of Warhead hence total weightbeing 2800kgs, now BrahMos NG would weight 1500 Kgs , almost half of BrahMos-A Missile, hence One BrahMos-A Can be Directly compensated with 2 BrahMos-NG’s (BrahMos NGcould become more lighter later specially for Air Launch Version) and further when Old Heavy Analog Instruments of Su-30MKI would be Replaced by modern Digital Instruments, the plane would become Somewhat More Lighter hence Scope of 3 Brahmos Ng’s are also possible with AL-31FP.
Structural complexity –
Even If we decide to replace Al-41’s F-1S(117S) which were mainly used to power initial version of Sukhoi-35’s with Al-31’s of Su-30’s there are a lot of constraints. The Main One’s being physical dimensions. Let us have a look at both’s engine dimensions-
Specifications AL-41F-1S (117S)-General characteristics- Type: Two-shaft afterburning turbofan
Length: 194.6 in (494.2 cm)
Diameter: 36.7 in (93.2 cm) inlet
Dry weight: 3,536 lb (1,604 kg)
Thrust- 142 kN’s Afterburner
Al-31 FP- General characteristics
Type: Two-shaft afterburning turbofan
Length: 4,945 mm (194.7 in) Diameter:905 mm (35.6 in) inlet; 1,280 mm (50 in) maximum external Dry weight: 1,520 kg (3,350 lb) and 123 kN Afterburners.
You can see that there’s huge gap in both engines from Weight to Thrust to even nozzles, Al-41 too has 3-D TVC (Thrust Vectoring Control) while Al-31 has 2-D TVC hence to replace engines wouldn’t be an easy thing. A lot of structural changes would be required and maybe some instruments developed indigenously wouldn’t be compatible with al-41, then cost for such project first of engineering for replacing al-31 engines, then buying new engines from Russia and then integrating them wouldn’t be easy and will be very expensive. All though Al-41 have 1000+ flying hours than AL-31 and requires less maintenance, they are also NOT PERFECT. Further Sukhoi’s would be retiring in 2045’s and buying new engines and their Integration in all 272 of them would take time to 2030’s hence now when Sukhoi’s Airframe would become very old during their retirement era and engines being new, it would look like an aircraft which is old but its engines are quiet new, also by then AMCA would also be there now when Sukhoi’s numbers would be decreased a need for heavy twin engine fighters wouldn’t be realized so, it would be a quiet confusing scenario.
THEN WHAT ABOUT THE PROBLEMS OF AL-31?
A harsh truth is as we all know that Russian Machines are perfect in maneuverability but lacks a good engine, this thing bothers a lot of nations. All the problems of the Al-31 Engines can’t be resolved but we could negotiate deals with Russia to create enough spares for Al-31’s engines locally so that even aircraft are there for maintenance, they don’t have to wait for long, for spares, which would decrease their overhauling time. Further Nirav Kotak a Defence Analyst in his article stated that CAG Report for Rafale, the deal is such that in a clause the Rafale has been 75% operational readiness and if not done then Dassult Systems might face the penalty for it. The same is not with the HAL as reported by Nirav Kotak in one of his article, so this could also help in increasing overall availability of the aircraft if a particular percentage of availability is selected by Sukhoi-HAL and is promised by deal with HAL And Russia and with just 2 decades to go when we ourself are developing aircrafts like Tejas MK-2 and AMCA engine change in Sukhoi’s would NOT be a Great option.
Hence Super Sukhoi is possible with current Al-31 FP engines because the instruments, weapon package, radar and everything else are compatible with the current engines, further for overall benefits of Sukhoi’s, the Sukhoi Corporation–HAL can fix a target percentage and ensures that Sukhoi’s availability don’t fall beyond it and availability of more spares and workmen would help in benefits of both Sukhoi’s and Employment, Super Sukhoi aims at 75% avaiblity of Sukhoi’s from Current around 60%.
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Super Sukhoi Without Engine Change- Possible?