Costs & Time Kill Full SU-30MKI Production in India (updated)
The Times of India reports that India’s $3.5 billion contract for licensed production of 140 SU-30MKI multi-role fighters has been changed in order to keep costs in line. The SU-30MKI is arguably the most advanced member of the SU-30 family in service, with Indian modifications that include different electronics, canard foreplanes, and thrust-vectoring engines. This Russian site notes key external changes from the SU-30K/MKs, which India is divesting via sales to Belarus. See also this report from a US Marine test pilot who flew the earlier SU-27 FLanker model.
The original deal would have shifted the entire production cycle to Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), but this “full indigenization” would reportedly almost double the planes’ cost. Meanwhile, the life cycles of India’s fighter fleet meant that ongoing indigenization project problems and delays risked serious difficulties keeping India’s overall fighter strength at acceptable levels.
Russian newspapers say India abandoned full indigenization; HAL denies it. Who’s right? Maybe both sides – but one needs to read carefully.
A reader points us at a September 3, 2006 article in Outloook India, in which HAL responds to the Russian newspaper reports:
A HAL statement said “Total technology is getting established in HAL as planned. In order to complete the programme by 2015 instead of 2018, as required by the Indian Air Force, certain components and systems are being procured from Russia. This decision was taken to optimise the investments in HAL”.
It added: “The programme of indigenous production of Su-30 MKI aircraft in HAL is continuing at an accelerated pace as compared to earlier plan”. See full corporate release.
Upon close reading, one finds that meeting the revised timelines does in fact require extra equipment from Russia, which will supplant production that would otherwise have occurred in India. By cutting away the “indigenization” efforts that were holding up production, their production pace can indeed accelerate. Nor does HAL dispute the cost figures for full indigenous production in its release. In other words, the earlier reports are not really wrong.
The original SU-30MKI contract was signed in 2000, and was originally scheduled to run until 2017. The amended contract reportedly adds about $350 million for delivery of additional parts from Russia, and provides for completion of the contract by 2014 instead. Irkut corporation sources have even told Indian newspapers that deliveries could be complete by 2012.
On the other hand, it’s also true that India appears to be building the bulk of the Sukhois at home, even with the additional $350 million in Russian parts. Russia has provided 26 SU-30MKI kits to India for assembly thus far, in addition to an initial batch of aircraft wholly built in Russia. Our reader adds:
“In terms of technology, it is anticipated that India will use its LCA [DID: Tejas lightweight fighter] derived technology spinoffs over the production run, replacing several of the imported components in the current Sukhois, including its Sextant Multifunction displays with local ones, a locally produced display map generator (DMG, currently being sourced from Israel) and more powerful locally designed Open Architecture computers are also a possibility for the MKIs avionics system, replacing the current Indian Mission computers and display processors.”
If one reads HAL’s release in that light, it would appear that everything they have said is also true. They simply avoided engaging the issues of timely project completion and cost; meanwhile, onging efforts will continue to increase the proportion of Indian-built technology in the SU-30MKIs.
We thank our reader for emailing us to add the additional background and clarifications.