The start of shipments of the upgraded Sukhoi Su30SM2 multi-role fighters to the Russian Air Force (VKS) may prompt Malaysia and India to upgrade their obsolete Su30MKM and Su30MKI fleets, respectively.
The Su30SM2 is the latest variant of the initial two-seater Su30, which started operating 30 years ago. On January 20, the Russian Ministry of Defense publicly acknowledged having taken delivery of four of the 21 Su30SM2s ordered from United Aircraft Corporation’s Irkutsk plant, produced to a new factory standard that replaced the older Su30SM, which first flew 10 years ago.
Since then, the Russian armed forces have taken delivery of 110 units, including 22 for naval aviation and 88 for VKS, nine of which fly with the Russian Knights Air Show Group. Twenty very different Su30M2s, with different aerodynamics, radars and avionics are also in inventory. The Su30SM2 differs in using more powerful AL41F1 turbofans in place of the AL31FPs on the SM/MKI/MKM.
In addition to providing 16% more thrust (32,000 lbs vs. 27,560 lbs), the engine is equipped with a pivoting nozzle against the previous two-dimensional design, enhancing the M2’s “super maneuverability” achieved through vectored thrust. Since 1996, Sukhoi fighters have performed in air shows with their ability to perform “Bell” (tail slide), “Pugachov’s Cobra” (pitchup), “Hook” (similar to Cobra but performed horizontally instead of vertically) and other maneuvers. More importantly, the model can maneuver an enemy fighter and evade radar-guided missiles, Sukhoi explains. The necessary expansion of the air inlets for the AL41F1 requires 20% more airflow.
As for the SM2 version, it differs by its remodeled nose to accommodate a larger radar: a special edition of the Irbis N035 in place of the N011M bars. The Su35S single-engine fighter also uses the SM2 avionics package for cross-type commonality. serve advanced training roles for novice Su35S pilots as the latter type does not have a trainer version, while the front cockpit of the Su30SM features a different layout.
While Irkut has completed deliveries of the Su30SM to the Russian military, deliveries to overseas customers continue. Armenia has so far received only 4 out of 12 aircraft ordered Belarus 4 out of 12 and Kazakhstan 24 out of 40. It is not known whether some of these customers, as well as Myanmar, which has signed an agreement preliminary on 6 aircraft, upgrade to a more advanced SM2 version.
The recent introduction of the Su30SM2 may cause users of previous versions of the Su30 to upgrade their fleets to improve performance. Malaysia, which ordered 18 Su30MKMs in 2003, has long sought ways to improve its lethality and reliability. The fleet is now on average 10 years old. Russia and Malaysia have tried to solve engine problems due to the shortage of prepaid spare parts through an improved logistics system and by providing work on the Su30MKM fleet to local companies such as Aerospace Technology Systems Corporation (ATSC) .
The latter returned the first modernized aircraft to the Malaysian Air Force in 2019. Malaysia would like to keep its Sukhoi in service until 2040. India has ordered a total of 284 Su30MKIs, of which 240 remain operational, of which a recent batch of 12 last year. . Although generally considered one of the best radar systems in the world when introduced in 1997, the N011M rods and its passive phased array technology have become increasingly obsolete. India’s Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) has been working on an Active Antenna Array Unit (AAAU) radar with an Active Electron Scanning Array (AESA) that could replace the bars.
Russia has offered an alternative in the form of the Super30 upgrade package which includes replacement of the original Su30MKI radar with an AESA version using transceivers developed for the fifth generation Su57 fighter radar.