The Government of India, in the mid-90s, signed an agreement with the Russians to acquire 40 aircrafts of the Flanker series, that would be customized to Indian requirement. It involved integrating French, Israeli & Indian weapon systems & avionics onto the Russian airframe. The eventual outcome of this customization is identified as the Sukhoi Su-30MKI fighter aircraft. However, since the agreement essentially stipulated virtually developing a new aircraft, with capabilities unmatched by legacy offerings, the time taken for their deliveries to commence too would be large. Hence, in order to fast-track aircraft induction, as an interim measure, it was agreed that Russia would supply India with a baseline MK-series of the Su-30, i.e., Sukhoi Su-30MK.
Even the supply of Su-30 MK was to be distributed into 3 batches, each with increasing capabilities & non-Russian systems integrated. Thus, as per the original plan, the MK-series of aircraft, to be inducted by the Indian Air Force [IAF] were to be designated as
- Sukhoi Su-30MK-1
- Sukhoi Su-30MK-2
- Sukhoi Su-30MK-3
The batch of aircrafts following MK-3, to be delivered as part of the 40 aircraft deal, would be a fully developed MKI variant. Upon completion of the MKI development programme, all the previously delivered aircrafts were to be subsequently upgraded to the MKI-standards. However, upon delivery of the Su-30MK-1 batch, delays in delivering the subsequent aircrafts prompted a decision to induct all following aircrafts in their complete MKI-form, thereby skipping MK-2 & 3.
10 aircrafts meant for delivery to Indonesia were also diverted to India as part of a separate agreement signed between India & Russia in the latter half of the 90s. This is because the Indonesians were unable to make the necessary payment prior to receipt of the fighters. These aircrafts, originally destined for Indonesia, were designated as the Sukhoi Su-30K aircraft.
The first production Sukhoi Su-30MKI aircraft arrived in India in 2002. In the meanwhile, India also signed another agreement with Russia to begin license production of the aircraft within India, manufacturing around 140 of them. It has been said that all the different variants of the Su-30, flown by the Indian Air Force have now been upgraded & standardised to the latest MKI variant.
The most visible outward difference between the MKI-variant aircraft & the earlier Su-30s inducted are the addition of canards in the MKI, something that is not present in the others.
The following are a collection of photographs showing the Sukhoi Su-30 MK-1 & Su-30K aircrafts in service with the Indian Air Force.
Click on the thumbnails to view larger-sized images
In 2011, India signed another agreement with Russia to acquire 42 additional Su-30 aircrafts, with upgraded capabilities, among them likely being the ability to launch the supersonic BrahMos Cruise Missile, developed by India in partnership with Russia. The advanced variants of the aircraft are being identified alternately as 'Super Sukhoi' or 'Super-30' in the media. It is being speculated that these 42 aircrafts are being acquired for use by India's Strategic Forces Command [SFC], under whose authority would India, if ever, launch a retaliatory Nuclear attack on a belligerent adversary.
Thus, the different variants of the Su-30 that have either been flown & or will be flown by the Indian Air Force include
- Sukhoi Su-30 MK-1
- Sukhoi Su-30 K
- Sukhoi Su-30 MKI
- Sukhoi Su-30 'Super-30'/'Super Sukhoi'
In addition, the existing fleet of the Su-30MKI are also receiving incremental upgrades & is likely to undergo a full-fledged Mid-Life Upgrade [MLU] sometime within the near future. Whether these too would be upgraded to the full 'Super-30'/'Super Sukhoi' configuration or perhaps even more advanced iteration has not yet been confirmed. Only rumors & speculations have been floating around currently. Once upgraded, their designation too would likely change.