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Thursday, February 21, 2013

168 Sukhoi Su-30 MKI Presently Flying In The Indian Air Force [IAF]

A rough estimate, based on open-source information.

The number of Sukhoi Su-30MKI fighter aircrafts currently in service with the Indian Air Force [IAF] has been a recurring theme of discussion & debate among military enthusiasts online. Not helping matters one bit has been the characteristic Indian practice of placing orders in batches ["....with the option to acquire XXX more in the future...."], keeping track of which often become a topic in itself. Since the last time, there has been some developments & additional information in the public domain to go by.


An article in this month's 'Take-Off' magazine has encapsulated the road to acquisition, so far. This, backed by statements from the Chairman of HAL, that makes these planes in India, help arrive at a close estimate of the number of these aircrafts currently with the IAF. Tabulating the data available.

  • Airframes Inducted/To Be Inducted
Sr. No. Year Agreement Was Signed Number Of Airframes Remarks
1 1996 50 Includes 18 'K' & 'MK' variant of the aircrafts which were subsequently returned
2 October 2000 140 License Manufacturing in India
3 2007 40

Complete Knock-Down [CKD] kits, to be assembled in India

4 2007 18

Replacement for the 'K' & 'MK' variants, mentioned earlier

5 December 2012 42

Complete Knock-Down [CKD] Kits, to be assembled in India. Includes replacements for the Airframes lost in 2009

  • Airframes Returned/Lost In Accidents

Sr. No.

Date/Year Of Occurence

Number Of Airframes





'K' & 'Mk' Variant Of The Aircraft Returned


April 2009




November 2009




December 2011




February 2013






Thus, if we are to assume no more decision is taken to acquire additional airframes, a possibility that can not be entirely discounted, in the final tally the IAF would have flown 272 airframes of the MKI variant of the aircraft. This number, from the 50 aircraft induction originally envisaged in the early-mid 90s. The reason for this can be attributed to multiple factors, significant ones being high satisfaction with the performance of a platform specifically customised to IAF's requirements, depleting fleet strength due to end of service life of existing aircrafts & corresponding convenience in ramping up production of the 'Flanker'.   Factoring in the non-MKI variants too, the number of Su-30s in IAF colours would then rise to 290. If the Flankers suffer no more loss of airframes due to accidents, 268 of them could retire at the end of its service life.

  • Airframes Delivered, So Far

Sr. No.

Year Of Agreement/Delivery

Number Of Airframes


1 1996 50

Original Contract

2 Until February 2013 122

Includes those airframes made from the CKD kits supplied as part of the 2007 deal


Compared to the December 2012 quote from the Chairman of HAL, mentioned in the magazine, during his talk at the 'Aero India 2013  Seminar' in early February 2013, he updated his statement stating 122 airframes had been delivered till then. The HAL has an average build capacity of ~12 airframes a year - one airframe a month1. It, however, may or may not be the case that literally one 'Flanker' gets added to the IAF fleet each month. In absence of case specific data, one has to draw conclusions from standard practices elsewhere. Normal batch production technique entails working simultaneously on multiple workpieces, whose work would finally be completed at around the same time. Applying this template, the arrangement could involve inducting a specific number of aircraft at a time, followed by some months when no aircrafts are inducted. Considering that the Chairman, Mr HK Tyagi, increased the number of aircrafts delivered to the IAF by 3, within 3 months [119 in Dec '12 Vs 122 in Feb '13], one could conclude that aircrafts are built in batches of 3, requiring 3 months for completing each fighter. Another possible production method involves staggering the initiation of building airframes, such that at the end of each month one aircraft gets built fully, with the others in different stages of incompletion - the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter [JSF] aircraft production line would be the most modern implementation of this mature concept. The IAF has also lost 4 airframes, thereby placing its current 'Flanker' strength at 168.

In either case, it would be safe to add 3 aircrafts every 3 months, starting February, to the 168 delivered till the start of February, to arrive at an estimated number of 'Flanker' in the IAF at that moment. Thus, in April 2013 the IAF could be flying 171 fighters, the number rising to 174 in July 2013.

The magazine issue also contains updates on the flight-test programme of the T-50 PAK-FA, Russian fifth generation fighter aircraft, including news about the fifth & last prototype of the aircraft that is currently being assembled. Subsequent aircraft would be identified as the 'Limited Series Production [LSP]' variant.

Current issue: Take-off magazine February 2013


Related: Look Maa, No Hands!!

1 = a quick calculation puts the number at close to 14 a year [119 airframes until the end of 2012, with the first delivered approximately 8 years back, in November 2004]. This slightly higher number could be attributed to the fact that the 119 Su-30s handed over also include those built using the CKD kits directly imported from Russia [2007 deal]. These would have taken lesser time to put together, compared to those airframes that HAL built, whose components are being progressively sourced from local supply vendors in India. Thus, the average number of these aircraft built each year should be around 12, as also declared in the Indian Parliament. Despite efforts to ramp up production to 16 a year, there appears to have been no success, judging from the Chairman's speech.