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Asian Military Review|February/March 2021
Most Asian nations that operate fleets of legacy fighter aircraft continue to procure upgrade packages to increase capability and the extend service life of their jets. Around the Indo-Pacific, numerous upgrade programmes for American, European and Russian types are underway.
Mark Ayton

One of the biggest fleets of fighter aircraft currently operated by an Asian nation resides in India. Fielding a fleet of 260 Su-30MKI multirole jets (the last of 272 produced by Hindustan Aeronautics was completed in April 2020, with 12 lost to attrition), the Indian Air Force (IAF) is a major operator of Pavel Sukhoi's best-seller. It is the mainstay of the IAF strike-fighter fleet and will remain so for decades to come. Given its age, the type first entered service in 2002, and the recent cross-border tussles with the People’s Republic of China and Pakistan, the IAF needs to maintain the jets in a configuration that provides a combat advantage over Pakistan Air Force (PAF) Lockheed Martin F-16s and JF-17s, and People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) J-16s, J-20s and Su-35s. Also, the Air Force desperately needs to improve the Su-30MKI's mission availability rates.

Such a need can only be satisfied by a fleet-wide upgrade programme. The IAF has kept the Su-30MKI upgrade programme on its shopping list for several years.

Unofficially known as the Super 30, by the summer of 2019 HAL chairman Shri Madhavan confirmed an engine upgrade, a new radar, electronic warfare suite and beyond visual range missiles are included. Some speculate the new engine model is likely to be the Russian NPO Saturn AL-41FS rated at 32,000lb thrust with afterburner, and new radar to be the Tikhomirov NIIP Irbis-E hybrid passive electronically scanned array based on the N011M Bars system.

According to an official HAL presentation, some of the indigenous systems included in the Super 30 upgrade are: upgraded EO/IR targeting system; advanced weapon control system; enhanced electronic warfare suite; digital radar warning receiver; two 230x305mm high-resolution LCDs with a multifunction control panel; AESA radar with LRDE Active Array Antenna Unit (AAAU); new laser-designator pod; new mission computer; new helmet-mounted display system (HMDS); and HAL digital head-up display with 20x30 degree wide field of view

Away from the Super 30 upgrade, the IAF has undertaken successful integration of the 5,500lb (2500kg) air-launched Brahmos/DRDO/NPO Brahmos-A conventionally armed standoff missile, giving the Su-30MKI a lethal maritime strike capability, with an estimated 215nm (400km) range and Mach 3 cruise speed. Integration efforts on the Su-30MKI were completed in December 2019. Release to service was due in late 2020. Two squadrons are expected to be assigned a fleet of 40 Su-30MKIs configured to carry the Brahmos-A missile. Based at Air Force Station Thanjavur in southeast India, 222 Squadron was the first to stand-up in January 2020.

India's Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has designed the Bharat/DRDO Astra beyond visual range air-to-air missile with all-weather day and night capability. Billed as India's first indigenouslydeveloped beyond visual range air-to-air missile, the Astra was first fired from a Su30MKI in March 2016, entered production the following year and should be fielded with IAF Su-30MKI squadrons.

Indonesia Indonesia's Tentara Nasional IndonesiaAngkatan Udara (TNI-AU) operates a mixed fleet of F-16 Fighting Falcons comprising ten Block 15 OCUs acquired in 1989, and 24 Block 25s upgraded to Block 52ID standard. Delivered between 2014 and 2017, all 24 aircraft were upgraded by the US Air Force's (USAF) Ogden Air Logistics Center at Hill Air Force Base, Utah. Each aircraft received a new set of wings, horizontal stabilisers, landing gear, and structural enhancements. Systems installed included a new modular mission computer, Link 16 data link, Raytheon ALR-69 radar warning receiver, Terma ALQ-213 electronic warfare management system, BAE Systems ALE-47 countermeasures dispenser system, and enhancements to the original APG-68 radar.

In February 2020, the first upgraded Block 15 jet made its first flight. Each of the ten remaining Block 15 aircraft are undergoing Lockheed-Martin’s Falcon Star mid-life update to bring their service lives up to 8,000 hours including installation of avionics and radar upgrades. Upgrade work is being undertaken by PT Dirgantara Indonesia (PTDI) in partnership with Lockheed Martin and TNI-AU personnel.

The TNI-AU's Skadron Udara 16 (Air Squadron) at Pekan Baru Air Base in Indonesia’s eastern island of Sumatra operate the Block 15 OCU aircraft, while Skadron Udara 3 at Iswahyudi Air Base operates the Block 52ID jets.

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