October 24, 2012: Strategy Page
India agreed to train Indonesian Su-30 pilots. This makes sense, as India is the largest operator of Su-30s (with over 160 in service). China is second with less than 80 and Russia, which manufactures the Su-30, is third. India will do the training more cheaply and can help Indonesia if there are maintenance or support problems with Russia.
Indonesia knows that India has learned how to deal with shabby Russian support. For example, earlier this year India went public with yet another complaint about the Su-30 fighters it buys from Russia. This time it was an unspecified "design flaw" in the electronic flight control system. This bit of information was made public because India has found that more discreet communications about these matters results in little or no action from the Russians. For example, India has been pressuring Russia for several years to do something about component failures in the Russian designed AL-31 engines that power the Indian Su-30MKI jet fighters. There have been several AL-31 failures because of this in both Indian and Russian Su-30s.
Then there are the exorbitant prices Russia demands for upgrades to the Su-30. Indian engineers have enough experience with aircraft, and the Su-30, to know they are being gouged by the Russians. Moreover, as part of the sales contract, India is not allowed to get upgrades elsewhere without permission from the Russian manufacturer. India can help the Indonesians with this.
India buys bare bones fighters from Russia and equips these Su-30MKIs with Israeli sensors and communications gear. In many respects, the Indian made Su-30s, the Su-30MKI, is the most capable version available, due to its Israeli and European electronics and the well trained Indian pilots. The 38 ton SU-30MKI is most similar to the two seat American F-15E fighter-bomber. Even though equipped with Western electronics, the aircraft cost less than $40 million each, about half what an equivalent F-15 costs. The Su-30MKI can carry more than eight tons of bombs and hit targets over 1,500 kilometers away.
Indonesia has already become disenchanted with its Su-30s and announced last August the six Su-30 jet fighters it ordered from Russia earlier this year (for $78 million each) would be the last Russian fighters purchased. Indonesia already has ten Su-27s and Su-30s and wanted at least 16 of these modern aircraft so they will have a full squadron.
Although expensive, the Russian fighters are modern and look great. They are also relatively cheap to maintain. This was all part of a plan to switch from American fighters (ten F-16s and 16 F-5s) to Russian Su-27s and 30s. But used F-16s are so much cheaper than Su-27s that public pressure forced the Indonesian politicians to hang on to the F-16s and upgrade them. This also saved politicians and air force commanders’ future embarrassment from problems with the Russian aircraft.