The Russian Su-35 Flanker ‘4++ generation’ air superiority fighter has stood out among the seven contestants for the Indian Air Force’s Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) tender as the only heavyweight platform and the only one with an airframe specialised for air to air combat. Coming from a higher weight range the Su-35 can comfortably outperform all other contestants across the spectrum, with a heavier payload, longer range, higher altitude ceiling, heavier and more powerful sensors and electronics suites, and three dimensional thrust vectoring engines which provide a degree of manoeuvrability and a high speed unrivalled by all but the MiG-35. It is the only fighter in the contest confirmed to be able to deploy hypersonic air to air missiles, and alongside the MiG-35 is the only fighter expected to deploy APAA guided missiles. Despite its relatively low cost and high performance, a key drawback of the Su-35 relative to lighter jets such as the MiG-35 and Rafale are its higher maintenance requirements and operational costs – which arguably make it less suitable as a contestant for a medium weight fighter competition.
By linking an offer to manufacture 114 Su-35 fighters in India with the ability to modernise the country’s existing fleet of over 250 Su-30MKI heavyweight fighters, the Russian offer may well compensate for the drawbacks of higher operational costs. Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation has reportedly offered to provide a number of Su-35 technologies as part of the contract, which could be used to upgrade India’s Su-30 fleet. Many of these will be manufactured in India itself, and this will significantly improve the performance of the Su-30. The contract would see engines and other systems from the Su-35 integrated onto Indian Su-30s, creating a considerable similarity of parts between the two jets and greater interoperability. Thus in turn can lead to easier maintenance and a reduction in net operational costs for India’s heavyweight fighter fleet – something which no other contender in the competition has a chance to offer.