In the face of rivals like China or Pakistan who are drastically upgrading their air force, this does not allow India to delay in upgrading its Su-30MKI main fighter.

The Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO), India’s state-owned subsidiary, has begin work developing an indigenous active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar for the country’s Su-30MKI heavyweight fighters.

The Su-30MKI Flanker is currently the mainstay of the Indian Air Force’s combat squadron, with 270 aircraft. The Su-30MKI is a major improvement from the Su-27 Flanker, the Soviet Air Force’s most powerful air superiority fighter. The major improvements of the Su-30MKI are upgraded avionics, aerodynamics and more powerful thrust vectoring engines. The Su-30MKI also uses more composite materials, which increase durability and higher load capacity than the Su-27.

The Su-30MKI is capable of deploying a wide range of new generations of weapons; This not only makes it more capable in the air superiority role, but is also well suited in the ground and water attack roles. The Su-30MKI is also considered the most capable fighter in South Asia and is the only fighter in the Indian Air Force capable of confronting modern Chinese fighters such as the J-11B or J-16 and even the J-20 stealth fighter.

However, the avionics of the Su-30MKI have gradually become obsolete. The superiority of the Su-30MKI is challenged by the modern fighters of rival China, the only country other than the US to equip fifth-generation fighters at the squadron level. If the Su-30MKI is delayed in its upgrades, it will fall further and further behind. Therefore, the development of EASA radar for Su-30MKI is urgent.

To shorten the development process, DRDO is expected to upgrade the EASA Uttam radar, already installed on the indigenous Tejas fighter. The new radar is expected to begin testing on the Su-30MKI fighter in 2024 and be ready for operation in 2026. A further indigenous upgrade reported to be under development was an enhanced flight control system to facilitate the integration of hypersonic missiles, which are expected to be developed jointly with Russia under a successor to the BrahMos program. The new avionics are expected to cement the Su-30MKI’s position as the most capable fighter in South Asia, with no other heavyweight fighters being operational in the region.

While India’s ability to develop a viable AESA radar on par with overseas designs remains questionable due to its limited electronics industry, success would potentially result in billions of dollars in losses for Russia’s defence sector. The Indian Air Force has previously shown an interest in purchasing Russian aviation radars, including the Irbis-E passive electronically scanned array radar on the Su-35 or the AESA N036 Byelka radar on the Su-57 to modernize its Su-30MKI fleet. However, due to the Russia-Ukraine conflict, Russia’s defense industry was severely embargoed, many arms sales contracts with Russia were frozen. While avionics systems are also not Russia’s strong point.

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