India and Russia made significant progress in the discussions for modernisation of all Su-30 fighters of the Indian Air Force (IAF) during the visit of a Russian team last month. An agreement is possible by the year-end, senior officials say.

“Discussions were held last month, and significant ground was covered. We hope to conclude the deal soon,” a top official told.

The upgrade will give the fight jets new avionics and radar, improved stealth characteristics to reduce the radar cross-section, better electronic warfare capability and new weapons. Though the quantum of the deal is not finalised, some officials said it could be in the range of $7-8 billion.

Su-30 are the most modern fighters and the main stay of the IAF. Given the delay in procurement of new fighters, they are crucial for maintaining the combat edge of the IAF. Discussions had been under way for some time for upgrading the aircraft to what was called ‘Super Sukhoi’, but the talks gained momentum recently. “There is nothing called Super Sukhoi, but we have been discussing the upgrade of Su-30 to comprehensively improve their capabilities. Some progress has been made, and we are trying to finalise the technical specifications of the upgrade,” a senior IAF officer said.

India had signed the initial agreement with Russia in the late 1990s for procuring 50 Su-30 multi-role fighter jets in a fly-away condition.

Then, it ordered 272 Su-30MKI fighter jets to be made by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) at Nasik. Most of the aircraft to be made by HAL have been delivered, and the entire lot of 222 aircraft is expected to be completed in the next couple of years. The HAL has a production rate of 10-12 aircraft a year.

No progress on FGFA

This comes in the backdrop of the delay in concluding the final agreement for the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) to be developed by India and Russia, besides the delay in concluding an agreement for the purchase of the Rafale fighter jets and in the induction of the indigenous Light Combat Aircraft.

A preliminary design agreement was signed in 2010 between HAL and Russia’s Sukhoi Design Bureau to make the FGFA for use by both countries. So far, both sides have invested $295 million in the preliminary design. However, the final agreement got stuck because of the disagreements over the work share and investment. Several rounds of talks have been held, but there has been no progress.

“The FGFA is a long project. It will take some time,” one officer said.

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