Warplanes: Russia Gets The Good Stuff Just In Time


September 17, 2015: The Russian Air Force recently ordered another eight Su-30SM fighter-bombers. Meanwhile the manufacturer is to complete delivery of the initial order (sixty aircraft) by next year. The government says it will order another 20 to 25 of these aircraft by 2018. The first Su-30SM flew a few months before deliveries began in late 2012. Before the first Su-30SM order Russia had only 11 Su-30s in service, far fewer than China and India. All Russia could afford until 2013 was the older Su-27.

The Su-30SM is a Russian Air Force version of the Su-30MKI that has long been exported (to India, Algeria, and Malaysia). It is a two-seat jet fighter-bomber similar to the American F-15E. Since the early 1990s Russian defense manufacturers have survived on exports. The Russian military halted most equipment purchases after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. That collapse was largely due to financial and economic mismanagement by the communist government. The Soviet Union was, literally, bankrupt and it took most of the 1990s to sort it all out.

After 2000 the Russian military gradually resumed buying. Initially, the armed forces could not afford the best stuff (like the Su-30MKI). But gradually changed, and now the Russian military is catching up. The Su-30SM is the first Su-30 model for the Russian Air Force that uses thrust vectoring (the ability of the engine to direct its exhaust a bit and enhance maneuverability).

The Su-30MKI, even though equipped with Western electronics, costs less than $50 million each, about half of what an equivalent F-15 costs. The Russian version will have Russian electronics and other Russian made gear but otherwise be nearly identical to the Su-30MKI. The Su-30MKI/SM each weight about 38 tons and each can carry more than eight tons of bombs and hit targets over 1,500 kilometers away. The Su-30SM is able to use a large range of missiles and smart bombs.

Given the economic sanctions (because Russian aggression in Ukraine and elsewhere) and the low price of oil (the major Russian export) the government has a lot less (more than 20 percent less) money to spend. Despite that the government has said it will not cut military spending but that is more of an aspiration than a certainty. But at least the Russian Air Force will have sixty Su-30SMs, giving it the third largest Su-30 fleet (after China and India) in the world. There are about 600 Su-30s in service. Russia hopes to have over 150 by the end of the decade, at which point about 800 will be in service.






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