Strangely, Russian Su-30s remain underemployed in Ukraine

Nine Su-30 Flanker-C aircraft have been shot down by Ukraine, but only seven have been confirmed. Moscow only acknowledges them as accidents due to pilot error or deteriorating weather circumstances.

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Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P. Chacko is the publisher of Frontier India. He holds an M.B.A in International Business. Books: Author: Foxtrot to Arihant: The Story of Indian Navy's Submarine Arm; Co Author : Warring Navies - India and Pakistan. *views are Personal

Before Russia decided to begin its “special operation” against Ukraine, the Su-30 was one of the most widely used and widely sold military aircraft in the world; it was a true ‘contract’ machine. However, as of the end of February 2022, there has been complete silence at Sukhoi, and especially at its parent corporation UAC, regarding anything and everything that is connected to the Su-30 Flanker-C. Instead, Russia focuses on the Flanker-E variant of the Su-35.

The Su-30SM is the most common version of the Su-30 flown over Ukraine. It evolved from the export version Su-30MKI that the Indian Air Force operates. The Russian fighter has become the de facto standard for arming the Russian Federation’s closest allies, including Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Armenia. Since 2018, when they were first given the designation Su-30 SM2, the aircraft have come powered by the same AL-41F1S engines as those used in the Su-35s. It has a thrust that is 16% more than that of the AL-31FP engine that is currently being used. In addition, it has been outfitted with commonality and maintenance systems adapted from the Su-35.

Since the beginning of these past several weeks, Russian aircraft have been noticeably absent from the skies above Ukrainian cities. The Kamov Ka-52 Hokum-B and Mil Mi-28 Havoc helicopters, as well as the aggressive Shahed 136 kamikaze drones bought from Iran, are the types of aircraft that Moscow favours to utilise at this time.

Anti-aircraft guns and surface-to-air missile batteries often provided by the NATO allies may explain the dearth of Russian combat aircraft, with the exception of Sukhoi Su-25 Frogfoot attack aircraft and Su-34 Fullback deep strike aircraft. These two models are known to continue to cross into Ukrainian territory on occasion.

On paper, Russia has between 120 and 150 Su-30s in service across its military and naval aviation branches combined.

This aircraft is one of the rare real multi-role fighters in the Russian arsenal. The majority of the other combat aircraft are intended either for air defence or air-to-ground operations. It is beneficial that the Su-30 is utilised in a multi-role capacity because that is how it is sold all over the world, and in addition to that, it is quite successful in terms of sales.

Considering the losses when these planes are “in action,” the Russian military’s underutilisation of the plane becomes even more evident. Su-30s were lost or shot down by Ukrainian troops; however, Moscow only acknowledges them as having been destroyed in accidents due to pilot error or deteriorating weather circumstances. Either the weather in Ukraine is absolutely terrible, paired with Russian pilots who have no idea how to control their Su-30 Flanker-C, or the Ukrainian anti aircraft systems are just that effective. This encapsulates the core idea behind Occam’s razor. There have been nine claims by Ukraine of shooting down the Su-30 Flanker-C, but only seven have been verified. However, the planes have not been lost because of air to air combat; on the contrary, they have performed all their tasks. Even the alleged Ghost of Kyiv kills do not include the Su-30s. The six aircraft allegedly downed by the so called Ghost of Kyiv include two Su-35s, two Su-25s, Su-27, and a MiG-29.

Sales of Su-35 Flanker-E collapsed all over the world, in Algeria and Egypt in particular, but also in Indonesia. Russia is on the verge of selling them to Iran, making the best use of sanctions. The policy of the US CAATSA cannot account for all of this. At the same time, the Sukhoi Su-75 “Checkmate” programme, which is designed to be a fighter of the 5th generation, is taking the brunt of the economic and industrial sanctions voted on by the Allies. And some analysts believe that it has a good chance of never being seen in public again. Both the Sukhoi Su-35 Flanker-E and the Su-75 “Checkmate” are examples of configurations that UAC most likely does not want to see implemented on the Su-30 Flanker-C.

At the moment, UAC is focussing on its fundamentals with regard to the Su-30 while it waits for the worldwide storm that has been raging around Ukraine to settle down a bit. As a result of an option that was presented in the spring of 2021, Belarusian could potentially receive between four and six planes in the year 2023. Even though it is not very much, one ought to learn how to be content with what one does have when circumstances are tough.

Even worse for Sukhoi in 2022 is the fact that the company has been steadily losing maintenance contracts for its aircraft.


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