Why did India choose Rafale when SU-30 MKI is faster and more agile?

The Rafales must not be seen as replacements for the Su-30MKIs

Must Read

Girish Linganna
Girish Linganna
Girish Linganna is a Defence & Aerospace analyst and is the Director of ADD Engineering Components (India) Pvt Ltd, a subsidiary of ADD Engineering GmbH, Germany with manufacturing units in Russia. He is Consulting Editor Industry and Defense at Frontier India.

The Sukhoi Su-30MKI has long served as the backbone of the Indian Air Force (IAF). This multi-role combat aircraft was jointly developed for the IAF by the Sukhoi Design Bureau and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). In some aspects, this aircraft is even better than the French Rafale jets India has recently acquired.

For instance, the Su-30MKI has a reported top speed of Mach 2 (double the speed of sound) and a maximum take-off weight of 38.8 tonnes. In comparison, Rafale has a top speed of 1.8 Mach at high altitudes. Its maximum take-off weight is 24.5 tonnes. Another criterion where the Su-30MKI has the edge over the French jet is “service ceiling”. Service ceiling essentially refers to the altitude at which the aircraft’s climb rate becomes slow to the point that it can be considered to have practically reached the maximum height it can achieve. The Su-30MKI’s service ceiling of over 17,000 meters, while that of the Rafale is capped at 15,240 meters.

This difference in capability, which seems to bend in favour of the Russo-Indian jet, has raised questions about the IAF’s decision to acquire Rafales.

Technologically Advanced

The Rafale fighters have several advantages over the Su-30MKI. 

For instance, the French fighter uses an RBE2 Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, while the Su-30s that India operates use the Passive Electronically Scanned Array (PESA) radar. The latter relies on one large transmitter, while the former relies on multiple small transmitters. A platform using the AESA system not only has a lower chance of being detected due to its use of multiple frequencies but also provides benefits such as increased reliability and smaller size and weight. Rafale’s AESA system is also able to function in severe jamming environments. 


Rafale also has superior electronic warfare (EW) suite that Thales and MBDA have jointly developed. Dassault Aviation claims that this EW suite, called Spectra, provides a “multi-spectral threat warning capability against hostile radars, missiles and lasers.” This EW suite’s long-range detection, identification, and localisation capabilities provide high situational awareness to the Rafale fighter. The high degree of sensor fusion in the Rafale fighters eases the burden on the pilot compared to a Su-30MKI.

Additionally, it has been reported that the Rafale can supercruise at low supersonic speeds. The Russo-Indian fighter does not have the same capability. 

Stealth and Weaponry

Rafale, touted as a 4.5 generation aircraft, has semi-stealth features. It has a comparatively low radar cross-section (RCS). RCS reflects how detectable an object is by radar. The RCS of the present version of the Rafale fighter is around one sq meters, while that of the Su-30 MKI is greater than four sq meters.  

In addition to stealth, the French jet has a higher payload capacity, with a maximum payload of 9,500 kg. It also has 14 hard points for carrying weapons. The Su-30MKI, on the other hand, can carry a maximum payload of 8,130 kg and has 12 hardpoints.

The weapons package of Rafale is also qualitatively better than any current IAF fighter. Rafale can carry the MICA air-to-air missiles (AAM), which is useful in close dogfights and in its beyond visual range (BVR) functioning as well. Rafale comes equipped with the Meteor and SCALP missiles. The former is a 190-kg projectile with a BVR of over 100 km, capable of travelling at Mach 4. On the other hand, the SCALP is an air-to-ground, long-range deep strike missile over 300 km. Rafale can be used for the nuclear delivery role. The Su-30MKI is capable of carrying, among other weapons, the BrahMos supersonic missile.

Being able to carry capable missiles neutralises the effect of the comparatively lower service ceiling of the French fighter. This is because most BVR missiles can reach a maximum altitude of 20,000 meters and can target aircraft that are 5,000–10,000 meters above the launch platform. 

Other Advantages

It is imperative to note that arms deals are seldom based on merely technical considerations. The level of transfer of technology (ToT), whether the offset requirements will be fulfilled, what the overall acquiring and operating cost is, etc., are essential factors that a government considers before signing a deal. Another important aspect relates to which aircraft one’s allied nations are operating. Having the same aircraft allows for a high degree of interoperability. Moreover, in recent years, contribution to the “Make in India” initiative has also become substantial in the defence sector.

Political clout and diplomatic relations are other potential influencing factors in the selection of the aircraft. For instance, France has more political influence compared to Sweden. That might affect the sales of both Rafale and Saab’s Gripen. However, the impact of this political power is very dynamic and hard to pinpoint.

A Synthesis

Comparing these two platforms shows that each has certain aspects in which they excel. The Rafales must not be seen as replacements for the Su-30MKIs, but as aircraft that will work alongside these and other fighters that the IAF currently operates. It is also necessary to mention that other than technical aspects, the environmental conditions, pilot skills, team coordination (in case it is a team mission), available data, etc., also matter. Squadron strength, pilot training, and coordination between various aircraft that IAF currently uses (including Rafales and Su-30MKIs) will be important for India’s airpower.

Watch it on Youtube


  1. The reason is PM Modi himself flew the plane once on his visit to France and decided on the Rafael. He is an all rounder expert.

    • Why would you even bring in such a stupid comment? The rafale was chosen during the Congress time. In fact Modi must have flown there to cancel the original order, get himself/the BJP a big fat cut from it and then reorder the same at a higher price!

    • Maybe the reason is in fact that Su30 is worst than Su27 and Russia can’t produce it without Western tech

    • No doubt that Su30 is worst copy of Su27 but with western technologies inside, because Russia don’t have own and can’t replicate Soviet . Without them it piece of shit . The Su30 underperforming vs MiG29 and Su27 in Ukraine.

  2. Ignorance , ignorance, Ignorance… half truths, stupid conclusions. Why cannot you leave such Technical Purchases to the Professionals in our Forces. During the earlier Govts. despite alarms, no Jets were bought! Thank God this Govt. has had the ability : both financial and the moral fibre to do an honest deal.

  3. Indian Rafaels are much better as they have very high stealth surface made of lemon and highly Precise laser guided green chilli missiles. Courtesy Rajnath Singh ji, whose brain runs much sharper being the defense minister

  4. Seems all of you have been swayed away by the opposition’s fake propaganda. Modi did an excellent job by finalizing it on Govt-to-Govt basis otherwise even today we would have been struggling for them. As far as prices are concerned then all of you must know that there is hell lot of difference between the Rafale finalized by Congress & BJP owing to the EWS & warfare package which came along with it.

    You must go to the depths before making your mindset as it is you and us only who can decide our future by choosing the right person at the top level.

    And what Modu has done for India’s defence preparation in last 8 years is exemplary

    Hope you people will agree with me if you think with an unbiased mind

  5. Much MUCH better than the Russian junk. Just look at the track record of Russian jets vs western jets. There is no match. Yeah maybe the Russian planes are better at aerobatics but dogfights are a thing of the past.

  6. The SU 30 is in no way more maneuverable, or more agile than the Rafale. The Rafale is the more agile fighter jet. The Rafale’s operational speed is tagged at mach 1.8, but the Rafale can fly at mach 2.0, if needs be; plus the Rafale’s avionic are all 5th generation which makes the Rafale actually a 5th generation fighter jet. It can carry more weapons than the SU 30, as much as 10 tons, it also has a better 30mm cannon, the world’s best EW suite (Spectra). With its AESA radar can track more than 40 enemy aircraft at once and attack simultaneously 8 enemy aircraft at once in less than 60 seconds at a distance more than 124 miles, the exact range of its radar is kept secret. And with its optronics system it can attack passively enemy aircraft and ground based enemy radar systems without them knowing they are under attack until it is too late and the enemy is killed , which can target multiple enemy aircraft with its laser targeting acquisition system built into the optronics system. The Rafale can supercruise at mach 1.4 carrying weapons and extra fuel in a central tank, which the SU cannot do, plus Rafales do not keep on crashing like the Russian SU 30 nicknamed the flying coffin. In short Rafale rules the skies and is the best fighter jet in the world today, it is also more superior than the overly vaunted American F 35 which still has over 850 faults and failures which have not been resolved. The Rafale was doing data fusion long before the F 35 which the US air force has not managed to do properly. France did data fusion first.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here


More Articles Like This