NEW DELHI - India's aerospace behemoth Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) has offered to produce 40 more Sukhoi-30MKI fighters for the Indian Air Force (IAF) at a cost lower than that of the multi-role fighter Rafale.
The Sukhoi-30MKI fighter jets will be equipped with the air-launched version of BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles. HAL is currently producing the last batch of 23 Su-30 fighters, of the 222 it was mandated to build at its facility in Nashik, Maharashtra.
"We will offer a very competitive price. Since 2010, we have been delivering the Su-30 at INR 425 crore (approx $64 million) a piece. We can deliver another three squadrons at the same price," T Suvarna Raju, HAL's chairman, told the Business Standard.
HAL has already absorbed the technology for building and supporting the Su-30. Now, the aim is to build those three new squadrons as quickly and cheaply as possible, Raju added.
Last December, the Indian defense ministry had assured HAL that production at Nashik would continue to flow even after the conclusion of the Su-MKI manufacturing activities.
"HAL has world-class facilities and given the successful integration of BrahMos on Su-30 MKI, 40 more aircraft will undergo such integration," Subhash Bhamre, India's minister of state for defense had said at a public-private partnership summit in Nashik.
The work has been underway to integrate BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles on 40 Su-30MKI jets at the Nashik facility, but HAL chairman Raju believes that instead of upgrading older fighters, with a shorter residual lifespan, it would be better to build three more squadrons of Sukhois capable of carrying BrahMos missiles.
The IAF is currently facing a shortage of at least eight squadrons (18-20 jets in a squadron) of fighter jets due to aging MiGs and delays in fresh procurement. The IAF desires the strength of some 42 combat squadrons by the year 2027-32 in order to meet the contingencies of a two-front war with China and Pakistan.
"HAL's proposal to assemble 40 additional BrahMos-A capable Su-30MKIs, instead of upgrading 40 life limited in-service aircraft, makes eminent sense," Vijainder K Thakur, an IAF veteran and military analyst, said.
Thakur has long been advocating that the Su-30MKI is a perfect fit for the IAF doctrine, which advocates the use of fighter aircraft that can perform any role.