The Sukhoi-30MKI Induction
by Kapil Chandni
In the most understated ceremony of its kind anywhere in the world,the Indian Air Force inducted its newest acquisition,the Su-30 MKI at Lohegaon Air Force Station,Pune on September 27,2002.
In a well attended ceremony,the IAF’s most decorated squadron,No.20 Lightnings was recommissioned from its numberplated status to operational status.It’s pilots and crews are mainly drawn from the first Sukhoi unit,No.24 squadron with which it shares Lohegaon Air Force Station and therefore have considerable experience on the type.
Commanded by Wing Commander NS Jamwal,VM a highly qualified test and aerobatic display pilot who has flown the Mig-29 and the Su-30K for a long time(IAF Watchers will remember his Mig-29 displays in the mid 1990s and later,his Chakra manouveres in the Tricolor schemed Su-30 K),the squadron was re-raised on 20 May 2002.The 10 Su-30 MKI aircraft of this squadron started arriving in semi-knocked down condition soon after,with the first bach of two MKIs landing on 25 June 2002 aboard an An-124.After assembly,they were test flown initially by Russian test pilots on 25 July 2002.The first flight by an Indian pilot in India happened on 14 August 2002,deliberately done on the Independence Day of a hostile neighbour according to some sources in the IAF!
The Induction Ceremony was a well synchronized affair.Guests arriving at the venue were treated to the sight of first 6 Su-30Ks of 24 Squadron taking to the air followed by Jaguar IMs of No.6 Squadron,the Dragons.Meanwhile on the flightline the Su-30MKIs of 20 Squadron stood poised ,enjoying their status as Lohegaon’s latest elite.The Air Officer Commanding ,No 2 Wing(Lohegaon) Air Commodore NAK Browne,VM was at hand to receive the VIP guests as they started arriving.Among the first to arrive was Air Marshal M McMahon,the Air Officer Commanding –in-Chief of South Western Air Command followed by the Chief of Air Staff,Air Chief Marshal S Krishnaswamy .Nobody exemplified the Air Force’s joy at this acquisition better than the Chief himself,as it was the culmination of nearly a decade long project,overseen by him to a certain extent in its initial stages.Indeed,it can be safely said,that the CAS had the widest smile at Lohegaon that day!
Next to arrive was the Defence Minister,Shri George Fernandes,who was received and escorted by the Air Chief,the AOC-in-C and the AOC.Then followed the round of speeches all congratulating 20 Squadron and thanking the various organizations and institutions involved in the program.The defence minister was especially vocal in his thanks to Russia for co-developing such a formidable and sophisticated aircraft with India.
Finally,to the relief of the 20 Squadron technicians and the pilots sweating it out on the flightline beside the aircraft,the solemn ceremony of re-commisoning the Squadron commenced.Wing Commander Jamwal read out the commissioning warrant and then led the Defence Minister to cut the ribbon whch formally marked the Induction/Commission.
The Defence Minster and the CO exchanged plaques commemorating the Induction Ceremony.A few seconds later,the 24 squadron Sukhois flew past overhead releasing smoke in their wake.The Defence Minister was then asked by Wing Commander Jamwal,that he would like his permission to commence his display,which was duly granted.The CO and his back-seater then went off to suit up,while everyone else cleared the flightline and tarmac.Now,everyone had a proper chance to look at the menacingly beautiful Su-30 MKIs as they waited on the Deccan tarmac under a sunny sky. Nobody can get a proper indication of the aircraft’s true size unless it is seen relative to some other reference.This is the reason why people get flabbergasted when they see a Mig-29 next to a Su-30. The CO started his aircraft ,SB024 and went through his pre flight checks of the nozzles,canards and flaps even as the aircraft was going past the seated audience.Then,suddenly the CO and his back seater snapped off an impromptu salute to the seated gathering and taxied out to the runway.It took off and overflew the base for a few minutes.Unfortunately,the gathering below did not get the slightest peak into the aircraft’s amazing displays due to airspace constraints and the aircraft landed shortly.The other aircraft soon followed thereafter. Looking at them one could not help but feel a tinge of sadness,that these aircraft when inducted were themselves the pampered elites in their heydays and now they have been relegated to the farthest corners of the airbase.The MKI’s predecessor especially,has gone from its prima donna status to commoner status in less than five years once the latest MKIs have come in.
One special feature of the day was the insight it gave into the IAF’s new assertiveness. The Chief gave ample indication of that when replying to a query about IAF acquisitions he said that –‘We are not buying equipment and then changing strategy.The strategy has changed;we are buying the equipment accordingly’.He was persistently asked about the Indian MKI’s features vis-à-vis the Chinese MKKs.After sidestepping the question for a while ,he candidly said that the Indian MKI was tailor made to Indian requirements which would place the most varied and demanding tasks on the aircraft and consequently the MKI is probably more sophisticated than the MKK in Chinese service.
The other overt symbol of the IAF’s assertiveness was the beautiful Type Shoulder Patch sported by members of 20 Sqn on their overalls-It shows the silhouette of the Su-30 MKI with the phrase Air Dominance Fighter.This is the first time,that the air force is talking in such terms,of dominating its battle space rather than merely guarding it.And with an aircraft like this,they certainly can.
The aircraft’s long range combined with its weapon payloads and ability to be tasked with diverse missions make it the IAF’s strategic mainstay.The second consignment of 12 aircraft will be delivered by June 2003.The third consignment of 10 aircraft will be completed by end 2003/beginning 2004.On completion of the delivery of the third consignment,Su-30K and the earlier MKI variants will be upgraded to the sandards of the third consignment. The project is an unprecedented marvel of international collaboration with avionics and components sourced from India,Russia,France,Israel,the UK and even South Africa.
It’s self diagnostic facilities considerably reduce service times.And its Laser Inertial Navigation System permits it to fly in all sorts of conditions.While the aircraft has full glass cockpits in both seats augmented by a number of multi functional displays,it still retains a few dial instruments as standbys.
20 Squadron has now been tasked with developing the doctrine for the operationalising and employment of this aircraft’s capabilities and so is scheduled with a lot of training flights ,to enable the pilots to develop an intuitive feel for the aircraft’s TVC,canards and air-to-air refueling amongst other things.
Truly,an excellent aircraft for an illustrious squadron.The Lightnings strike again!