India, Take Note: Ditching the Rafale for the Su-30MKI Would Be A Grave Mistake

As mentioned here previously, and as reported already by DefenseNews, India is considering breaking negotiations to buy the French Rafale fighter and buying more Su-30MKIs instead. This is supposedly due to both budgetary reasons and heavy Russian lobbying.

If India were to do so, this would be a grave mistake that would cost India dearly in the very near future. Here’s why.

The Su-30MKI, as I have demonstrated earlier, is DECISIVELY inferior to the Dassault Rafale on all counts:

  • SIZE: The Su-30MKI (like all other Flanker variants) is much bigger and hotter, and therefore much easier to detect visually, with infrared sensors (such as the Rafale’s OSF), and with radar, than the Rafale, which is a small aircraft with a wingspan of just 10.8 m. In confrontation with the PLAAF’s J-7, J-10, and J-31 fighters, or the Pakistani Air Force’s J-7, Mirage 5, F-16, and JF-17 fighters, Indian Su-30MKI pilots will be at a distinct disadvantage: they will be detected visually and with IR sensors long before they can detect these small fighters.
  • PILOT VIEW: Its pilot doesn’t have a good rearward view from his cockpit, unlike the Rafale’s pilot, who enjoys full, unobstructed view in all directions from his own cockpit.
  • WEIGHT: It is much heavier, and therefore is far less capable of transitioning from one maneuver to another, than the Rafale.
  • MANEUVERABILITY: It is far less maneuverable than the French fighter: its wing loading and thrust/weight ratios are 401 kg/sq m and 1.00:1 at 56% fuel, respectively. For the Rafale, the figures are 306 kg/sq m and around 1.23:1. In fact, at a full fuel and weapon load, the Rafale still has a 0.988:1 thrust/weight ratio – almost the same ratio as the one achieved by the Su-30MKI at a 56% weapons load. This means that a fully-loaded Rafale is as maneuverable as a half-fully-loaded Su-30MKI, while a half-fully-loaded Rafale can run circles around a Flanker.
  • RATE OF CLIMB: The Su-30MKI’s rate of climb (300 m/s) is inferior to that of the Rafale (305 m/sq).
  • WEAPONS LOAD: It can’t carry as many arms as the Rafale can (12 at most, versus 13-14 for the Rafale), nor are the Russian-supplied weapons as capable as those offered by France’s MBDA (which include the supersonic, 160-km-range Meteor ramjet missile and the 50-km-range MICA IR-guided missile).
  • TAKEOFF FROM MAKESHIFT RUNWAYS: It can’t take off from highways or unpaved runways – unlike the Rafale – because its wingspan and the takeoff distance requirement are too great. By contrast, the Rafale, with a wingspan of just 10.8 metres, can take off from any Western highway (motorway).
  • MAINTENANCE: It spends 4 times as many hours in maintenance for 1 hour of flight than the Rafale (32 vs 8). It’s a veritable hangar queen.

How do these glaring weaknesses translate into inferiority and vulnerability in combat?

To prevail in air combat, one must:

  • Be capable of defending one’s own airspace anytime, on call, at a moment’s notice if need be;
  • Be harder to detect than the enemy and detect him faster so that he’ll be shot down unaware of his attacker (as 80% of all fighters shot down throughout aviation history were);
  • If possible, be more numerous than the enemy;
  • Provide one’s own pilots with more flight hours than the enemy to practice flying skills;
  • Be more maneuverable than the enemy;
  • Be more capable of transitioning from one maneuver to another than the enemy.

The Dassault Rafale meets these requirements. The Su-30MKI does not. The Rafale needs only 8 hours of maintenance for every hour flown, so a squadron can be called into duty at any moment and, with a sufficient budget, pilot skills can be maintained. It is small and has a tiny thermal signature, and is thus hard to detect. It is highly maneuverable and can run circles around bigger, heavier, more sluggish aircraft than the Su-30MKI. And it provides its pilot with full unobstructed horizontal view from the cockpit. The same cannot be said of the Su-30.

The Su-30MKI will leave the Indian Air Force at a deep disadvantage vis-a-vis the PAF (flying J-7s, Mirage 5s, F-16s, J-10s, and JF-17s) and J-7, J-10, and J-31-equipped squadrons of the PLAAF. These aircraft are all much smaller, lighter, more maneuverable, and have a much smaller infrared (thermal) signature than the Su-30. Being lighter, they can also transition from one maneuver to another far easier than the Su-30 can; and being much smaller than the Su-30, they can easily take off from highways or even dirt strips (excluding possibly the J-31).

Also, they (except possibly the J-31) spend far, far less time in maintenance than the Su-30MKI, and excluding the J-7 (which both the PLAAF and the PAF are now retiring), they offer their pilots full, unobstructed 360 degree horizontal view from the cockpit – like the Rafale, but unlike the Su-30MKI. In fact, giving the pilot such unobstructed view was a formal requirement for both the F-16 and the Rafale programs. So a PLAAF or PAF pilot flying one of the aircraft types listed above can sneak up undetected upon the Su-30MKI from the rear and shoot him down unaware, but the reverse is not the case.

Unlike the deeply and irredeemably flawed Su-30MKI, the Dassault Rafale, if procured by India, would give the IAF an advantage over both the PLAAF and the PAF, because it matches or bests all of their fighter aircraft on all the parametres listed above, including size, weight, thermal signature, maneuverability, takeoff capacity, weapons, sensors, flying availability, and ease of maintenance.

Compared to the Rafale, PLAAF and PAF aircraft are inferior by at least one criterion:

  • The MiG-21/J-7 (like the Flanker family) was intended to be a supersonic interceptor. Its pilot’s view to the rear is severely obstructed.
  • The J-7, Mirage 5, and JF-17 lack modern sensors which the Rafale has (which is not surprising, given that the Mirage 5 first flew in 1967; it was an excellent fighter in its day, but not anymore).
  • The F-16, the J-10, and the J-31, while far more maneuverable and far lighter than the Su-30, are nonetheless less maneuverable, and accelerate worse, than the Rafale. The wing loading ratios are: 449 kg/sq m for the F-16, 381 kg/sq m for the J-10, and 306 kg/sq m for the Rafale. The T/W ratios at 50% fuel + ammo are: 1.095:1 for the F-16, 1.16:1 for the J-10, and around 1.23:1 for the Rafale. The F-16’s climb rate is only 254 m/s, while the Rafale’s is 305 m/s.
  • The J-31 is larger, and may be hotter, than the Rafale, making it easier for a Rafale pilot to detect, either visually or with the French fighter’s excellent OSF IRST system. (Detecting the much bigger J-20 would, of course, be even easier.)

In short, the Su-30MKI is decisively inferior to the Dassault Rafale and to many fighter types flown by China’s PLAAF and Pakistan’s PAF – the two most likely adversaries India will face in the future – while the Rafale can beat every fighter type flown by either of these organisations. It is an aircraft which, owing to its combination of small size, radar and thermal signature reduction, maneuverability, speed, armament, and ease of maintenance will give New Delhi an edge over both China and Pakistan. It can also be integrated with India’s newest Astra missile and is already capable of carrying the much longer-ranged Meteor Beyond Visual Range missile. India would therefore be well advised to cease Su-30MKI production, ditch any plan of substituting the Su-30 for the Rafale, and procure the Dassault aircraft.


24 thoughts on “India, Take Note: Ditching the Rafale for the Su-30MKI Would Be A Grave Mistake”

  1. The Indians want to buy a few Rafales, and then have Dassault guarantee the dozens of Indian-made Rafales. Obviously not acceptable (if Dassault was crafty, it would go the USA way: accept, then modify…)

    In the case of Brazil, there is little doubt the choice of the Swedish-USA plane over the Rafale was corruption propelled… The USA are number one for corruption, because it is precisely, and carefully, defined as not what it is… Then that corruption definition is used against competitors, both ways (to condemn competitors, and out-compete them).

    1. This is not an issue of agreement or disagreement. This is an issue of facts – and based on these, the Rafale is FAR better than the Su-30MKI (and all other aircraft of the Flanker family, for that matter).

      No, I’m not a “right-wing nutter”, I’m a Gaullist.

  2. As I understand from a couple of news streams the French won’t let the Indians manufacture. French jets are probably like many of their cars in terms of maintenance and operation – quixotic.

    1. Actually, French cars are easy to maintain and drive well – and I’m speaking from personal experience.

  3. “The Su-30MKI, as I have demonstrated earlier, is DECISIVELY inferior to the Dassault Rafale on all counts:”

    You have also forgotten to mention that Su-30s IRST is significantly inferior to Rafale’s IRST. To note:

    OSF vs OLS-35
    Range v/s subsonic fighter aircraft: 80 km from front, 130 km from rear vs 50 km from front, 90 km from rear
    ID range: 40 km vs ???

    Visual camera:
    Range v/s fighter aircraft: 45 km vs N/A

    Laser rangefinder:
    Range: 33 km vs 20 km (?)

  4. Hello thx for this interresting article.

    In fact as you are well aware, India was at first really interrested by Rafale. The contract signed had garanted a fixed price, around 10 billions $, and Indians were chieftly interrested by the technologies transferts. At the last minute, suddenttly, frencheese governement -US lobbies behind ?- double the price, and gave up the transfert of technologies. What does it mean ? In fact, France simply gave up the contract with India. India’s option to answer to the Rafale’s manoeuvrability, is their Mig-29, and maybe the upgraded Mig-29 aka Mig-35, with certainly massive technologies transferts, as at first New Dehli is ready to provide much money, and Russia needs money. India is well aware by the fact that Rafale is ahead SU-30MKI, but France did not leave much options. Moreover, India is involved in the SUKHOI Pak FA program, and this country is chieftly interresting by any technology transfert that could help their future AMCA.
    The decision is at first political, and in the next future India won’t foresee any possible conflict either with China, or with Pakistan, as the most lethal threat for the entire world’s peace is US.

    1. I wouldn’t call the US the greatest threat to world’s peace. Russia deserves that title far more 🙂

      France has not reneged on her promise of TOT. As for the PAK FA, it is not really comparable to the Rafale: it’s much bigger (comparable to the F-22 Raptor with which it will compete), much heavier, much less maneuverable, and more expensive. Moreover, Russia has dramatically cut its own order for it; and the PAKFA will not enter service until around 2016 anyway. By then, India can already have most if not all of the 36 Rafales it has just ordered.

      1. I don’t know how much you know about the PAK FA but it’s far cheaper than the f22 80-70 million vs f22’s 150 million.. ..and PAK FA is much more maneuverable than a and also has slightly better armament. . The only thing which is better in f22 is stealth but the Pak fa is not far behind in stealth.. …so it is a better aircraft at half the price. By the way rafale and typhoon may be good on paper but recently in a joint training by Indian Air Force and royal Air Force (uk) the IAF su 30mki won 12-0 against the typhoon. ….even 1 su 30mki shot down 2 typhoons in a dogfight.. .so the su 30mki is not as inferior as you claim. !

  5. Finally, India ordered 36 Rafale instead of 126. As I heard at french tv news 20:00, it was said that France seems to agree to technology transfert.
    India is chieflly searching technology transfert, and they fed up with the price. France, in other hand, needs urgently money, and needs urgently credibilty after the disastrous Mistral contract, froze thanks to US lobbies too.

    1. France agreed to provide a full TOT before India even selected the Rafale in 2012. As for the other 126 aircraft, their sale – and whether Dassault should accept financial liability for the 108 planned to be built in India – the talks are still ongoing.

  6. One thing that somebody, Andrei I believe, noted on my blog: in Russian naming system, odd numbers are for fighters while even numbers are for bombers, transports etc. In other words, Su-30 is not a fighter but rather a self-defensible bomber, basically a Russian equivalent of the F-18E or the F-35. So replacing Rafale with Su-30MKI makes no sense from any perspective.

    1. Not quite: the Tupolev Tu-95 is a heavy intercontinental bomber. BTW, the Su-30 is a designation the Russians invented in the early 1990s as an export trick to convince India to buy those aircraft after India gave up trying to obtain the MiG-31 from Russia.

  7. this is absolute nonsense… how can u say that flanker-h is less maneuverable than rafale

    1. All variants of the Flanker have a much heavier wing loading ratio (thus, their wings carry a much heavier burden) and an inferior thrust/weight ratio. This makes turning much more difficult for them than for the Rafale.

  8. yeah yeah every damn aircraft is the best in the world rest all are shite.

    hey apparently during Red Flag Alaska 2012 Typhoon pilots had Raptors for lunch and the Indian Air Force performed poorly in the massive fully integrated aerial exercises. but come Indradhanush 2015 and the same Sukhois blanked the Typhoons 12-0 (oh please don’t cry over it now, it is possible and it is just not because of TVC but a host of other factors as well) and don’t get me started on Cope India 2004 where the F-15s had their asses handed to them by the entire IAF inventory even the MiG-21 joined in the party.

    So what I can infer is that in close-in combat maneuvers


    So by the same logic applied by you i can infer that the Sukhoi-30 is better than the Typhoon and definitely whoops the Raptor’s ass.

    Oh come man are you kidding me! you pull off some stats from wikipedia and then say a fighter is better just because it’s lighter and has lower wing loading and all the other flight parameters have simply no weightage.

    The Typhoon, Rafale and Gripen belong to the same Eurocanard family and the Rafale is at best similar if not worse than the Typhoon so the Sukhoi according to the above analogy would beat the Rafale by a distance.

    And pls let’s not debate the 12-0 scoreline in 1 vs 1 engagements. it is possible and there’s a lot of material on the web explaining in detail on how it could be achieved and not just due to thrust vectoring.

    the Brits generally have a good sense of humour and had the claims been completely false, would have simply brushed it off as some stupid Indian nationalistic yellow press jingoism and let it die a natural death. but the fact that the RAF and the British MoD being the sore losers that they are went to great lengths to first deny it and then issue an indignant response countering it proves that they had indeed had their asses handed to them on their own plates by the IAF and they just could not come to terms with it.

    my point is the machine is not the be all and end all for winning wars. you can always take a 20 year old jet upgrade it’s avionics, install a more powerful engine, add fancy new extensions on it’s airframe for agility-maneuverability, cut the unnecessary flab to make it lighter at a fraction of the cost of buying a new jet and it’s related infrastructure, and bingo you have a spanking new fleet to take on your enemy.

    but you can never replace the man behind the machine. what ultimately matters is the pilot, his mentality, level of proficiency and training, tactics and strategy and flexibility of command structure. yes technology is the great equalizer but it is individual skill and superior tactics that will always shine through.

    PS: the Indian Air Force has been much maligned for it’s high crash rates due to old jets, faulty engines and poor quality spares. i don’t think anybody has ever considered the fact that the force might be training it’s pilots too hard making it inevitably risky . it’s better to lose an aircraft during training rather than in midst of combat right?

    Qualitatively PAF pilots are held in very high regard in the Indian defense establishment mainly due to the IAFs chastening experience during the 1965 war which were rectified in 1971. Consequently IAF fighter pilot schools hugely stress on DACT and Air Combat Manoeuvring. It helps that India has access to Soviet/Russian, NATO (mainly France to some extent Britain) and Israeli (the real IAF) hardware, personnel, tactics and technological know-how and can choose to employ the best practices. Also it explains why the IAF who got psyched out when PAF acquired the F-16s bought two different fighters to counter it- MiG-29 and Mirage 2000.

    The PLAAF on the other hand is seen to be as a very risk averse force. it’s a fact that if a multi-million dollar aircraft is lost during routine training or exercises the poor Chinese pilot would definitely lose his job. also the fact that their only experience of air combat is the Korean War 65 years back and they have largely had no exposure to Soviet or NATO forces since then raises serious questions about their effectiveness. but only time will answer those questions.

    1. “the Rafale is at best similar if not worse than the Typhoon”

      Wrong. The Rafale is BETTER than the Typhoon. It is more maneuverable, has a much greater combat radius, spends less time on the ground undergoing maintenance, needs fewer meters of runway to take off, has a much smaller thermal sig, is cheaper to buy and operate, is carrier-capable (which the Typhoon is not), and has an AESA radar, which the Typhoon does not and will not have until 2018.

    2. This guy ” zbigniewmazurak ” actually thinks rafales are better than typhoon and f22 ….and a very good point about the training of the pilots.. .USA does not have air superiority due to its fancy planes it’s because it has well trained pilots.

  9. ‘Rafael more manuerrable than such 30 mki’ this shows your poor knowledge about flankers. The only fighter more maneuverable than mki is Russian su35. Your Rafael doesn’t have tvc (maneuverability depends a lot on them).
    You also pointed out that smaller pad or plaaf fighters shall detect mki before hand. Better you study about mki’s radar.

  10. Rubbish. The Rafale is no match for advanced SU30s. Combat range, armaments, thrust vectoring, phased arranged radar? All forgotten? I won’t dispute the French’s capability of making good aircraft. The Mirage5 was a downgraded Mirage3 tho and fell from the skies like autumn leaves in the Middle East and Argentinia. French lobby here?

  11. In one of the above comment I see Manutdfan claiming that PAF pilots are better than IAF pilots. Well, you got to understand, in 1965 and – 1971 to be precise the Pakistanis had the latest planes, the Sabers from the Americans. Indians on the other hand had Gnat planes which were outdated. Definitely, the Sabers were the state of the art American fighter planes but our Gnats brought most of them down and later on The Gnat was referred to as a “Sabre Slayer” by the IAF. Different story now, I guess, India has the best pilots in the world now. The Red Flag was a disaster for the IAF because the West were following the NATO protocol whereas the Indians did not have a clue what they were doing.

    1. @Karan please explain this comment of yours- ‘In one of the above comment I see Manutdfan claiming that PAF pilots are better than IAF pilots’

      Kindly point out as to where have I ‘claimed’ it or even barely implied it. If you can’t then you definitely have a problem and it’s two-fold:
      1) you do not understand the English language hence your inability to comprehend what I actually meant
      2) you have the habit of only looking at a couple of words and then jumping the gun to espouse whatever precious knowledge you possess unaware of what was actually said in the first place

      Technologically IAF was always inferior to PAF till it acquired the Su-30 in the late 90’s. So you need get your history right too.
      IAF got its ass handed out to it in 1965. But it learnt its lessons, got its tactics & strategy right and whooped the PAF’s butt in 1971. Reason- IAF pilots are humble, they not showboats and are always willing to learn from their mistakes. That’s why they are among the best pilots in the world now. They know chest-thumping and false jingoism never helps. What is needed is a calm mind and a steady hand. If India’s armed forces started believing in their own home-spun myth like your good self then God help the country!

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