Asia Defense

India’s Air Force Mulls Arming Su-30MKI Fleet With I-Derby Extended Range Missiles

The Indian Air Force’s Su-30MKI fleet could be armed with the beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile by 2022.

Franz-Stefan Gady
India’s Air Force Mulls Arming Su-30MKI Fleet With I-Derby Extended Range Missiles
Credit: Indian Air Force/Wikimedia Commons

The Indian Air Force is considering arming its fleet of Sukhoi Su-30MKI multirole air superiority fighter jets with the Israeli-made Rafael Advanced Defense Systems I-Derby extended range (ER) beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile (BVRAAM) by 2022, according to local media reports.

The I-Derby ER is expected to replace the aging Russian-made Vympel R-77 (AA-12 “Adder”) air-to-air missiles (AAMs) currently carried by the Su-30MKI. The extended range variant of the missile, manufactured by Israeli defense contractor Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, is fitted with a fire-and-forget guidance system and a software-defined radar seeker. Powered by a dual-pulse solid rocket motor, the I-Derby ER has an estimated range of 100 kilometers and can reach top speeds of Mach 4.

The IAF is already acquiring the I-Derby BVRAAM for its Tejas light combat aircraft (LCA) and repeatedly test fired the missile in the past. It is also considering procuring the extended range version for its Tejas fleet. The service has also been testing the indigenously designed and developed Astra BVRAAM for its Su-30MKI force. According to media reports, the IAF has also been testing the shorter-range Advanced Short Range Air-to-Air Missile (ASRAAM), produced by the European defense consortium MBDA, for the Su-30MKI.

The IAF fleet of Su-30MKIs consists of around 200 aircraft. The first 50 aircraft were built in Russia and delivered to India in fly-away condition. The remaining aircraft have been assembled locally by Indian state-owned aircraft maker Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). As of December 2018, HAL has manufactured 202 Su-30MKI aircraft in India. The IAF has placed production orders with HAL which will bring the total number of Su-30MKIs in service to 272. HAL has also offered to license-produce 40 additional Sukhoi Su-30MKIs; however, no decision has been made to date. The IAF is also considering placing a follow-up order of 18 Su-30MKs, according to media reports.

As I wrote in May 2018:

Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.

The twin-seater, twin-engine Su-30MKI, developed by Russian aircraft maker Sukhoi and license-built in India, constitutes the backbone of the IAF. While the first 50 Su-30 aircraft were built in Russia, the remaining fighter jets were assembled in India. The IAF originally received the older Su-30MK variant from Russia, which the Indian defense industry in partnership with Russian defense companies upgraded to the MKI standard.

Unlike the Russian Su-30SM, the MKI version includes Israeli and French avionics. For example, the aircraft is fitted with a French-made heads-up display system, and an Israeli electronic warfare system and an advanced targeting pod. The Su-30MKI also features AL-37FP thrust-vectoring engines and canard foreplanes for increased maneuverability. HAL and Sukhoi are currently negotiating a contract for the upgrade of older Su-30MKI models in service with the IAF.

The IAF plans to upgrade its fleet of SU-30MKI to “Super Sukhois,” which includes fitting the aircraft with new long-range, precision-strike weapons systems, upgraded engines, and more advanced avionics. 

A number of Su-30MKIs will also be retrofitted to carry the air-launched BrahMos-A supersonic cruise missile. The Indian MoD has not publicly commented on the procurement of the I-Derby ER. Notably, an earlier surface-to-air version of the I-Derby is also part of the IAF’s 18 Spyder-SR air-defense batteries acquired from Rafael in 2008-2009 for an estimated $1 billion.