How Capable is Russia’s Prized Su-30 Heavyweight Fighter? Ranking the Seven Operational Variants - Part Two

Continued from Part One

Su-30M2 - Russia 

One of the least widely used of the modern Su-30 variants, only 19 Su-30M2 fighters are currently in service all of which are used by the Russian Air Force. The aircraft completed factory flight tests in 2010 after four airframes were ordered the previous year, and are optimised for air to ground and anti-shipping roles using precision-guided weaponry. 16 more would be ordered in 2012. The aircraft are currently used for training purposes, with the Su-30’s standard twin-seat configuration making it well suited to such a role. 

The fighter is derived from the Su-30MKI developed for India, but has significantly watered down capabilities compared to the Su-30SM which the Russian Air Force would eventually favor and is considered inferior to the Su-30MKI. Other than the Su-30SM, it is the only Su-30 variant currently in Russian service, and represented the first time Russia showed significant interest in aa 21st century Su-30 variant. 

Some Western sources have claimed that Russia's decision to purchase the Su-30SM was influenced by the need to keep the Komsomolsk-on-Amur Aircraft Plant in business.

Su-30MK2 — Venezuela, China, Vietnam,, Uganda, Indonesia

The Su-30MK2 was the most capable early variant of the Su-30 preceding the Su-30MKI which revolutionized the program. It was very closely derived from the Su-30MKK but built on it with improved avionics — most notably features affecting its command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance capabilities. This included a new mission computer, communications systems, cockpit displays and the new Sokol radar that China reportedly jointly funded. 

The radar can engage 50% more targets simultaneously and has a larger antenna array, and notably has double the range against naval surface targets which optimises the fighter for a maritime strike role. The Su-30MK2 also benefits from the addition of electro-optical pods such as the Sapsan-E targeting pod and M400 reconnaissance pod. 

China was the first client for the aircraft and signed a contract for two dozen fighters, which would bring its Su-30 fleet to 97 airframes with the first deliveries made in 2004. All Su-30MK2s would be fielded by the country’s navy due to their optimisation for maritime strike roles. Modified variants of the aircraft were subsequently sold to Vietnam, Uganda, Venezuela and Indonesia, and those in Venezuela have long been considered the most capable fighters in Latin America. 

Su-30MKK — China

Commissioned by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in 1997 in response to the Taiwan Strait Crisis, which saw the U.S. Navy sail a carrier strike group less than 100km from the Chinese coast as a show of force against which China had little capability to respond, the Su-30MKK was developed specifically to meet China’s requirements. It was widely considered the most capable fighter in the world at the time. 

China already operated several dozen Su-27 fighters and was producing these under license domestically, but the performance gap between the Su-27SK and the Su-30MKK particularly in terms of sensors and avionics was very considerable. Chinese Premier Li Peng signed a $1.8 billion contract to purchase 38 fighters, making them significantly more expensive than the Su-27s, with further orders bringing the fleet up to 73 aircraft. 

State-of-the-art long-range communication systems, fly-by-wire controls, a glass cockpit, heads-up display, helmet-mounted sights, state-of-the-art mission computers, and navigation systems capable of utilizing both the GPS and GLONASS were among the features included on the fighters. They made use of a significantly higher percentage of composite materials relative to other Su-30 variants, and new aluminium alloys helped to reduce their weight while carbon fibre composite rudders increased their strength. 

The fighters were a game changer for China’s strike and maritime strike capabilities, although today they are among the older and less capable jets in the Chinese fleet. 

Su-30K — Angola

A leading client for Russian fighters in sub-Saharan Africa, Angola acquired 12 Su-30K fighters with the first delivered in September 2017, with these purchased second hand after seeing brief service in the Indian Air Force before being returned to Russia and exchanged for the more capable Su-30MKI. The fighters have reportedly been heavily upgraded in Belarus, however, to bring them up to the Su-30SM standard, with their final designation remaining unknown. 

How comprehensive these upgrades have been remaining uncertain, but considering that $1 billion was paid for the twelve aircraft enhancements were likely very comprehensive including new avionics, sensors and engines. The original Su-30K was the earliest and most basic variant of the fighter to be offered for export.

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