Russia Wants Over 100 New Su-30SM2 Fighters: Why They Could be the Last ‘Flankers’ it Ever Receives

The Russian Military has begun to receive its first squadron of a new class of fighter aircraft in seven years, with the Su-30SM2 aircraft beginning to enter service in the Navy and on order for the Air Force. The fighter is a modernisation of the Su-30SM which has been entering service in considerable numbers since the early 2010s and currently forms the backbone of the Russian fighter fleet with an estimated 130 Su-30SMs currently in service, over 80 percent of which serve in the Russian Air Force. The Su-30SM was a significant modernisation of the Su-30 design which first began serial production in the 1990s, but which was fielded only by export clients until the 2010s due to the state of financing in the Russian military. The aircraft is derived from the Su-30MKI developed for the Indian Air Force, which combined the basic Su-30 design with features from the Su-35 program for a superior performance in air to air combat. This included thrust vectoring engines for improved manoeuvrability. The Su-30SM2 improves on this by integrating the AL-41F-1S engine, the same as that used by the Su-35S, which provides a 16 percent more thrust for a much improved flight performance as well as greater fuel efficiency for a higher endurance. The Su-30SM2 also integrates a new radar, reportedly the Su-35’s Irbis-E, although some sources have indicated that it relies on the less capable N011M Bars-R which is less costly.

The Su-30 is derived from the Su-27 Flanker heavyweight air superiority aircraft which first joined the Soviet Air Force in 1985, and inherits from but significantly improves on the aircraft’s very long range and high manoeuvrability. Its endurance and manoeuvrability surpasses that of any Western fighter, and for the SM/SM2 variant its air to air engagement range of 400km is double or more that of the most capable Western aircraft. The Su-30SM2 may be the last new derivative of the Flanker design the Russian Military fields, as it moves on to a new generation of designs based on the Su-57 Felon aircraft and possibly a lighter aircraft based on the S-75 Checkmate program. The aircraft is expected to be fielded in large numbers with all Su-30SM fighters reportedly expected to be modernised to the standard and a few dozen more built as Su-30SM2s. Newly built airframes are expected to replace ageing Su-27 Flankers in the Russian Air Force, and Su-24M strike fighters in the Navy. The first Su-30SM2 squadron will reportedly be deployed to Kaliningrad, a small enclave surrounded by NATO members states on the Baltic Sea, with this particularly sensitive location indicating a great deal of faith in the new design. 

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