Myanmar to Buy Six Sukhoi Su-30 “Generation 4+” Combat Aircraft from Russia

Multirole Sukhoi to Become Primary Combat Aircraft of Myanmar Air Force.

Myanmar has confirmed its commitment to purchase six new Russian-built Sukhoi Su-30 multi-role advanced tactical aircraft. Russian news agency TASS quoted the Russian Deputy Defense Minister, Lt. Gen Alexander Fomin, as saying the new Su-30s will, “become the main fighter aircraft of Myanmar’s air force”.

Myanmar, bordered by China, India, Laos, Thailand and Bangladesh, currently operates a significant number of MiG-29 aircraft, quoted as being around 39 aircraft with little reliable information about how many are combat-ready. According to reports from several Asian and western media outlets including FlightGlobal.com, Myanmar also may have orders for 16 Chengdu/Pakistan Aeronautical Complex JF-17 fighters.

Although no detail about the Sukhoi Su-30 variant that Myanmar will operate has been made public, some sources believe it will probably be a version closely related to the Su-30SME  unveiled at the Singapore Airshow in 2016. When the Su-30SME export version for Singapore was announced at the Singapore Airshow, Irkut Corporation President Oleg Demchenko was quoted by Jane’s Defense as saying, “The Su-30SME is an upgraded modern platform based on Russian equipment. As the basic Russian Su-30SM version develops, the capabilities of the export Su-30SME will also expand.” This claimed modular expandability is a feature of the U.S. F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program and is attractive to potential buyers since it provides an open-source, modular approach to keeping tactical aircraft current in technology and capabilities.

According to data published by Jane’s Defense, the Sukhoi Su-30SME export version, likely similar to the version that will go to Myanmar, will have a normal take-off weight of 26,090 kg. and a max take-off of 34,000 kg. Interestingly, the quoted thrust in Jane’s Defense was 25,000 kg, putting the thrust-to-weight ratio of the Su-30SME below 1:1. Operational range is quoted as 1,280 km and top speed is said to be Mach 1.75.

Jane’s Defense tells us the Su-30SME uses two AL-31FP afterburning jet engines with thrust vectoring nozzles for enhanced directional control. The combination of two of these powerplants on the SU-30SME give the aircraft a combat payload of up to 8,000 kg spread among 12 external hardpoints on the fuselage and wings.

If there is one area the Su-30SME and related versions may be down-speced relative to western counterparts it may be avionics connectivity, or the ability to share data gathered by the aircraft’s sensors with other aircraft and weapons systems. As described, the avionics suite of the Su-30SME sounds like an essentially “closed loop” system without mention of datalink capability, a potential force-multiplier. The Su-30SME can carry externally mounted infrared and laser targeting pods for ground target acquisition and terminal precision weapon guidance. The fire control radar can acquire and track 15 targets simultaneously in air-to-air mode while being able to manage four attacks simultaneously. Passive, non-emitting sensors on the Su-30SME include an electro-optical targeting sensor combined with a laser inertial navigation system. There is also a helmet-mounted target designator, and satellite GPS navigation system compatible with the GLONASS and NAVSTAR formats. It is likely, however, that if a datalink system in not already available among the avionics suite for the Su-30SME and related versions, that capability will likely be developed soon.

A Sukhoi Su-30 on display at the MAKS airshow. (Photo: Sukhoi)

Anyway, whatever the version Myanmar will get, the sale of these six Su-30s is significant not only because of the country’s history and role in the region, which is somewhat volatile; more significantly it continues a significant run of sales successes for the Russian aircraft industry.

But while the Russians have seen unit sale growth in their military aircraft exports, their “ticket average” or cost per aircraft unit sale still trails the U.S. Those lower ticket averages per aircraft may be a part of their success. Russia has been able to offer highly capable tactical aircraft to countries that cannot participate in most western defense consortiums for both economic and political reasons. As the air forces of some African and Asian countries have become obsolete and degraded by age the new Russian military empire formed after the collapse of the Soviet Union has moved in to fill the supply vacuum of military aircraft.

However, the dollar volumes (if not unit numbers) worldwide still favor the United States aircraft suppliers. Five of the top six arms producing companies in gross sales as reported in 2006 were US-headquartered companies. All were primarily aerospace. Those companies were Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and General Dynamics. That trend has continued after 2010 with the introduction of massive programs like the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, often quoted as the most expensive defense project in history.

There was no mention of the date of delivery for the six aircraft to Myanmar or if there would be a potential for follow-on acquisition of more aircraft. An interesting mention in the Myanmar Times on Jan. 23, 2018 said that the aircraft will be, among the others, “suitable for Myanmar’s counter-insurgency operations.” That may hint at some of the aircraft’s tasking in the region, even though the Yak-130 advanced jet trainer/light attack aircraft that Myanmar Air Force already flies (six out of 12 examples have already been delivered) is probably more suitable to undertake that kind of mission.

Top image credit: TASS

About Tom Demerly 513 Articles
Tom Demerly is a feature writer, journalist, photographer and editorialist who has written articles that are published around the world on TheAviationist.com, TACAIRNET.com, Outside magazine, Business Insider, We Are The Mighty, The Dearborn Press & Guide, National Interest, Russia’s government media outlet Sputnik, and many other publications. Demerly studied journalism at Henry Ford College in Dearborn, Michigan. Tom Demerly served in an intelligence gathering unit as a member of the U.S. Army and Michigan National Guard. His military experience includes being Honor Graduate from the U.S. Army Infantry School at Ft. Benning, Georgia (Cycle C-6-1) and as a Scout Observer in a reconnaissance unit, Company “F”, 425th INF (RANGER/AIRBORNE), Long Range Surveillance Unit (LRSU). Demerly is an experienced parachutist, holds advanced SCUBA certifications, has climbed the highest mountains on three continents and visited all seven continents and has flown several types of light aircraft.

19 Comments

  1. “The only combat aircraft built in greater quantities is F-16…”
    ( Ilya Kurenkov )

    Ilya, you confused me. The most produced jet of any type in history is the MiG-21, even if one doesn’t count its interminable list of derivatives, many of which were recently still in limited production in China. The only other jet coming close in numbers is the ubiquitous Boeing 737.

    The 21 is the most prolific aircraft in history. It has created and inspired more versions, variants, modifications and derivatives than any other airplane, including the DC-3 and the Spitfire put together.

    The F-16 is the US most produced jet fighter and the world’s most numerous fighter currently in service. The second most numerous fighter in service in the world today and the one used by the most countries is- believe it or not – the “Flying Kalashnikov” MiG-21.

    And to top it, in my not humble opinion, after 69+ years admiring aircraft (mainly airplanes), the 21 paints “the” most beautiful, sleek and sexy integral siluette in flight (not all variants and not from all angles though. The F-13 and the PFL versions were the best looking. The latest ones -shown in the videos- got a bit too chubby, chunky and way less graceful due to the added dorsal fuel tanks; but still have that unique tailed-delta, long (lancer) Pitot, raked empennage and anti-flutter-mass tipped stabilators). Don’t die before seeing it in action. 🤗

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=TCm3fYQezUQ

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?t=188s&v=7yh1N8hvuQM

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=mP4zhVBcfVE

    I’ve seem them all in the air and on the ground. The only one that comes close in looks is the Mirage III / Mirage V. And the 21 is the only one that sitting on the ground or taxiing, looks like it is going supersonic. Unfortunately, it only happens when you see it “in person”.

    The most elegant: Concorde; the most beautiful propeller fighter: P-51D-25 Mustang; the sleekest of them all: a toss between the YF-12 Blackbird and the X-3 Stiletto.

    Sorry for the “rant”. Just could not help sharing some (off-topic) emotive opinions with you.

    Best!

    • You are correct when speaking about total figures, but my intention was to count modern 4Gen+ combat planes, and here We should take into consideration only recent modifications of F-15 and F-16.
      But it’s interesting how your comment corresponds with my thoughts.
      We’re living in XXI century, but Air Forces around the world still use mostly combat airplanes which were designed in sixties and seventies. F-16s, F-15s, Mirages, MiG-21, etc. etc. Moreover, China still uses derivatives of MiG-19 and Tu-16, and B-52s have all the chances to stay in active service for 70 years.
      The number of truly modern aircraft, designed and put into mass production in last 20-25 years is actually quite small, and Su-30 is among them. And the almost seven hundreds of produced and sold Flanker-Cs is quite an achievement for a country, which economy was almost destroyed after fall of Soviet Union, and which still still has to live under sanctions of all kinds applied by US of A and its satellites.

      MiG-21 is a true classic indeed, but I personally prefer Su-17 family. It’s not as sleek as MiG, but looks menacing, true war machine with its avionics “hump” and swing wings.
      http://imgproc.airliners.net/photos/airliners/8/6/3/0496368.jpg?v=v40

  2. Just think. Su-27 through Su-35, and not a single model would likely survive an encounter with an F-22 or F-35. Those vertical stabs would light up an APG-77 or APG-81 AESA radar like they were flying barn doors.

    Judas H. Priest, U.S. 5th Gen taking on any number of Sukhois or even MiGs would be another Marianas Turkey Shoot! I feel sorry for the saps having to fly them should a conflict break out. Talk about a one-sided fight! lol!! : )

    • “Su-27 through Su-35, and not a single model would likely survive an encounter with an F-22 or F-35”
      Not a single model older than Su-27SM.
      Not that there are much of these in service.
      “Those vertical stabs would light up an APG-77 or APG-81 AESA radar like they were flying barn doors”
      Please.Radar range against F-22 sized target,for older models is about as long as missile envelope.For newer it’s FAR longer.

    • They are actually bigger than barn doors but stealth for a fighter was a dumb idea from the beginning. Flankers are relatively easy to detect but hard to lock, because they have serious ECM gear. And missile probability of kill is different against a Sukhoi pilot that knows what he is doing.

  3. “And no,F-35 isn’t fifth-gen.It’s fourth-gen airframe with fifth-gen avionics.”

    > so by that standard the Su-30 is a 3rd gen aircraft with gen 3 avionics while the PAKFA is a 3.5 gen with 3rd gen avionics…

  4. Yep! Good looking guy. Shame for the “trendy” shark mouth.
    Experience taught me that there is technical beauty and there is aesthetic beauty.

    Technical beauty is mostly perceived by the trained eye and is, mainly, professional admiration for a pleasant technological composition. An example: a lot of people, including some of its pilots, find the Phantom ugly. Aesthetically it is; but I find it beautiful, especially the aft fuselage with its intelligent stabilators (they do what the 21 solved with the addition of a ventral fin). I’ve touched it in admiration.

    The 21, in flight, has the beauty of flight itself. Like an arrow. The Phantom in flight is a sight of power, as the Su-17, you see a machine. The 21 is pure grace when seen in planview, especially with the afterburner on, and its expansion white diamonds. The Su-9 is a bigger application of the 21’s tailed delta configuration; but it lacks the “angel” of the 21. That angel, that widens the eyes of non-Aviation adults and children, is pure aesthetic beauty. I’ve seen that expresión even in my own, old-geezer’s face.

    But then, as we all know: “Beauty is in the eye of the Beer-holder” :)

    P.S. It seems the best video I posted for you (BIAS 2016) was missent by me. It is
    in YouTube.

    • “The 21, in flight, has the beauty of flight itself”
      In a town where one of my vacation houses is there is a memorial MiG-21 near the entrance.
      Sitting under it reading is one of my favorite ways to pass the time during vacation.
      For something designed in the 50s it’s certainly a thing of beauty.

    • Ilya, here is the post I missent. The video is better than the other ones. I know that coming this late, it may be somewhat boring or even annoying, but you may just save it and watch it many years from now. Then it may be like a bit of history. :)

      “….Sorry I posted the middle video by mistake. I meant to use the one below, from the same Bucharest ( Romania) air show, but in 2016.
      Here you can see how fat it got, but still appreciate its unique planview and the aesthetic dynamic effect that the air intake center conus adds. Remember, this aircraft flew for the first time almost 65 years ago with sweptwings and delta wings. Designed as a Point Interceptor ( like the F-104 and EE Lightning ) it entered service in 1959. Four countries built it (14500+) and because of those numbers, it cost less than a BTR-1 amphibious, armored infantry car. The Romanian update, shown in the videos, has a full glass cockpit and modern avionics with eye cueing missiles ( not sure ). One Chinese variant has double delta wings, not appealing to my eyes, but probably more agile. The genealogic tree from the Chinese 21s is almost as big as the Soviet one and more radical. They even have a twin-engine version and a couple with solid noses.

      Finally, it was the MiG-21 (AFAIK) the first aircraft to incorporate the voice cockpit alert system. They called it “Natasha”, for they found that a female voice was more supportive than a male one in an emergency. Everybody uses them today.

      https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=a4qdtGQ3peI

      Best!

  5. Almost all Russian fighters today do use Datalinking (TKS-2/R-098 (Tipovyi Kompleks Svyazi) Intra Flight Data Link (IFDL)
    The TKS datalink is used by fighters (Su-27/Su-30/MiG-29SMT) and the 5U15K-11 datalink is used by MiG-31’s.
    They can link up with other fighters, A-50 AWACS, ground stations and SAM’s.

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