Engine Transplant Problems Delaying Russian Su-30SM2 Aircraft Development

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Problems encountered while transplanting the AL-41F-1S engine from the Su-35 fighter into the more popular Su-30SM aircraft could be delaying the development of Su-30SM2 jet dubbed ‘Super Sukhoi’.

The Russian ministry of defense (MoD) has already signed a contract for the supply of some 24 Su-30s in the SM2 version. This was announced last year by Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu who had stated that the first flight of the Su-30SM2 would take place at the end of 2020. However, till date, there is no word whether a test-flight-ready Su-30SM2 has been assembled.

As part of the modernization, the developers are solving the problem of installing the AL-41F-1S engine on the Su-30SM2, which is equipped with the super-maneuverable Su-35S fighters,Isvestia newspaper reported over the weekend.

The project to upgrade the Su-30SM to the SM2 level has been going on since 2015, when domestic engineers began to work on increasing the combat capabilities of the Su-30SM. Later, President Putin ordered to unify the Su-30SM and Su-35S “as much as possible.”

Quoting sources in the MoD, Izvestia stated that a fundamental decision to modernize the Su-30SM fleet to the SM2 level has already been made. It is planned that the work will be completed by 2027. However, an earlier report in the same publication had stated that some of the modernized aircraft, for the Russian military’s Naval Aviation, would be ready by 2022.

While the AL-41F-1S engine is one of the modernization elements, its successful installation will open the doors for the installation of the Irbis radar (also from the Su-35) and new air-to-ground hypersonic weapons being developed as  part of the “Adapation-Su” project, which aims at developing altogether new weapons for the Su-class of warplanes.

Compared to the current AL-31FP power plant of the Su-30SM, the AL-41F-1S’ thrust has been increased by 16%, up to 14,500 kgf. The service life of the aircraft engine will be doubled at up to 4 thousand hours, without increasing the mass and dimensions.

The reasoning behind upgrading the Su-30SM to the level of the Su-35 could stem from upgrading the large number of Su-30s in Russian service besides with export customers. While the Su-35 has not found many takers (China and Egypt are the only two known customers), the S-30 has several including its biggest customer, India along with Malaysia, Algeria and China to name a few.

Russia has been trying to get India interested in the SM2 version as deep modernization of the Su-30MKI aircraft. However, the level of interest from the Indian side is unclear. India is yet to sign up on a deal to buy some 12 Su-30MKI jets, approval for which was  received from the country’s Defence Acquisition Council in 2020.