Rafale vs SU-30MKI: Is It Actually an Upgrade?

There is too much footage being given to the Dassault Rafale by the current government. So much so that it makes you believe that it’s the answer to all our problems. Pandemic, slumping economy, corruption, Rafale would take care of everything from now on, or so it seems like! The reality, however, is often very different from what the current government portraits it to be. While Rafale indeed makes the Indian Air Force stronger, the extent of improvement is not as much as they’re telling you.

Rafale and Su-30 MKI, both are multirole fighter aircraft in the Indian Air Force. While Su-30 MKI is the best of 4th Generation Fighter jets, the Rafale considers itself a 4.5 generation fighter jet since it has better stealth than those of 4th generation jets. These aircraft are used for Close Air Support (CAS), Deep Air Support (DAS), Suppression of Enemy Air Defense (SEAD), Air to Surface attack, Air to air combat. These jets are going to be used for similar tasks, however, these are vastly different.


Size
Rafale vs Su 30

Rafale is almost 25-30% smaller in size and almost 40% lighter than Su-30mki. That essentially differentiates both these aircraft in terms of flight and fuel efficiency.


Engine

Rafale: 2 × Snecma M88-2 turbofans, 50.04 kN (11,250 lbf) thrust each dry, 75 kN (17,000 lbf) with afterburner

Su-30 Mki : 2 × Lyulka AL-31FP afterburning turbofan, 123 kN (28,000 lbf) with afterburner

Both these jets are twin-engined aircraft. Su-30 MKI has a more powerful jet engine than the Rafale. It also means however that while Rafale gives a fuel economy of 0.70 km/l, Su-30 Mki can only manage 0.23 km/l.

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Build Quality

Despite going toe to toe with the US with a fraction of their defence budget, Russians have never cared about build quality. Maybe that is how they keep the cost low. Su-30 MKI is no different. So far India has lost 7 Su-30 MKIs to crashes. The jet is so plagued with issues that the Indian Air Force is never at full potential since most jets are under maintenance all of the time. This is where the Rafales pose a huge advantage over the Sukhois. The French are known for their good build quality and Rafale shows that. Egypt and Qatar also use the Rafales in there respective Air Force and no issues have been reported by them, unlike the Su-30MKI.


Speed and Maneuverability

With a substantially more powerful engine, the Su-30 MKI can fly faster at high altitudes (Mac 2.0 vs Mach 1.8). At low altitudes, however, both have similar speeds (Mach 1.09 vs Mach 1.1).

Thrust vectoring

The Su-30 Mki has two-plane thrust vectoring nozzles mounted at the engine. By changing the direction of the exit the aircraft is able to manoeuvre in a fashion that’s physics-defying. It’s one of the Su-30s party tricks. Click on the below video and go to 4:40 to see it in action.

Rafale manoeuvres itself with the help of delta wings and electronics that makes it agile but not as good as the Su-30 in dogfights.


Technology
Rafale technology

Rafale is far superior in avionics and equipment than the Su-30MKI. The Rafale core avionics systems employ an integrated modular avionics (IMA), called MDPU (modular data processing unit). This architecture hosts all the main aircraft functions such as the flight management system, data fusion, fire control, and the man-machine interface. The Rafale spends 30% of the entire cost on its radar, electronic communications and self-protection equipment.

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Su-30 MKI has 4th generation radars and self-protection equipment which are not comparable to that of Rafale.

Weapon Capability

Rafale has 13-14 hardpoints compared to 12 on the Su-30 MKI. Hardpoints are locations on the frame where a load such as bombs, missiles can be attached. Rafale could carry more number of armaments under its wings. While both could carry a number of air-to-air, air-to-surface and anti-ship missiles, the ones on Rafale are more advanced and hence better. It also carried a better array of radars and other equipment.

Rafale also has a ASMP-A nuclear missile, which is missing from Su-30MKI.


Cost to Run and Maintain

Rafale costs Rs 1670 crore per unit if you believe the opposition and Rs 670 crore if you believe the current government. Dassault’s CEO, Éric Trappier said that India’s total included costs for Mirage 2000 support. He also said that India’s deal included after-sales support which was absent from other countries’ deals. In this highly opinionated world pick the number that suits your narrative.

Su-30 MKI costed Rs 358 Crore in 2014.

In simple terms, Rafale can be described as a small fighter jet with very good build quality and latest technology. Whereas the Su-30 Mki can be described as a big fighter jet with the Russian build quality and slightly old technology.

The bigger engine size with thrust vectoring technology gives Su-30 higher top speed and better manoeuvrability. It however also means that the plane needs a lot of fuel to run on. Rafale is compact and fuel-efficient which means it would cost less to run. Add to that the far better build quality of the Rafale and it would cost less to run and maintain. While the outright speed and manoeuvrability make Su-30 Mki a better fighter jet in a dog fight, the Rafale is a more rounded multirole jet fighter.

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Final Thoughts

If Rafale is bought at Rs 670 Crore per unit, they sure are an upgrade over the current Su-30 MKI but if the price of a single unit is Rs 1,670, we should have spent our money somewhere else.