The Belarusian Air Force has begun to receive its first Su-30SM Flanker twin engine heavyweight fighters from Russia – with a dozen ordered to form the elite of the country’s fleet.
Belarus remains the only country in the world to have deployed Su-27 Flankers or their derivatives in significant numbers and subsequently retire them all from front line service, a result of both high operational costs and the growing age of the Soviet built jets.
Approximately 21 Flankers are currently in storage, and the level of interoperability between these and the new jets remains uncertain. The Belarusian Air Force currently relies on enhanced variants of the lighter MiG-29 medium fighters and Su-25 attack jets for its combat fleet – with two squadrons of each in service.
These have been complemented by state of the art air defense systems provided by Russia, including the long ranged S-400 hyper-sonic surface to air missile system which forms a dense network alongside shorter ranged platforms such as the BuK-M2.
While considerably more costly both to acquire and to operate than older platforms, the Su-30SM will provide Belarus with the heaviest fighter jets in Europe – other than those deployed in small numbers to bases on the continent by the USA such as the F-22 Raptor.
The aircraft represents the most advanced variant of the Su-30 design, and are equipped with N011M Bars radar providing a 400 km detection range against fighter sized targets – and reportedly capable of delivering standoff attacks even against stealth targets.
State of the art avionics including a heads up display, and advanced electronic warfare systems, are also included. The fighters are set to be acquired in large numbers by the Russian Air Force itself alongside purchases of the Su-35 and Su-57 single seat air superiority platforms.
The Russian Air Force already received 60 Su-30SM fighters from 2012 to 2016, and a variant of the Su-30SM which integrates the Su-35’s AL-41 engines is also reportedly under development. It remains uncertain whether this will inherit the newer platform’s higher weapons payload and three dimensional thrust vectoring capabilities.
Minsk has on multiple occasions expressed a growing sense of threat at expanding NATO military deployments near its borders, in particular following U.S. plans to open a military base in Poland and Washington’s withdrawal from the INF treaty.
The Su-30SM will provide the Belarusian Air Force with a long range penetrative strike capability, allowing it to engage targets deep behind enemy lines from a wide range of altitudes with up to 8000 kg of advanced guided munitions.
The fighter is also highly capable in an air superiority role, with its extreme maneuverability, payload of up to twelve air to air missiles and powerful sensors allowing it to neutralize targets at both standoff and visual ranges.
It remains uncertain whether the fighters will be able to integrate Russia’s new R-37M hyper-sonic air to air missiles, designed for the Su-57 and Su-35, but it remains highly likely given considerable similarities with the Su-35 and the sophistication of the fighter’s avionics.
The aircraft is considered capable of going head to head with all serving Western fighters, with the possible exception of the American F-22 Raptor, thus providing a vital capability which the Belarusian fleet previously lacked.
Military Watch Magazine / ABC Flash Point News 2020.
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