Indian Air Force to train Vietnamese pilots to fly Sukhoi Su-30 jets

Indian Air Force to train Vietnamese pilots to fly Sukhoi Su-30 jets
Vietnamese pilots will be trained by Indian Air Force instructors in Russian-made Sukhoi Su-30 fighter jets amid bilateral efforts to boost defense ties, Indian media report. Su-30s, in similar versions, form the key part of both countries’ airpower.

An agreement to train Vietnam Air Force pilots in India was reached at a meeting between Indian Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar and his Vietnamese counterpart General Ngo Xuan Lich, the Hindu daily reported on Monday. 

“Details are being worked out. Their pilots will be trained here. The two Air Forces will now sit and work out the numbers and scope. It should start fairly quickly,” a defense source told the major Indian newspaper.

India is already training Vietnamese submarine sailors operating Russian-built Project 636 Varshavyanka, otherwise known as Kilo-class submarines in NATO countries, which Hanoi procured from Russia in 2014.

The Vietnamese were also interested in learning from India’s experience in repair and maintenance of the Su-30s. According to the open sources, Indian Air Force currently operates up to 220 Su-30s domestically assembled by the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited under Russian license.

The Vietnam People's Air Force flies 35 Su-30s supplied by Russia’s Sukhoi Aviation Corporation, as well as up to 10 Su-27 fighter jets and 14 Yakovlev Yak-130 next-generation trainer aircraft. In the meantime, Vietnamese military sought to diversify its aircraft inventory, looking for Western-made combat jets, Reuters reported last year.

Swedish manufacturer Saab, European consortium Eurofighter, the defense wing of Airbus Group as well as US companies Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing were invited to Vietnam to present their offers, the news agency said citing industry sources with direct knowledge of the talks. 

The Vietnamese military’s modernization efforts come very much in line with the country’s involvement into South China Sea territorial row. In mid-November, a US-based think tank Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) reported that Hanoi lengthening a runway and building large hangars on a disputed island in the area, effectively reciprocating Beijing’s actions on neighboring reefs and islets.

Satellite imagery cited by the think tank showed two sizeable hangars on the island capable of housing all types of combat aircraft, including fighter jets, the maritime surveillance aircraft, and transport planes.

Relations between China and India, the world’s most-populous countries and the fastest-growing economies, have been at impasse in the past. Both states engaged into several high-intensity conflicts, and still struggle to settle some border issues.

Meanwhile, defense ties between Hanoi and New Delhi have significantly strengthened over the years. At the defense ministers’ meeting on Tuesday, Parrikar offered “India’s partnership as a reliable player in terms of transfer of technology and building a local defense industry,” according to the Hindu.

The Su-30 is a twin-engine, two-seat multirole fighter aircraft for all-weather, air-to-air and air-to-surface deep interdiction missions. Earlier, several Russian Air Force Su-30s have been deployed to Khmeimim Airbase in Syria to support or take part in airstrikes against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL).