General Alexander Kharchevsky, as synonymous with the Su-30SM

Major General Alexander Kharchevsky in the cockpit of Su-30SM fighter 

Major General Alexander Kharchevsky is arguably one of the most famous military pilots of Russia extant and his name is synonymous with that of the Sukhoi Su-30SM. General Kharcheevsky became a household name in Russia in 2000 when he piloted a Su-27UB twin-seater, with Vladmir Putin, then acting President of Russia as its second crew member. 

The General was for about 20 years commander of the Russian Air Force’s Centre for Combat Employment and Retraining of Personnel VVS which is a research, training and instructional centre. He also formed, trained and then led the famous aerobatic team Russian Falcons, first equipped with Su-27 and later with Su-30SMs, which he describes a “gift of his fate”, being the latest avatar of the family of Su-30MKI super-maneuverable multi-role fighter which has out performed western fighter types in simulated combat at various air exercises.

Manufactured by IRKUT, the Su-30SM fighter was developed to meet requirements of the Russian Air Force, the prototype making its maiden flight in September 2012. The multirole Su-30SM can be deployed in counter-air strikes, counter-land and counter-sea missions, can conduct electronic counter-countermeasures and early warning tasks. The aircraft also acts as a command-and-control platform within a formation of combat aircraft in joint missions.

In 2015, General Kharchevsky formally retired from service at the age of 65 with his flying career spanning more than 45 years. An interview :

Sir, you were involved in development of the Su-30SM  before this type aircraft became operational with  the Russian Aerospace Forces. What is your  perception of  this combat aircraft?

Some time back, I used to fly a Su-30MKI fighter, which became the precursor of an entire family of combat aircraft, including the Su-30SM. The aircraft made an exceptional impression on me, having all the performances that are necessary for a modern fighter. Ever since I started flying, I have dreamt of flying an aircraft that exactly fulfills one’s desires : Success in air battle  completely depends on this. The Su-30MKI become such an aircraft whose pilot does not need to think on how to enter combat, increase speed and altitude. The super maneuverability of the aircraft and its computerised systems permit the employment of weapons at any angle of attack, speed and altitude.

What was your position and  experience at that time ?

I was in charge of the Centre for Combat Employment and Retraining of Personnel. My experience as a fighter pilot exceeded 30 years, had flown all the fighters that were in service in Russia, so could compare. It must be noted, that I and many other pilots at this Centre had experience in air combat exercising against the best foreign fighters including American ones. We knew the strengths and weaknesses of our fighters and of their rivals.

How did Russian fighters perform against their competitors?

During the 1990s, in terms of flight characteristics and accordingly, in close combat, our 4th generation fighters out performed their foreign counterparts, but their avionics at that time lagged behind the western ones. With launching of  the Su-30MKI/SM family of fighters, this situation changed radically. Because of the airborne phased-array radar and armament control system, we were able to hit targets well beyond visual range. With new avionics and weapons, the aircraft became multifunctional.

Did you follow development of the Su-30MKI in India?

Of course, we were particularly pleased on receiving information about the excellent performance of Indian pilots (flying Su-30MKIs) during international exercises. We in Russia were proud of the Su-30MKI’s performance and have great respect for skills of IAF pilots, many of whom we knew personally. We understand how difficult it is to operate in foreign skies, over unknown terrain, in an unfamiliar environment after long, intercontinental flights, especially when one’s opponent is resident, and familiar with his environment.  As a commander who has trained hundreds of military pilots, how would you feel about Su-30SM fighters performance in combat environment. 

Both the military leadership of Russia and the pilots themselves, very well appreciate effectiveness of the Su-30SM. These aircrafts were employed for fighter escort, carrying out attacks against surface targets as also continuously maintaining surveillance against airborne aerial threats including unmanned aerial vehicles. Su-30SMs were also used for special tasks and also escorted for aircraft to Russian President Vladimir Putin during his visit to combat zones. Mr. Yuri Borisov, deputy prime minister of Russia, has particularly pointed out the effectiveness of Su-30SMs during counter-terrorist operations, exceeding the operational criteria by three to four times. It must be noted that this performance was carried out while aircraft were operating in isolation, far from their basis bases and in adverse climatic conditions.

In summary, and as such an experienced pilot, how would you improve the Su-30SM?

For me, the Su-30SM was a gift of my fate. However, even the most advanced contemporary system would be improved. Earlier, one would look at means to improve the fighter’s performance, working on increasing the engine thrust, inducting a range of  high-precision weapons and EW systems. Today, I must say with satisfaction, that much activity in these areas is underway in Russia and we see positive results already.