Origins of the Algerian Su-30MKA: How Africa’s Most Dangerous Fighter Jet Was Born Su-30MKA heavyweight twin engine fighter today forms the backbone of the Algerian Air Force’s fixed wing combat fleet, and since entering service in 2009 has provided the country with the leading fighter on the African continent with capabilities that have very few rivals in the region. The Su-30 was developed as a twin seat derivative of the Su-27 Flanker air superiority fighter with next generation avionics, a much longer range and greater versatility. The MKA variant ordered by Algeria was heavily enhanced using technologies from the  cancelled Su-35 and Su-37 air superiority fighters including the Su-37’s N-O11M radar – one of the first ever electronically scanned array radars integrated onto a fighter – as well as the Su-35’s controlled canards, AL-31FP engines and thrust vectoring nozzles. With the Su-27 having been considered the premier air superiority fighter of the Cold War era, the new Su-30MKA improved on this performance very significantly. 

Algeria was able to acquire Su-30MKAs at a relatively low risk since development work for such enhanced Su-30 variants had already been completed to meet the needs of the Indian Air Force, with the Indian Su-30MKI which entered service from 2002 being near identical to the MKA variant and widely considered the world’s most capable fighter at the time. The primary difference between the two variants was the removal of Israeli avionics used on the Indian aircraft due to longstanding hostilities between Algiers and Tel Aviv. A primary competitor for a place in the future Algerian fleet was the French Rafale lightweight fighter, which came at a similar cost but was significantly cheaper to operate over its lifetime due to its much smaller size and lower maintenance needs. The superior performance of the Su-30, however, meant it was considered worth the additional cost after both fighters were tested in Algeria. 

The first Su-30MKAs were ordered as part of a major $8 billion deal signed in 2006, with 28 purchased alongside Yak-130 trainers and a range of other hardware. Although Algeria had initially intended to acquire a smaller number of Flankers and build a fleet primarily around enhanced MiG-29s with similarly advanced avionics and weapons, Russia was at the time only offering Soviet built MiG airframes brought up to a modern standard rather than newly built airframes leading Algeria to return the initial production units and exchange them for more Su-30s. The result was an increase in the Su-30 order to 44 airframes which was arranged in 2010. The 2006 contract marked the beginning of serious investment in modernisation of Algerian aerial warfare capabilities, and was followed by an order for 14 more Su-30MKA airframes in 2015 bringing the fleet up to 58 aircraft. 

It was clear from the outset that Algeria intended its Su-30 fleet to be capable of operating in a wide range of roles. For air to air combat the 2006 contract alone included 350 R-73 and 250 R-77 air to air missiles, with hundreds more purchased afterwards. These were supplemented by the most capable Russian air launched cruise missile classes for anti shipping and strike roles – namely 125 each of the Kh-31M and Kh-59, which were followed by hundreds more cruise missiles including air defence suppression variants of the Kh-31. 16 more Su-30MKA fighters were ordered in 2019 alongside 14 lighter MiG-29M fighters, with the former bringing the Su-30 fleet up to over 70 airframes. Aerial warfare capabilities have been an important priority for Algeria since the NATO war effort against neighbouring Libya in 2011 made deterring possible Western attacks critical, with the Western threat seen to remain high. The fact that no European state fields comparable heavyweight fighters has made the Su-30MKA a particularly attractive option, although as Algeria’s potential adversaries move to field larger numbers of American supplied F-35 stealth fighters, which are expected to become fully operational in the mid 2020s, the superiority enjoyed by the Flankers is expected to diminish. The possibility of Algeria modernising the Su-30 fleet with next generation avionics and weapons, including possibly Irbis-E radars or some kind of AESA radar, as well as R-77M and R-37M air to air missiles, remains high. The fleet is also expected to be  by the Su-27’s next generation successor the Su-57, which are among the new assets that could serve as force multipliers for Su-30 units. A $7 billion Russian-Algerian arms deal reportedly signed in 2021 is speculated to include upgrades for the Su-30 fleet and the country’s first Su-57 fighters.