Sukhoi 30 may get AI in new cockpit design

Sukhoi 30 may get AI in new cockpit design

Sukhoi Su-30 MKI. Credit: AFP Photo

The Sukhoi Su-30 MKI may be the tip of the Indian military’s spear but with the aircraft’s systems rapidly showing their age, scientists and engineers are working on improvements. 

Among developments is a new Artificial Intelligence-infused cockpit being built by the state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) on its own initiative which can execute commands based on the spoken word. 

Speaking to DH, project scientists from HAL Nashik, where the “proof of concept” prototype was made, said that the project had begun in November 2019 to show how the existing analogue cockpit of the Russian-made fighter aircraft could be upgraded. 

The new cockpit dispenses with a number of analogue gauges and switches populating the cockpit’s front panel, in favour of customisable digital screens, a project scientist said. 

“The heart of the cockpit upgrade, however, is a new Artificial Intelligence system which can carry out commands said by the crew,” he added. 

Pressing a thumb button located on the left-hand side of the cockpit activates the Voice Activated Controller System (VACS), a 2.7-kg unit which uses AI to understand verbal commands. “For example, if the crew pressed the button and said ‘altitude and position’, the AI system would verbally inform the crew about their current altitude and position. The system has a set of pre-built commands, including weapons selection,” an engineer involved in the project said. 

The AI is also instrumental in understanding the various accents spoken in India, he added, clarifying that the system had 98% speech recognition accuracy. 

HAL said it had not yet attached a cost estimate to the upgrade. It said the glass cockpit came with a weight reduction. Although the prototype made use of some overseas components, the company said that the cockpit would be 100% indigenised in the subsequent iterations.

The combat viability of Su-30 was thrown into sharp relief at the Electronic Warfare Asia symposium in Singapore when retired Air Marshal Daljit Singh commented that several components of the aircraft were becoming obsolete. 

Singh’s comments were limited to the aircraft’s electronic warfare suite and the NIIP N011M Bars radar, a passive electronically scanned array system that offers the crew inferior situational awareness compared to an active scanned array. Singh expressed concern that the aircraft’s large radar cross-section would require augmentation of its wingtip.

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