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Red & blue flash in Indo-US thunder
- Military ties leap to ‘jogging’ stage with big-ticket war games

New Delhi, July 17: Beginning tomorrow, fighters of the Indian Air Force will be on bombing missions in war games hosted by the US.

Six Jaguars of the IAF make up the offensive complement in “blue” — friendly or allied — forces in the exercises that will simulate real life combat scenarios involving mid-air dogfights and electronic curtains. The aircraft will be tasked to penetrate through defences, fly low and bomb targets in the US Pacific Air Force’s ranges near the Eielson and Elmendorf air bases in Alaska.

Forces from 11 countries are participating in the largest multilateral air combat exercise — “Cooperative Cope Thunder 04-01” — in the Pacific region. The forces would be divided into “red” (invading/attacking elements), “blue” (friendly/allied elements) and “white” (neutral observers).

The exercise is a notch higher than the first fighter exercises with the US in Gwalior in February this year following which the US Air Force returned with a reappraisal of the IAF’s capabilities. “I would say that our military to military relations are on a crawl-walk-run course and at the moment we are jogging,” says air attache at the US embassy in New Delhi, Colonel John Albert Hill.

The Jaguars would be cast in the role that MiG-27 aircraft of the IAF played in the Gwalior exercise, “Cope India”.

Earlier this month, a top US general who is the head of the US air combat command acknowledged that the American air force was given a tough time in Gwalior when India’s MiG aircraft scored against American F-15Cs. In Alaska, the IAF will be engaged with air forces that are in Nato.

The British-origin twin-engine Jaguars, christened “Shamsher” in the IAF, are from the 14 and 15 squadrons based in the strategic Ambala airbase. They are deep penetration strike aircraft that have rich combat experience. The IAF has six squadrons of Jaguars, some of them armed with stealth capability --- the ability to evade certain electronic detection signals --- and are said to be in the process of being made nuclear capable.

An IAF contingent comprising 10 aircraft --- apart from the Jaguars there are two IL76 heavy lift transporters and two recently acquired IL78 refuellers --- reached Eielson airbase on July 9 flying over 19,000 km for the exercise. This week the IAF aircraft did two days of “familiarisation” and practice flying that involved getting to know the airspace, coping with forest fires and getting a hold on US air force jargon. For instance, what the US air force calls a “touch-and-go” landing is referred to as a “roller” in the IAF.

The combat sorties begin tomorrow and will last through till July 30. The IL78 refuellers would be used in the Alaska exercise for the Jaguars to lengthen sorties. The average time for a sortie in the IAF is 30 minutes while that in the US air force is 90 minutes. Aircraft consume more fuel on operational missions when they also carry heavy payloads.

Exercise “Cooperative Cope Thunder 04-01” is designed to reduce casualty rates of aircrews in the first eight to 10 missions during hostilities. The IAF contingent that comprises more than 200 personnel, a man-portable air defence team and a tactical air control party will be tasked for ground attack. Forces from the US, UK, Japan and other countries will be cast in “air superiority” and “air dominance” roles. Some elements will be the “escorts” for the IAF’s Jaguars.

In the first few sorties, the IAF team led by Group Captain S. Nanodkar will fly with air defence cover provided by a Japanese air defence team and will coordinate with American E-3 (Awacs) that have been used by the US in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and during the war over Iraq. The IAF will be flying with the Awacs for the first time.

The US Pacaf (Pacific Air Force) will again deploy F-15C Eagles from its 18th wing, Kadena Air Base, Japan, elements that had participated in Gwalior. Other elements from the US Pacaf will include a marine squadron of F-18F from the US California National Guard, KC-135 and KC-10 refuellers from Tennessee and New Jersey. Teams from the US and the other countries have brought with them aircraft that the Pakistan Air Force is known to use or is trying to induct. Among the participating aircraft are F-16s from the Singapore Air Force, Tornados from the German Air Force, Tornados and E-3 Awacs from the British Royal Air Force.

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