| CPM supporters at a protest rally in Kalaikunda on the eve of Cope India 2005. Picture by Naresh Jana
New Delhi, Nov. 6: The Indian Air Force will deploy its top-end fighter aircraft, the Sukhoi 30 Mki, for the first time in the Cope India 2005 exercise with the US Air Force.
The exercise, to be based out of Kalaikunda in Bengal, which the Left is protesting against, takes off tomorrow.
The IAF has normally been wary of fielding the Sukhoi 30 Mki for drills with foreign air forces. The Sukhoi 30 Mki is the IAF’s latest custom-made acquisition from Russia and air headquarters has been keen to ensure confidentiality of its radar signatures, avionics and equipment of the multi-role combat aircraft.
The Sukhoi 30 Mki will be among the IAF’s other fighter aircraft to be used for the exercise. Among them are the MiG 29 fighters that are home based in Kalaikunda, the Mirage 2000, the Sukhoi 30K, MiG 21 Bison and MiG 27.
The decision to field the Sukhoi 30 Mki was taken because Cope India 2005 is the largest and most sophisticated of air exercises that the IAF will be participating in with the Americans.
The deployment by the USAF of an E-3 Sentry AWACS (airborne early-warning aircraft) and the possibility that the IAF will participate in the Red Flag exercises ' the largest multinational fighter aircraft exercises ' in the US next year were motivating factors that have led to the decision to use the Sukhoi 30 Mki.
The USAF has already conveyed to the Indian Air Force that it was keen to host the Sukhoi 30 Mki in the Red Flag exercises.
The USAF’s deployment of a full squadron of 12 F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft and the E-3 from its bases in Misawa and Kadena in Japan easily makes Cope India 2005 the largest and most sophisticated drill between the two air forces.
Actual fighter manoeuvres during the war game beginning Monday will commence on Tuesday and last till November 17.
In the Dissimilar Air Combat Manoeuvring exercise, the complement of aircraft from the US and the IAF will be split in Red and Blue forces. Each force will comprise a mix of IAF and USAF aircraft. The E-3 will be used in turn for the forces and be deployed in both offensive and defensive roles.
The manoeuvres will include air-to-air combat, air-to-ground attack and co-ordination with the USAF’s E-3 Sentry from its 961st Airborne Air Control Squadron. Cope India 2005 is qualitatively different from its previous version, Cope India 2004 held out of Gwalior in February last year. During one drill in the manoeuvres last year, the USAF’s six F-15Cs were pitted against 12 Indian aircraft. But the F-15Cs were not armed with long-range active electronically-scanned array (AESA) radars.
This time, the E-3 Sentry will carry out all-weather surveillance, command, control and communication.
The AWACS is a modified version of the Boeing 707/320 aircraft with a rotor dome mounted on it and has a radar range of more than 320 km. This enables BVR (Beyond Visual Range) warfare and the Sentry can direct fighter-interceptors to low-flying enemy aircraft.
Planning for Cope India 2005 has been carried out for about a year. In September, six IAF personnel visited Misawa in Japan to familiarise with the USAF aircraft that are now in Kalaikunda.