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Tracking Libya, with eye on fighters
Indian forces in market to buy weapons in use

New Delhi, March 23: India’s armed forces are closely monitoring the war in Libya despite New Delhi’s reservations against the “Allied” intervention because they are in the market to buy the weapons being used to bomb the North African country.

“We learnt from Iraq and Afghanistan also and we are watching what’s going on — it’s part of our job. This is what globalisation means,” a senior air force officer said, during a discussion here.

“Many of the (weapons) platforms that are in the operations (in Libya) are the ones we are evaluating,” he added.

Most of all, the Indian Air Force is following the bombing campaign by the US, UK, France and eight other countries because variants of four of the six aircraft that are competing for an estimated $12 billion Indian contract have been deployed by the coalition.

Air Chief Marshal P.V. Naik has said India expects to contract 126 medium multirole combat aircraft by July.

“We are watching. We analyse every conflict. We learnt from Iraq and Afghanistan also,” a senior air force officer said.

In effect, Libya has become a kind of “field firing range” for these aircraft to demonstrate their ground-attack capabilities in operational conditions. Even if Libya’s air defence is poor, the US has already lost one aircraft — an F-15E Strike Eagle deep strike combat plane.

The Boeing (McDonnell Douglas)-made plane crashed near Benghazi on Monday night, an incident the US officially said was caused by a “mechanical fault”.

The Strike Eagle is not in the competition for the Indian order. But Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet is. The Canadian Air Force has deployed an older version of the aircraft, the CA-18 Hornet for “Operation Mobile”, its name for the offensive in Libya that the US calls “Operation Odyssey Dawn”.

The bombing run over Libya is believed to have been begun by France’s Rafale aircraft (“Operation Harmattan”).

The Dassault Aviation-made plane was demonstrated at an airshow in Bangalore last month, as was the Super Hornet, the US (Lockheed Martin) F-16 Super Viper and European consortium EADS’ Eurofighter Typhoon.

The Rafales are understood to have bombed a convoy of Muammar Gadaffi’s troops that was suspected to be headed towards Benghazi with the “Storm Shadow” stand-off missile, a weapon that can be fired at precise targets from more than 200km away. A mock-up of the “Storm Shadow” was also exhibited in Bangalore.

The Indian Air Force contract for 126 combat planes is specifically for a category described as “medium multi role” — meaning the aircraft have to demonstrate a capability for not only dogfights in the air but also for precise ground-attack — bombing specified targets.

The UK’s Royal Air Force and Spain have deployed the Eurofighter Typhoon for the operations in Libya. (The British call the offensive “Operation Ellamy”).

The US-made F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft of the UAE armed forces — the closest version to Lockheed Martin’s India offering — has been deployed by the Arab conglomerate, which has also deployed a version of the Mirage 2000. The Indian Air Force has two squadrons of the Mirage 2000 in its inventory.

Ironically, Libya’s air defence weaponry is mostly of the same origin and vintage as India’s own, comprising mostly S-125 Pechora surface-to-air missiles (also identified as the SA3) that were supplied by the erstwhile Soviet Russia.

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