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America salutes air power, India cool

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  • Published 25.06.04

June 24: A top US general has acknowledged that the American air force was given a tough time during exercises with the Indian Air Force and has called for induction of more sophisticated fighters.

General Hal Hornburg, head of the US Air Combat Command, said a US air-to-air exercise with the IAF in February, in which India used Russian jets to defeat ageing American F-15Cs, revealed “that we may not be as far ahead of the rest of the world as we once thought we were”.

The IAF is a little taken aback by the praise from the US military establishment after its first joint fighter exercise with the US Air Force (USAF) in 40 years.

An IAF contingent that includes Jaguar ground-attack aircraft left for Alaska today to participate in multinational exercises hosted by the US Pacific air forces.

“We always knew we were good, but it is only when the US says so the world takes notice,” an IAF officer remarked cheekily.

Earlier this month, a US military journal, Inside the Air Force, said the American air force had a lot to learn from its Indian counterpart. Now, the general has admitted that the Indians taught them more than a lesson during Exercise Cope India 04 from February 17 to 25 in Gwalior.

US defence officials have said Indian Sukhoi-30, MiG-27 and older MiG-21 jets, some armed with Russian-made AA-10 air-to-air missiles, got the best of F-15Cs based in Alaska.

Hornburg said in an interview with military writers that the air manoeuvres emphasised his service’s push for expensive, stealthy new F/A-22 “Raptors” being built by Lockheed Martin Corp. and F-35 joint strike fighters being designed by Lockheed with inputs from allies.

He declined to discuss classified results of the exercise but said: “Something like Cope India, when we find that some of our advantages aren’t as great as we thought they might be, leads me to remind people that we need to modernise our air-to-air capability.”

In Delhi, an IAF official said: “We have appreciated the compliments but we are being pragmatic. We have no doubt about the technological superiority of the US Air Force. The exercise in Gwalior was a low-level one and involved conventional fighter tactics.”

The US had sent five F-15C Eagles — air superiority fighters — and 130 airmen to participate in the exercise, the first involving fighters of the IAF and the USAF since Exercise Shiksha in 1963.

IAF sources said the Gwalior exercise involved two days of familiarisation flying, following which the aircraft engaged in three kinds of exercises: air offensive operations (including ground attack), protection of high-value aerial assets (like transporters and refuellers) and interception (part of air defence operations).

US fighters were never put in a direct and even face-off with IAF fighters during the exercises. Also, the IAF enjoyed superiority in numbers.

The USAF had had very little experience with aircraft like the Su-30 before. For the IAF, it was an opportunity to observe the F-15C, which are operated by the Pakistan Air Force.

One of the reasons the IAF is taking the praise lightly is that the exercise did not involve use of sophisticated technology.

“I think the US participants would have been a little surprised by the flying skill of our pilots,” the officer said. “But we are aware that their armaments and avionics are much superior.”

The officer said the exercise did not cover such aspects of modern air warfare as Beyond Visual Range flying and firing.