Friday, April 5, 2013

IAF gears up for US air combat exercises

Top-gun Indian pilots are now quietly honing their combat skills on frontline Sukhoi-30MKI "air dominance" fighters to take on the best in the world. They know it will be the closest they will come to realistic air combat without actually going to war.

The IAF is getting all set to dispatch eight

Sukhoi-30MKIs, two C-130J "Super Hercules" tactical airlift planes, two IL-78 mid-air refuelling tankers and one IL-76 heavy-lift aircraft, along with over 150 personnel, for the "mother" of all air combat exercises: the world-famous "Red Flag" exercise held at the Nellis US Air Force (USAF) base in Nevada, northwest of Las Vegas.

The high-voltage, "network-centric" exercise will not only provide an opportunity for IAF pilots to match their combat skills with the USAF and its allies, but also serve to establish the force's capability to "project air power" by deploying "a trans-continental task force" across the globe.

"Red Flag is undoubtedly the most demanding air exercise. Our boys will have to demonstrate their professional capabilities as well as achieve high mission accomplishment and serviceability rates," said an officer.

With 1,900 possible targets, realistic threat systems and an opposing enemy force that "cannot be replicated anywhere else in the world", the USAF itself tom-toms the Red Flag exercise as the best platform "to train to fight together, survive together and win together".

Though the actual Red Flag exercise will be conducted from July 14 to 26, it will involve first flying to the US and then undertaking the "work-up" phases and exercises to familiarise with "the new high-tech flying environment". Overall, the entire endeavour will involve flying close to 20,000-km, with well over 300 sorties. It will also be costly, with the price tag being pegged around Rs 100 crore.

This will be the second time IAF will take part in the complex air combat manoeuvres of the Red Flag. It was blooded the first time in mid-2008, which proved "an eye-opener" for many. IAF was then still not fully familiar with operating in an AWACS (airborne warning and control systems) environment.

That is no longer the case. The force now has its own Israeli Phalcon AWACs, which are tremendous force-multipliers in modern day air combat. IAF chief Air Chief Marshal N A K Browne, in fact, himself flew in a Phalcon AWACS during the ongoing "Live-Wire" exercise being conducted in phases throughout the country.

IAF fighter pilots have managed to hold their own, many a time outgunning their rivals, in the series of bilateral exercises with the US, the UK and France, among others, over the years. They are now all gung-ho about doing the same in Red Flag.

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