With the Left Front partners of the UPA government in New Delhi still protesting all involvement with the United States as undermining national interests, a large contingent of personnel from the Indian Air Force takes off from Air Force Station, Lohegaon, at Pune on Monday for a two month long exercise with the United States Air Force (USAF) and other allied nations. The exercise breaks all precedents of the past for the US, as far as conducting such exercises is concerned, in that it marks the first time ever that a non-NATO partner, or a formally aligned strategic ally, and India is neither, will be participating at the 'Red Flag' fighter exercises.
"The Indian Air Force will participate in a multinational air exercise, Ex-Red Flag 08 at the invitation of United States Air Force (USAF), scheduled to be held at Nellis Air Force Base in the US from 09-23 Aug 08," an IAF spokesperson said.
The 'Red Flag' exercise, conducted at the USAF's Nellis Air Force Base in the State of Nevada, is a prestigious exercise that is reputed to be the most advanced fighter exercise amongst all the air forces of the world. (See: Indian Air Force awaits clearance for "Red Flag" participation)
The skills of the IAF fighter pilots will be pitched against an environment where the most advanced war scenario will be enacted with the help of air-borne early warning and air control aircraft, satellite and some of the most advanced flying machines in the arsenal of the USAF.
The IAF contingent comprises of 156 personnel below officer rank and 91 officers, inclusive of ten members of 'Garud' IAF Special Force team. The contingent is led by Group Captain D Chaudhury and the exercise coordinator would be Group Captain Ajay Rathore.
This is the first time that the Russian-made SU-30MKI fighters will make their appearance in multi-nation exercises, an event being looked forward to with immense anticipation by other air forces. The Su-30 is acknowledged as the most formidable 4++ fighter platform currently in service, and the MKI is its most advanced version.
More than technology, it is also the skill of the Indian fighter pilot that has made news and in combination with the Su-30 platform this 'Red Flag' exercise is going to be a 'match up' eagerly looked forward to by various air forces and aviation buffs.
Earlier exercises with the USAF, held at Indian bases of Gwalior and Kalaikunda, had sparked an intense debate within the USAF, forcing it to admit that post their experiences with the IAF they would revisit their training doctrine and come closer to what the IAF practiced.
Exercise Red Flag is a multinational air exercise that is held at least thrice a year at the Nellis Air Force base. Other participating contingents would include those from South Korea and France, who will be fielding their F-15K's and Rafale fighters. The exercise will, of course, include a contingent from the USAF, the host nation.
Before the main Exercise commences on 9 August, the IAF contingent would be ''working up'' at Mountain Home Air Base in Idaho, US from 17 July till 7 August. The exercise will conclude on 23 August. At the Mountain Home base, the IAF contingent would fly with the F-16s and F-15s of USAF in an attempt to streamline procedures and have a clear understanding of the new flying environment. Since India is a non-NATO nation or even a strategic ally of the US, operating procedures would necessarily differ from those of other participating nations.
The IAF contingent, along with their aircraft, depart Pune on 7 July and transit via Doha (Qatar), Chorlu (Turkey), Mont de Marsan (France) and Lages (Portugal) before reaching mainland USA and Mountain Home airbase on 17 July.
The IAF's participation in the Red Flag exercise comes at a time when top air force officials have indicated that India may go ahead and set up a similar advanced test range as the Nellis at its Gwalior and Kalaikunda air bases.