by Kapil Chandni
India certainly seems to be scorching the British Summer this year.After the Bollywood Brigades colourful style in Yorkshire and the Indian Cricket team beginning its tour of England,the IAF too is sending a team of its most capable aircraft Sukhoi Su-30 MKIs of 30 Sqn AF(The Rhinos) supported by two IL-78 MKI tankers of 78 Sqn AF (Valourous MARS) and two IL-76 Strategic Airlifters too.
This is a visit which has taken a long time to come to fruition and is symbolic in more ways than one ,considering that the Indian Air Force is celebrating its 75th Anniversary this year and has its origins in the Royal Air Force.
Indradhanush,as these series of exercises between the Indian and Royal Air Forces are termed,had its first installment in India early this year when Tornado F3s of the Royal Air Force supported by their VC-10 Tankers and an AWACS operated from Agra and Gwalior in India along with the IAFs frontline combat fleet including the Su-30 MKIs of 30 Sqn.
Both sides had a lot to offer each other in terms of learning opportunities and a proud IAF is deploying its Su-30MKIs on their first overseas deployment.(The earlier visit to France was of the older Su-30Ks of No.24 Sqn) . In turn,the RAF is including the participation of its latest Eurofighter Typhoon. This in itself guarantees the attention of Air Power planners from across the world.
Group Captain Girish Saini,VM ,while speaking at a Pre-Departure briefing gave an overview of the exercises. He said that the entire series of exercises will be over the North Sea (which explains the choice of No.30 Sqn) and the focus will be on Air Defence. Post-familiarisation,the exercises will work up progressively from 1 vs 1 engagements ,to 2 vs 1 and up to mixed formations. Air Refuellers from both sides will provide Cross-refuelling support to both sides.
More significant is the non-fighter jock involvement in the whole event. The IAF is sending a few Fighter Controllers to observe and even control aircraft from the RAFs AWACS aircraft.This will give them significant exposure and prepare them for the IAFs own AWACS induction next year. They will also visit RAF Scampton which is the RAFs fighter controller establishment. A provision has been made for simultaneous briefings and debriefings to participating aircrews across various operating bases.This had been tried out at Indradhanush,Gwalior earlier this year with participants spread across Gwalior and Agra and its success has caused it to be replicated in the UK.
The IAF is also looking at the Weapon System Operator function for its two-seat Su30 MKI fleet and two Navigators,who are part of 30 Sqn will also be part of the exercise. An interaction is also planned at RAF Leeming which is the RAFs WSO School.Inputs from there will probably be passed on to the IAFs Navigator Training Establishment at Begumpet.
The Tanker crews will observe the RAFs Tanker operations at RAF Brize Norton as well and both sides will have ample opportunities to share and discuss skills. The IAF is also bringing to the table ,its experience at operating such a large multi-role strategic aircraft. And its skills at Close Combat have been admired by Western Air Forces for a long time now.
One IL-76 carrying the staging team will precede the rest of the detachment which will take off on Sunday from Lohegaon Air Force Station.The six Su-30 MKIs will maintain a speed of 500 knots in order to ferry and refuel with the two IL-78s.A journey of 3 hrs 45 mins will bring them to Doha for a halt.The Doha-Tanagra Air Base,Greece hop is of 4 hrs and 15 mins.The Tanagra halt will be a technical halt for all the aircraft.The last hop of 4 hrs 30 mins will take the aircraft to Waddington.Another IL-76 will join the detachment later.All the ILs are suitably eqipped with Mode S Transponders as well as TCAS to fly through International Air Routes.All refuelling will be done over sea as countries do not permit Mid-Air refuelling over their territory.
The delegation is being led by Group Captain Saini, with Wg Cdr A C Chopra as the Deputy Leader .Wing Commander A K Bharti is the Commanding Officer of No.30 Sqn. His Flight Commanders, Wing Commander Asit and Assudani are part of a 20 strong Su-30 Aircrew. The Il-78/76 detachment is led by Gp Capt K Raghavendra,VM who is a highly qualified Airlift expert. Air Marshal K D Singh,the AOC-in-C SWAC while complimenting the smartly overalled participants of the exercise said that such exercises abroad will be a regular feature henceforth.
The IAF has really lost out on a big opportunity to win the hearts of International Air Afficionados by not doing an aerobatic display in a special scheme Su-30 MKI.And especially,considering this is the IAFs 75th Anniversary.
Air display buffs will be disappointed however with the IAFs decision of not displaying the Su-30 MKIs breath taking aerobatics at the two shows of Waddington and Fairford as they are concentrating on the exercises at hand and a daily display will call for more resources in terms of training etc. However,Su-30s and Il-78s will be on static display at both events. There is also a flypast planned by the Su-30 MKIs at the Royal International Air Tattoo at Fairford on July 13,2007 when the IAFs Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Fali Major will be visiting the show.
So stand back as The Rhinos are coming!
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78 Squadron Ground Crew
Air Marshal K D Singh speaking with the Flight Engineers of the Refuelling Squadron
Air Marshal K D Singh with the Flight Engineers
Air Marshal Kanwar Dalinderjit Singh, AOC-in-C, South Western Air Command arrives at the event