Exercise Garuda - Gwalior
PHIL CAMP & SIMON WATSON
The airbase at Gwalior in Northern India played host to an Indo-French Exercise named ‘GARUDA’ from 6th February until 17th February. The exercise took place at one of the most important and certainly one of the busiest bases of the Indian Air Force.
Gwalior is home to the two Mirage 2000 squadrons of the IAF (1 and 7 squadrons) as well as housing three guided missile squadrons and the Tactics and Air Combat Development Establishment (TACDE), operating the Mig-21, 23U and 27. Gwalior is also home to a ground control intercept squadron and has an electronics warfare range under its control.
France and India have enjoyed a military relationship for many years and with both airforces operating the Mirage 2000 it was a good opportunity to learn from each other’s experiences. The Mirage 2000 was introduced with the Armee de L’Air in 1984 and this was closely followed by India, who inducted it in 1985.
Although visiting transport aircraft have operated jointly in India before, this was the first time that foreign combat aircraft had exercised with IAF Aircraft on Indian Soil. Another exercise is due to take place later this year when USAF F-15’s are due to visit the Su30 squadrons at Poona. The deployment commenced when a French DC-8 arrived on February 6th, bringing in ground crew and equipment.
This was followed on the 7th by 3 Mirage 2000C aircraft and 1 Mirage 2000B from Escadron de Chasse 1/12 ‘Cambresis’, who flew in from Cambrai via Djibouti in Africa. They were accompanied enroute by a C135FR from ERV93, which provided them with air to air refueling. Total distance from Cambrai to Gwalior is about 10,000 kms, bringing home to the IAF the importance of force multipliers like tanker aircraft.
Familiarisation flying commenced on the 9th, a Sunday! The crews from Esc1/12, commanded by Picarillo, being made aware of IAF Diversion airfields and operating procedures. The aim of the exercise is to enhance mutual fighter operational understanding between the two air forces and also to lay the foundation for future co-operation. The main objectives were;
1. Expose IAF Pilots to French Fighter Tactics.
2. Expose French Pilots to Indian Fighter Tactics.
3. Expose IAF Aircrew to Air to Air Refuelling.
4. Cross-servicing of a common type between ground crews.
5. Understanding basic concepts of each countries fighter operations.
By the time of our visit, approximately 60 sorties had been flown and both sets of flight crew and ground crew having enjoyed the close relationship. With the imminent arrival of the Ilyushin IL-78 Refueling aircraft in the Indian Air Force and the conversion of the Mirage, Jaguar, Mig27 and Mig29 fleet to receive, it was a fantastic opportunity for the Indians. Observers flew in the backseat of the Esc 1/12 Mirage 2000B during live hook ups as others watched from a safe distance in single seaters, and IAF Ilyushin crews were able to gain experience flying in the C135FR.
The majority of flying had taken place at different altitudes in the ‘Surmurtha’ and ‘Babina’ ranges that are controlled by Gwaloir. The flying consisting of air to air refueling, basic and advanced fighter interceptions, protection of high value aerial targets and group combat maneuvering involving eight aircraft. The complexity of the missions having been ramped up up as the two air forces become familiar with each other.
The importance of the combined combat experience from each air force was highlighted by the fact that each was keen to learn from each other’s combat experiences in Kargil and Kosovo. French Pilots were able to utilise their vast experience in Beyond Visual Range Combat, which is something that the IAF Pilots lacked experience in, as BVR missiles are only now being inducted into the IAF. Alternatively the IAF pilots were able to use their close combat or dog fighting skills, which is where the French were lacking.
One French pilot was heard to comment that ‘whilst IAF Pilots are better trained for visual pick up, we are trained for BVR Combat. We are learning important lessons from each other.’ The French Air Force Pilots were also able to practice dissimilar combat tactics against the Mig21’s and Mig27’s from TACDE, that occasionally flew as part of the package. On at least one occasion this actually included back seat rides in a Mig21U.
A press conference was held at the base on 12th, which was attended by some important notables. Representing the IAF, was Air Marshal A. Bhavnani, AVSM, VM, who is the senior staff officer of Central Air Command and who had been in command of 7 Squadron, when the Mirage 2000 was inducted in 1985. He was officially escorting the French Chief of Air Staff, General D’Armee Aerienne Richard Wolsztynski and the French Ambassador to India, His Excellency Dominique Girard. All expressed their satisfaction at how the exercise was progressing and that they hoped it was a stepping stone for more in the future.
This was an important exercise for both forces, but especially the French, not only for the benefits described above, but also as good PR, with a potential IAF order for 125 aircraft being up for grabs.
Note: This article first appeared in Air International Magazine