Exercise Shiksha

Shiksha04 Small The recent exercises in Gwalior between the Indian Air Force and the US Air Force F-15s, dubbed 'Cope India 2004' were not the first time that the combat aircraft of both air forces trained together. Forty years back, in November 1963, a squadron of USAF F-100s operated alongside IAF fighters at Palam in Exercise Shiksha. Wg Cdr Don Michael, OC Flying Palam at the time, directed the Exercise. This is a first hand account of his experiences

Left: Wg Cdr Don Michael , after a flight in a USAF F-100F Super Sabre on 15 November 1963

After 40 years, the story of Shiksha has come full cycle with the recent exercises in Gwalior between the IAF and USAF.

After the Chinese operations in 1962, our Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, who was also handling the Defence portfolio at that time, along with the Air Chief (Air Marshal Aspy Engineer) wanted our air defence system evaluated by our Commonwealth Allies. There was an invitation to the USAF to join in as well.

Western Air Command under AVM Erlic Pinto put Exercise Shiksha together. At the time I was Officer in charge of Flying at No. 3 Wing, Palam [Nov 1962 - Sept 1964]. As O/C Flying I was given the task of running the Exercise at Palam which was both a civil and military airport.

The USAF participated in the Exercise and requested a designated area in Palam set up as their camp from which they operated their own radio links directly with the States. They were treated as an independent base and pretty much left alone. Just prior to the start of the Exercise in November '63, their Squadron of F-100's from 356 Tactical Fighter Squadron, the 'Green Devils', arrived. They were part of the 354 Tactical Fighter Wing from Myrtle Beach AFB, South Carolina.

On Day One of the Exercise, I remember the mass briefing I ran for all the aircrew and staff taking part in Shiksha. The comprehensive briefing covered the modalities of the Exercise, including the terms used by the American Aircrew and evaluation criteria. When the hour-long briefing came to an end, I remember asking the assembled aircrew if there were any questions or clarifications. There were none.

The USAF had bought in F-100s from its 356 TFS based at Myrtle Beach AFB, SC. Photo Copyright:Michael Benolkin via F-100.org -

The exercise began as scheduled. We had three squadrons based at Palam: the F-100's, the Hunters (from No.7 Squadron) and the Gnats ready at the ORP (Operation Ready Platform). They were all given their turns when 'enemy' bombers were picked up on radar simulating attacks on Delhi. Each squadron was to try and intercept the Canberra 'enemy' bombers (Indian and Australian Air Force) 100 miles out using their camera guns. The films brought back were to be evaluated by the gunnery instructors to confirm the 'kills' claimed by the pilots, thus providing an overall readiness and effectiveness rating for the respective squadrons. The objective, of course, was to hopefully see how we could improve our interception and defence capability by learning advanced techniques.

Two days into the exercise, the Hunters and Gnats had their films evaluated and the results from what I recall were not too bad because there were a number pictures of the 'enemy' in their gun sights. The F-100 films, however, were all blank though they were claiming kills on every mission. We discussed this situation with Western Air Command. Brig Gen Graham who was in charge of the American contingent requested that the F-100's drop out of the exercise as the pilots were discouraged at the camera results. AVM Pinto insisted that they continue with the exercise for all intents and purposes but their cameras were not to be used or evaluated and no one was to know about this except some of us who were running this exercise.

- Wg Cdr Don Michael , along with members of the USAF 356TFS at a party in the mess

The reason given for their poor showing was that the F-100's carried Sidewinder air-to-air missiles and the pilots claimed a kill if their airborne radar locked on to the enemy target from 3 to 5 miles away, though they never got closer to the enemy than that! This approach was never mentioned by them prior to the exercise. (Our thinking was that the USAF felt that they had a much superior aircraft to ours and their pilots were so much more skilled in air defence that they were going to teach us a thing or two!).

What they were surprised about was that our pilots on both the Hunters and Gnats were so quick to 'scramble', get airborne, climb above 30,000 and intercept the enemy before they reached 100 miles from Delhi. Whereas the F-100's, on the other hand, needed ladders on either side of the cockpit with ground crew to help pilots strap in, pop candies in their mouths before putting on their masks and then start up. As a result, the time to climb to 30,000 with all these procedures took over 12 minutes and the enemy could not be intercepted outside the 100-mile range from Delhi.

The long and the short of it was that our defence and interception capabilities, and, more pointedly, pilot expertise were deemed pretty solid.

Doing the pre-flight walkaround of the F-100 included a 'chin-up' to check if the air intake is clear of any foreign objects. -

As part of the cross-orientation, and probably to see if the IAF would consider acquiring Super Sabres, I had an interesting air experience flight in an F-100. This was on 15th November 1963 in F-100F 56-3928. Capt Ralph Sparkman of 356 TFS was the main pilot. I got above Mach 1 a couple of times in level flight above 35,000 engaging the after burner and did some aerobatics. The F-100 was a powerful aircraft but somehow I always preferred the feel and responsiveness of the Hunter.

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Left: Getting a certificate for having flown the F-100 from Capt Sparkman, and Right: The logbook insert with flight details.

At the end of the Exercise we had a farewell party for the aircrew at the Officer's Mess in Palam. I remember being asked to meet AVM Pinto in the area designated the Ladies Room. On arriving there I found only the AVM with Brig Gen Graham waiting for me. I was introduced as the O/C Flying who conducted Exercise Shiksha. The General congratulated me on the running of the Exercise but more so for having conducted the mass briefing for the aircrew before the exercise. Apparently, the Americans were certain that their pilots would have difficulty following the briefing by an Indian pilot and so had brought along a few American translators. They were very pleasantly surprised when no translation was needed, the level of detail covered all points and no questions were asked!

As an aside to Shiksha, AVM Pinto wanted to show Brig Gen Graham the air defence readiness of our Air Force bases. Unannounced to AFB Ambala, they arrived one morning, went directly to the ATC and Graham was asked to 'Scramble' any one of the three Squadrons on the ORP and check the time it took to get them off. The scrambled pilots took off in record time!

The surprise visit also resulted in an aerobatic 'face-off' between the USAF and IAF. Sqn Ldr Ian S Loughran, who was a member of Seven Squadron, the Battle Axes, stationed in Ambala, commanded by then-Wg.Cdr.-later-CAS Katre, has this first-person recollection of the incident:

"At the end of the Exercise two F100's came over Ambala as a nice tight pair, and proceeded to do some aerobatics over the field. Brig. Gen. Graham proudly said they were both ex-Thunderbird Team members. AVM Pinto turned to me and asked "How many can Seven put up?"

I raced back to the Squadron. We had aircraft fitted with practice bomb racks, rocket rails, and cameras and quickly managed to get six aircraft ready. AVM Pinto had brought the Yanks in to our crew room by this time. Young, ambidextrous, Flg.Offr. "Dyce" Dhiman armed with a piece of chalk in each hand quickly drew the maneuvers- left hand or right hand there was no difference in his drawing or handwriting, he could also fly any position for the Formation Aerobatics, so he spent most of his time flying "standby" .

Six Hunters from the Battleaxes took off in close formation, did their routine, and, best of all, landed all six in formation of two 'vics'. Were the Yanks impressed? Sure! Gen Graham turned to us and said 'You guys must have been laughing at us!!!'

Exercise Shiksha was the major event that year to check the air defences of Delhi. There was another minor exercise in Eastern Air Command that involved RAF Javelin fighters operating from Kalaikunda. The Javelins operated alongside our Toofanis. But that exercise is another story and is best told by someone who was there!

Copyright © WG CDR DONALD MICHAEL. All rights reserved . Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of WG CDR DONALD MICHAEL is prohibited.