Red Flag 08: Lightnings Return
MoD Press Release:
Indian Air Force contingent participated in the recently concluded Exercise ‘Red Flag-08’, considered to be the most demanding exercise conducted anywhere in the world. The momentum in the ongoing Indo-US defence co-operation, was given an impetus by the hon’ble Raksha Mantri approving IAF participation in a joint exercise with the United States Air Force on 27 Oct 07. The process had started on 24 February 2007 with the US Air Force Chief General T Michael Moseley extending an invitation to our Chief of Air Staff for participation in the coveted exercise.
Ex Red Flag simulates realistic aerial war games in combat situations to train Air Force pilots from the US, NATO and allied countries. Only on rare occasions the invitation is extended to a non-NATO nation. IAF contingent comprised of eight Su-30 MKI aircraft of 20 Squadron, one of the most war decorated units of the IAF. The Squadron was supported by two IL-78 Flight Refuelling aircraft and one IL-76 transport aircraft. The contingent had set off from AF Stn Lohegaon, Pune on 07 Jul 08 and landed at Mountain Home Air Base, State of Idaho, USA on 17 Jul 08. The main exercise was preceded by two weeks of work up training at the Mountain Home Air Force Base. The contingent flew over a hundred sorties with US Air Force team comprising F-16s & F-15s making full use of the training infrastructure made available to it.
Our pilots flew Offensive Air Operations, Large Force Engagements and Dynamic Targeting missions and the IAF Special Force ‘GARUDS’ practiced hostage rescue operations in urban warfare scenarios.
IAF contingent was deployed at Nellis Air Force Base for the main exercise alongside South Korean Air Force flying the F-15K aircraft and the French Air Force with their latest Rafale aircraft, apart from the USAF F-15 and F-16s. The exercise replicated a present day air campaign. IAF and other visiting air forces alongwith a large US Air Force element were part of the friendly ‘Blue Forces’ that engaged in combat with the aggressors – the ‘Red Forces’. The Red Forces comprised F-15 and F-16 fighter jets. Surface to Air Missiles (SAMs) such as SA2, SA3, SA6 and SA8 alongwith long and short range quick reaction missiles were always present to neutralize the friendly Blue forces during the Exercise.
Blue Force pilots had all possible odds thrown at them. Availability of a large air-to-air range with threat replication in an intense Electronic Warfare environment contributed to tremendous training value of the exercise. The replication of the air war saw the IAF’s Sukhoi-30 MKI aircraft participating in Suppression of Enemy Air Defence, air-to-air and air-to-ground missions. The pilots were exposed to a real war like scenario with almost 80 aircraft operating in the exercise area at any given time.
The experience of engaging in completely networked combat with such a large number of aircraft in the airspace was of immense training value especially when the IAF is in the process of acquiring AWACS and networking its assets with real time data links. The IAF performed exceptionally well and the skills of the pilots and ground crew were appreciated by members of all other participating forces. Thus, it was a fruitful learning experience with far reaching benefits all around.
The IL-78 tankers were in active support role refuelling the Su-30MKIs in mid air. The IL-76 aircraft undertook tactical transport operations and large force engagement operations. IAF’s special force commandos ‘Garuds’ were also put to test in simulated conditions and they successfully demonstrated their mission capability by neutralizing an enemy radar site, capturing an airfield and carrying out combat search and rescue operations.
On the return, the contingent also made a week long stop over at Al-Dafra, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and participated in an air exercise with Mirage-2000-9 and F-16 aircrafts of UAE Air Force and Air Defence. The contingent landed back at Lohegaon Air Base on 13 Sep 08.
BR Correspondent Kapil Chandni adds:
The Squadron started training six months in advance of the Exercise. It got deployed to various air bases like Gwalior, Bareilly, Jodhpur to experience the different operating conditions at each location.
Several long duration flights were undertaken – using air to air refueling from the Il-76s of the 78 squadron. The pilots would stay airborne for long hours, in some cases navigating the whole length of India, not once but twice in the same flight!
During the actual deployment to Ex Red Flag, more than 100 tonnes of ground equipment was sent. Personnel from Accounts, Medical and other branches was also sent to support the deployment. The Tanker crews did a great job- All air to air RVs in dense Euro airpace went off without a hitch.
The first stop in the US for the IAF was the Mountain Home AFB, Idaho.
During the actual exercise at Nevada, the personnel operated in conditions of 50 degree centigrade heat and above. During the whole exercise not a single mission was aborted due to unserviceability .
The serviceability of the aircraft was dependent on the airmen and ground crew and they were not let down. If a major spare had to be replaced, then it would have had to be flown from 20000 km away. Whereas other teams participating in the exercise had aready an easier recourse as most were operating types that were built in the US, or in Europe. That was not needed and not one single mission was scrubbed.
The team had to adjust themselves to the accents and terminology used in R/T communication over the US.
An average sortie would last two hours, and roughly half were Counter Air missions against “Red Team” airfields, and half were strikes against “Red Team” ground forces. In several missions, the IAF pilots commanded the strike packages.
The IAF gained varied experience including operating under AWACS command and control. They also operated in a very high threat environment.
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