US Red Flag drill a while away: IAF


Hindon (Uttar Pradesh) : The Indian Air Force (IAF) hopes to participate in the prestigious Red Flag war games the US Air Force conducts but it could be a while before this happens, the IAF chief, Air Chief Marshal Fali Homi Major, said Monday.

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“It’s very, very far away. We’ve just asked for permission (to participate),” Major told reporters on the sidelines of the IAF’s platinum jubilee celebrations at this sprawling air base on the capital’s outskirts.

Asked whether such participation would raise the hackles of the Left parties that support the government, given their objections to the India-US civil nuclear deal, Major replied in the negative.

“The defence ministry has already given us the nod, so what is the problem?” he wondered.

Defence Minister A.K. Antony has, in fact, defended the participation of Indian armed forces in exercises like Red Flag as this improves inter-operability between the forces of friendly foreign countries.

“There is nothing new in holding or participating in such exercises as it gives an opportunity to the country’s armed forces to get acquainted with advanced technology,” the minister said last week.

“The government gives its approval if such exercises are necessary to test the preparedness of the armed forces,” Antony maintained, adding: “Such exercises are being held for quite some time. There’s nothing new in them.”

Red Flag, an advanced aerial combat training exercise, has been hosted at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, and the Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, since 1975.

It is meant to train pilots from the US, NATO and other allied countries for real combat situations. This includes the use of “enemy” hardware and live ammunition for bombing exercises.

The 414th Combat Training Squadron of the US Air Force 57th Wing conducts the exercises in four-to-six cycles a year. Each cycle runs for six weeks.

The Indian and US air forces have previously participated in joint drills but never on the scale of Red Flag.

If and when the IAF does participate in Red Flag, it will be another indication of a paradigm shift in the thinking of India’s defence planners in increasingly looking at NATO procedures in planning its training procedures.

The Indian armed forces adopted these procedures for the first time during last month’s five-nation Malabar-2007 war games, the biggest to be held in the Bay of Bengal.

These procedures have largely been evolved by the US and were familiar to the Australian, Japanese and Singaporean navies that participated in Malabar-2007 joint drill but were a unique first for the Indian Navy.

Indian Navy officers who participated in the drill were extremely pleased after the effort.

For example, in NATO-prescribed procedures, US Navy F/A-18 Super Hornets operating from the carriers Nimitz and Kitty Hawk flew upwards of 20 “buddy” refuelling sorties with the Indian Navy’s Sea Harriers flying from INS Viraat.

The NATO procedures were extended to other sectors of the exercise as well in areas like anti-submarine warfare drills and aerial offensive and defence manoeuvres.