All for a Game

Each air exercise opens new chapter between the participating nations

Aditya Kakkar

With the aim of enhancing operational cooperation and to validate capabilities, the Indian Air Force (IAF) participates in a number of air exercises with friendly nations. The objectives of these air exercises are to enhance interoperability and cooperation while also practicing challenging air manoeuvres.

Not only are the exercises a gathering of hi-tech, state-of-the-art aircrafts, they also prove to be an excellent meeting ground for the personnel of the air forces to understand each other. Despite a vast difference in culture and traditions, there is usually complete synergy and understanding of minds, and of concepts in the air and on the ground. The mutual respect and bonhomie that develops between members of the participating nations cements a firm foundation, thus strengthening diplomacy.


Exercise Garuda

The ‘Garuda’ series of air exercises is an important aspect of the Indo-French bilateral military cooperation. The bilateral defence relationship is a cornerstone of the strategic partnership between France and India, established in 1998. The exercise helps both forces in appreciating the intricacies of planning and conducting combat missions in an operational environment. The aircraft of the IAF included the Su-30, MiG-27 (UPG), MiG-21 Bison along with force multipliers such as the AWACS and Flight Refueller Aircraft IL 78. The French air force fielded their frontline Rafale fighter aircraft along with their KC 135 Refueller. During the war games, both the air forces practiced aerial warfare which included manoeuvres to carry out surgical strikes.

Garuda exercises are conducted alternately in France and India since the year 2003. Garuda I was held in February 2003, Gwalior, in the presence of the French Chief of Staff. It was the first fighter-to-fighter exercise between the IAF and a foreign air force. Garuda II was held in June 2005 at Istres Air Force Base, France. It was the first exercise of the IAF in Europe. Garuda III was held in February 2007 at Kalaikunda Air Force Station, India. Garuda IV was held in June 2010 again at the Istres Air Force Base where first cross-refuelling on each other’s tankers tool place. Garuda V was the first edition of the exercise in trilateral format, with Singapore participating as well.

Exercise Red Flag

It is an advanced aerial combat training exercise. Only countries considered friendly towards the United States take part in Red Flag exercises. So far, 34 countries have participated in these exercises and India has participated twice in 2008 and 2016. A team of over 170 personnel was part of the exercises in its most recent iteration. The two forces simulated realistic aerial combat scenarios in a networked environment. The IAF flew 10 aircraft: four Su-30MKIs, four Jaguars and two IL-78 aerial refuelling tankers. The objective of this inter-continental deployment was not only to showcase the IAF’s capability in undertaking integrated air operations but also to imbibe operational lessons from the exercise engagements.

The exercise is played under the multiple simulated scenario designed to provide realistic settings with a red force, defending their airspace and assets, and a blue force acting as the offensive side. The IAF officials said that the red force was largely constituted by US F-16 fighters, while the IAF planes, along with other USAF aircraft such as F-15, F-16 and F-22 and the US Navy F-18, constituted the blue force. The teams had to endure sub-zero temperatures during most of the exercise, which posed a challenge to the maintenance team despite which they managed to maintain 100 per cent serviceability of all platforms. The IAF fighters always fly with their radars switched off during exercises so as not to reveal the radar signatures.


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