By Bappaditya Paul
Kalaikunda: The United States Air Force wants to hold frequent joint air exercises with the Indian Air Force (IAF) so to embolden the ties with India and strengthen its presence in Southeast Asia.
A 35-member delegation of the US Air Force is currently participating in Cope India 18 ~ a joint air exercise being simultaneously held at Kalaikunda and Panagarh airbases in Bengal located some 140-km and 150-km distance from the capital city Kolkata, respectively.
The exercise started on 3 December and is scheduled to conclude on 14 December. As many as 33 fighter aircraft of the air forces of the two countries are part of the exercise aimed at enhancing operational understanding and sharing of best practices.
The US Air Force has flown in 12 F-15 fighter jets from its airbase in Japan for the exercise. IAF has pressed in 10 SU-30 MKI, six Jaguars, five Mirages, and one C-130J transporter.
“The radius of this air exercise is about 40,000 sq km from Kalaikunda. To make the best use of the opportunity, we are conducting the air drills throughout the day. Both dogfights and group combats are being held,” Air Commodore Saji Anthony, the head of Kalaikunda Airbase, said this afternoon.
Cope India was first held in 2004 at Gwalior and the second edition was held at Kalaikunda in 2005. After a gap of 13 years, the third edition of Cope India is now underway in Bengal, he added.
Col Darryl Insley, the exercise director from US Air Force, said that the exercise is an excellent platform for both the forces to learn from each other. “This needs to be continued. As far as the US Air Force is concerned, we think the exercise should be held more frequently and not every five or 10 years.”
Insley’s colleague, Lt Col John Delion, who commands the 67 Flying Squad of the US Air Force, emphasised the same. “The joint exercise with the IAF here has been an outstanding experience so far. Wish if it could be longer,” Delion said.
Air Commodore JS Mann, the exercise director from IAF, said that the big take away from Cope India is the hands-on training on “interoperability and exchange of ideas.”