by Maj. James Law
Pacific Air Forces Public Affairs
2/24/2004 - GWALIOR AIR FORCE STATION, India (AFPN) -- Residents who live in the nearby city of Gwalior are accustomed to the sounds of fighter-jet operations -- the noise of takeoff, landings and sonic booms. But the roar of U.S. Air Force F-15 Eagle aircraft in the sky above this north central Indian air force station is something completely new.
The Eagles and about 130 U.S. airmen are in India supporting Cope India ‘04 through Feb. 25, the first bilateral dissimilar air combat training exercise held between U.S. and Indian air forces in more than 40 years.
Following two days of familiarization flights, the F-15s joined the Indian SU-30K Flanker, Mirage 2000, MIG-29 Fulcrum, MIG-27 Flogger and MIG-21 Bison aircraft in a series of offensive counter-air and defensive counter-air engagements.
Each engagement series lasts about 30 minutes over the nearby training range, and two series are scheduled each flying day, said Capt. Mark Snowden, U.S. exercise project officer. During nearly all these simulated combat sorties, the F-15s protect ground targets against advancing Indian aircraft -- the two will swap roles during one series.
Combined pre- and post-flight briefings set the stage and evaluate the scoring for each engagement.
“The U.S. Air Force has never flown with or against the SU-30 Flanker before, so that aspect of this … exercise is completely new for us. All the U.S. aircrew members are excited about the opportunity,” Captain Snowden said. “In the past, many of these aircraft were considered ‘enemies,’ so it’s very encouraging and positive to fly with them as partners.”
More than anyone here, Captain Snowden has interacted the most with the Indian airmen during Cope India. The planning began in September 2003 and continued for several months.
“They are very curious, as we are, about this chance to fly together,” he said. “We’ve found that by and large their procedures are similar to ours, but the names and exact details may be a bit different.”
One challenge for U.S. airmen interacting with the Russain-made Mikoyan-Gurevich and Sukhoi aircraft is that those aircraft use metric measurements. But careful exercise planning and the first set of familiarization flights led to safe aircraft maneuvering during the engagement series.
Another challenge for U.S. crewmembers is the subtle language differences. Although all the Indian airmen participating in the exercise speak fluent English, their speech is quicker, and the musical quality of their voices is something American ears here must quickly adjust to, officials said.
“We’ve agreed to use U.S. communication terms during radio calls throughout the air engagements since the Indian air force will be participating in Cooperative Cope Thunder exercise later this year,” Captain Snowden said.
The Indian airmen plan to take fighter, tanker and airlift aircraft plus a man-portable air-defense team and ground controllers to the annual multilateral exercise in Alaska run by Pacific Air Forces.
Gwalior AFS is the hub of the Indian air force’s operational training and testing and often plays host to national-level exercises. The station includes the only Indian air force electronic warfare range, which is being used for Cope India sorties.
Station Commander Air Commodore SP Rajguru said he is pleased at the first week’s flying operations.
“The exchanges are very, very frank, both on the work side and otherwise,” he said. “The United States Air Force is a very modern air force and has global experience of flying and exercising with many countries in the world. So obviously any fighter pilot would like to interact closely to understand their operating philosophy.”
Col. Greg Neubeck, U.S. Air Force commander for the exercise, was quick to return the compliment.
“The (Indian) pilots are as aggressive as our pilots. They are excellent aviators; they work very hard at mission planning; they try to get as much out of a mission or sortie as possible, just like us,” he said. “From one fighter pilot to another, there’s really not that much difference in how we prepare for a mission and what we want to get out of it.”
While the U.S. airmen are very curious about the Indian aircraft, the same goes for the local interest in the F-15. Between sorties, U.S. airmen give operations and maintenance tours of the aircraft and answer questions from their Indian counterparts.