EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE (Alaska): An Indian Air Force (IAF) Jaguar fighter jet roared into the cold clear skies, simulating combat manoeuvres along with fighter aircraft from the US and several other countries as part of joint air exercise taking place in frozen Alaska.
Junior Warrant Officer Kumar, Corporal Singha and Sergeant Chandra, all from the IAF, attached a bomb pod to the bottom of the GR-1 Jaguar as part of the air manoeuvres nicknamed Cope Thunder.
Two hundred IAF personnel are participating in the fortnight-long annual exercise that imitates a near realistic scenario. Cooperative Cope Thunder 04-01, which kicked off Monday, is a multination combat operation exercise that allows allied forces to familiarise themselves with the other country's combat tactics and capabilities.
The IAF, which displayed its superior skills during joint Indo-US air exercises in Gwalior, India, earlier this year, participated in aerial exercises along with US and other countries. The other participating countries are Canada, Britain, Germany, Singapore, Japan, Malaysia, Mongolia and Sri Lanka. Indian embassy officials said here that Cope Thunder was a reflection of the growing military ties between India and the US. It is for the first time that the Jaguar fighter aircraft is participating in an international exercise outside the Indian subcontinent.
The IAF team flew non-stop to Alaska, with air-to-air refuelling by the Il-78s -- the first time that the air refuellers were employed in international airspace. The IAF pilots will train with their counterparts from other countries in key areas like protection of aerial assets and ground attacks, the sources said. The IAF contingent comprises six Jaguars, two IL-76 and two IL-78 flight refuelling aircraft.
Embassy sources said the exercise would "help us validate our concepts and operational philosophy. It would also provide a good opportunity for professional interaction with the other air forces".
The IAF's earlier participation in Cope Thunder exercise was limited to sending observers in 2001 and 2002. A lone IL-76 aircraft had participated in 2003. The IAF contingent is expected to return to India on Aug 16.
The first bilateral dissimilar air combat exercise between the US Air Force and the IAF in more than 40 years had taken place on Feb 16 when approximately 150 airmen from Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, went to Gwalior for the exercise.