From AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control Systems) assisted 'kills' to confusing US Air Force jargon, from diapers to sleep-inducing pills, from flying with RAF Tornados to chasing Japanese F-15 Eagles in mock combat scenarios; exercise Cooperative Cope Thunder in Alaska allowed young Jaguar pilots to fly into uncharted territory.
The 20,000-km roundtrip mission, which ended in Ambala on Tuesday, was the farthest the IAF had flown, IAF fighters had never exercised outside India and the IL-78 refuellers were exposed to the West for the first time in this unprecedented journey. IAF chief Air Chief Marshal S Krishnaswamy was here to greet the 197 IAF personnel who flew to Alaska on June 21 on six Jaguar fighters, two IL-76 transport planes and two IL-78 tankers.
Cope Thunder, Jaguar pilots said, had helped them sharpen their combat skills, exchange operational tactics and understand the finer points of multi-operability as they exercised with air forces from the US, the UK, Germany, Japan, Singapore and Malaysia.
Jargon used by the American pilots did fox the Indian pilots temporarily. They didn’t understand that when the Americans said “as fragged” they meant “as planned”, the Indian parallel for “hack” was “time-check” or that the US pilots called “fess up” to own up a mistake.
Flt Lt Vikas Tomar, a Jaguar pilot, said the Indian crew overcame this hurdle in the familiarisation phase of the two-week exercise. The pilots also took time to figure out the American twang and the accent of other participants during airborne communications. Diapers proved to be quite handy for them. Sqn Ldr M Sahdev said these gave `psychological comfort’ to the pilots.
The 'Zleep' pill experiment tried out by the IAF during the mission was quite successful. The short acting sleep inducers helped pilots go to sleep in changing time zones so that they could undertake long duration sorties. Sqn Ldr M S Nataraja, aerospace medicine specialist who accompanied the crew, said even foreign air forces were using pills for mock combat assignments at odd hours.
Complimenting the integrated efforts of the team, Air Chief Marshal Krishnaswamy said "each crew member had become a part of history." Asked if the IAF would be a regular feature in Cope Thunder, he said this was an expensive proposition and it was important to ascertain first that the advantages were worth the money spent.