The defence relationship between New Delhi and Tel Aviv has deepened further with India and Israel agreeing in principle to hold joint air exercises involving US-made F-16s and Russian-built Su-30 MKI fighters.
While the modalities of the first ever Indian Air Force and Israeli Air Force exercise will be decided by the executive steering group under the bilateral Defence Cooperation Group, Air Chief S. Krishnaswamy discussed the issue with his Israeli counterpart during his visit to Tel Aviv last week.
The IAF chief interacted with Israeli Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz and Israel’s military top brass during his week-long trip. He also also flew a one-hour sortie on a twin-seater F-16 I fighter piloted by Major Jonathan from Ramon air base, south of Tel Aviv last Wednesday.
Sources said both sides were keen on pushing interaction between the two air forces and were all for exchanging operational tactics with each other. The joint exercise will be slated for 2005 after IAF Sukhoi-30 MKIs have done their tour of France.
Though Israel is smaller than Kerala in geographical area, its air force is one-and-a-half times more potent than the Indian Air Force. While IAF has a force level of 36.5 fighter squadrons, the Israelis have more than 30 fighter squadrons including 349 F-16s, 79 F-15s and 140 Kfir fighters.
Apart from undertaking joint exercises, New Delhi is also looking at Tel Aviv for help and hardware for its indigenous AWACS project. The AWACS project with the initial sanction of Rs 1,800 crore was cleared by the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) last week. A Defence Ministry official said critical equipment on board the indigenous AWACS will be an ‘‘off-shoot of the India-Israel PHALCON AWACS’’ deal. Israeli defence contractors will be involved in helping the Indian project in critical areas.