It’s a fighter pilot’s dream: Matching skills, wits and hardware in a dogfight against a foreign-made jet, except nobody gets shot and the adversary really is a friend.
Dissimilar air combat training is the centerpiece of the 15-day Cope India exercise. U.S. military officials say it’s to improve the U.S. and Indian air forces’ ability to work with each other and promote cooperation and stability in Asia and the Pacific. It begins Monday on India’s east coast, over Kalaikunda Air Base about 80 miles south of Calcutta.
The third Cope India since 2002 is the largest joint combat exercise between the two nations since at least 1963. This one features F-16s from Misawa Air Base, Japan; an E-3 airborne warning and control system (AWACS) aircraft from Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, and several types of Indian fighters.
About 600 personnel from both nations are taking part, officials said, including about 250 pilots, maintainers and support personnel from Pacific Air Forces. Most are from Misawa and Kadena, although a handful are from Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii; Andersen Air Force Base, Guam; and Yokota Air Base, Japan.
Misawa is sending 12 13th Fighter Squadron F-16s and about 165 personnel from base agencies including operations, mission support, maintenance, civil engineering, communications, security and logistics readiness.
Joining from Kadena are about 40 961st Airborne Air Control Squadron personnel and an additional 30 maintainers.
“It’s the first time an AWACS has played in an Indian exercise,” said Lt. Col. Roberto Guerrero, 961st commander.
The AWACS will provide both sides detailed battle information, such as location of potential adversarial aircraft, said Capt. Alison Schorr, 961st air battle manager and project officer who was to deploy to India on Friday.
It’s the Indian Air Force’s “first opportunity to work with an AWACS platform,” she said. “They only have ground-based radar.”
But the learning is expected to go both ways.
Lt. Col. Hugh Hanlon, Misawa’s 13th Fighter Squadron commander, said his pilots are anticipating training for the first time against Indian fighters such as the SU-30 and MIG-21 Bison, Russian-made aircraft with Indian specifications - similar to aircraft some U.S. adversaries fly.
“Most U.S. training is against U.S. aircraft,” he said. “This allows us to get real experience of seeing these aircraft (in a combat scenario) and to train against their performance capabilities.”
“They’re very good,” Hanlon said of his Indian counterparts, “We’re excited. Rarely, if ever, is an Air Force pilot provided the opportunity to actually go fly with these kinds of aircraft.