As the IAF prepares to induct its first Phalcon AWACS (airborne early warning and control system) next year, the Indo-UK air exercise ‘Indradhanush 06' appeared to have provided just the right setting for the force to undergo a "crash course" on the use of the airborne system.
With the Royal Air Force flying its E3D Sentry AWACS to India for exploiting the full potential of its Tornado F3 intercepters taking part in the exercise, IAF's combat pilots gained firsthand understanding of operating in an AWACS environment. Air Marshal K.D. Singh, senior air staff officer, Central Air Command, said on Friday, "Learning how to exploit the AWACS
platform is crucial as Phalcon induction begins next year. The Sentry's support helped pilots to position themselves on advantageous coordinates." IAF's fighter controllers also flew on the Sentry to figure out how their counterparts facilitated airspace control.
The IAF went into the 10-day exercise, which ended on Friday, with Su-30 MKIs, Mirage 2000 fighters, MiG-27s and MiG-21s. In the face of such a formidable line-up, it must have been quite a challenge for the 43 (Fighter) Squadron of the RAF to live up to its motto of Gloria finis - `Glory is the end.'
The Tornado aces did have a slight edge over IAF top guns in the sense that Indian fighters were not compatible with the
AWACS downlink transmissions. Air Commodore K.G. Bewoor, AOC, Gwalior airbase, told the Hindustan Times, “Their situational awareness was better. But our pilots were also in the loop since they were getting voice updates from AWACS over radio telephone.”
But the objective of Indradhanush was not to antagonise or prove superiority. So no one talked about the kill and miss ratio.
The aim was to cement friendship, exchange operational concepts and derive maximum training value. Air Vice Marshal Christopher Harper, chief of staff (operations), RAF Strike Command, said, “We exercised as opposing and collaborative forces. The exercise has strengthened the foundation of a burgeoning friendship and joint operational capability. That’s important in an uncertain world.”
The Fighting Cocks, as the 43 Squadron is called, simply went gaga over the Su-30 MKI. RAF’s exercise director Air Commodore Julian Stinton said, “Some RAF pilots flew on the Sukhoi and returned with silly grins. It’s an awesome fighter.”
Initially, pilots from both sides struggled with “communication barriers.” But soon they were on the same wavelength, which helped in graduating from less complex missions to more demanding operational tasks in a “building block approach.”
The exercise also involved mid-air refuellers — IAF’s IL-78 and RAF’s VC-10, which operated from the Agra airbase.