The skies above this Taj city will reverberate with the sounds of fighter jets, including Tornados and Jaguars, as India and Britain hold joint air exercises in Agra and at Gwalior from October 13.
The Royal Air Force (RAF) will send 100 officers for the joint exercise, codenamed Indradhanush, and 100 Indian Air Force (IAF) officers will join them at Agra. Working together under a common command will benefit the two sides, say officials.
The image of the IAF personnel, trained to work in the most inhospitable and trying situations and often with dated defence equipment, is internationally very high. Senior US officials, who were in Agra for a similar exercise last time, had spoken very highly of the training given to the IAF cadre.
Special arrangements have been made for the security of the RAF personnel. This is the first time that British fighter aircraft would be operating from Indian bases in Agra and Gwalior, 120 km away, to carry out intricate combat manoeuvres during the seven-day exercise, said a senior official.
Eight Tornado aircraft, accompanied by a VC-10 aerial tanker, will participate in the exercises. Pilots of the two countries will also fly in each other's aircraft as co-pilots. Sources said the IAF would use the Mirage 2000 aircraft. Other aircraft like the Su-30 and the Jaguar would be used in the exercises. Agra-based IL-78 mid-air refuellers would be an intrinsic part of the exercise.
The joint air exercises are expected to go a long way in helping personnel from the two countries to learn about each others' operational concepts and identify areas of commonality in terms of operations, administration and maintenance, said an official.
Gwalior is one of India's leading training and operational centres and the home base of IAF's two Mirage 2000 squadrons, which had played host to joint exercises with the US Air Force earlier.
Agra has the best training facilities and the only Para Training School in India. The para jumping centre at Malpura is equipped with the latest gadgets and the trainers have over the years acquired a high degree of proficiency.
Two years ago, similar joint exercises were conducted in Agra with US air force officers who wanted to get a feel of the conditions in the sub-continent. Named Cope India, an extensive joint air transport exercise in October 2002 opened the way for more such exercises involving different countries.
In October last year, Indian Army personnel and special airborne troops from Russia took part in joint air exercises for better understanding and coordination in combat operations.