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Indian, US armies begin joint exercises

india Updated: Sep 07, 2006 01:44 IST

The Indian Army began its largest joint exercise on foreign soil on Wednesday with 140 officers and soldiers joining their US counterparts in honing their counter-insurgency skills at the Schofield Army Base barracks in Hawaii.

'Operation Yudh Abhyas (preparing for war)' will run till September 23, a US embassy official said.

It follows a similar exercise held at Chaubhatia near Ranikhet in Uttaranchal in January.

During the 18-day exercise, the Indian troops, drawn from the Gurkha Regiment, will test their interoperability with forces from the US 25 Infantry Division in face-to-face and side-by-side anti-insurgency operations in urban and non-urban areas.

Joining them will be 20 Indian Air Force commandos from the Garuda force that has been raised to guard IAF air bases against guerrilla attacks.

The Indian troops were flown out in an IAF IL-76 transport aircraft that will remain in Hawaii for the duration of the exercise to enable its crew participate in airlift missions at the Hickam Air Force base on the island.

"This is a new element in the joint exercises and is a pointer to the direction in which they are growing," the embassy official pointed out.

Meanwhile, preparations are underway for the annual 'Malabar' series of exercises between the Indian and US navies in the Arabian Sea. These exercises are usually held off the Kochi or Goa coasts.

This apart, two other major India-US military-to-military contacts are planned for this year.

In the first, the Indian Army's additional director general of military operations, Major General Mukesh Sabharwal, is to travel to Fiji next week to present a paper at the Pacific Armies' Management Seminar that the US annually co-hosts with the countries of the region. The conference was held in India in 2005.

In the second, two officers from the Army Aviation Corps will visit the Wainwright Army Base in Alaska for training on the newly-inducted OH58D Kiowa attack helicopter, as also the UH-60 Black Hawk that the US is believed to have offered to India.

The Indian Army is known to be scouting for 196 helicopters - in a mix of gun ships and light transports - to replace its ageing fleet of Chetak and Cheetha helicopters. It has already evaluated the Bell-407 - the largest selling helicopter of its class - and the Eurocopter but hasn't made known its views on the other two machines.

The US has also offered the F-16 and F-18 combat jets for a 128-plane order that the IAF will soon be placing to replace its fleet of MiG-21, MiG-23 and MiG-27, some of which have already been phased out.

Also on offer are the Russian MiG-29, the Swedish Grippen, the French Mirage 2000-5 and the jointly developed Eurofighter.

The IAF has been saying for a year-and-a-half that it will "soon" float a tender for the new aircraft but as of now, this seems nowhere in sight. At one time, there was talk that India will opt for a mix of F-16s/F-18s as a quid pro for the proposed India-US civilian nuclear deal.

However, with the pact seeming to have run into some technical roadblocks, the IAF might have to wait a while longer for its new aircraft.

India and the US resumed their military-to-military contacts in 2002 with a joint army exercise at Agra, followed by another in Alaska.

Since then, these have been conducted at regular intervals by the army, the navy and the air force.

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