From Sainik Samachar
The Indian Air Force participated in the multinational combat air exercise, Red Flag 08, for the first time at the invitation of the United States Air Force (USAF) from August 9-23 at Nellis Air Force Base in the US.
The IAF contingent comprised of 91 officers and 156 personnel below officers rank, including 10 members of Garud IAF special force team, led by Gp Capt D Choudhury. Gp Capt Ajay Rathore was the exercise co-ordinator. The team participated with eight SU-30 MK-I aircraft, two IL-78 air-to-air refuellers and one IL-76 transport aircraft. Red Flag is an advance aerial combat training exercise providing realistic training (under combat conditions) hosted at Nellis Air Force Base, Navada and Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. It was originally conceived in 1975.
In a typical exercise, Blue Forces (friendly) engaged Red Forces (hostile) in realistic aerial combat situations. Blue Forces were made up of units from Air Combat Command, Air Mobility Command, US Air Forces, Europe, Pacific Air Forces, Air National Guard, US Air Force Reserve, US Army, US Navy, US Marine Corps, Canadian Air Force as well as other allied air forces. They were led by a Blue Forces Commander who coordinated the units in an “employment plan”.
Prior to the main exercise at Nellis, the IAF contingent during the work-up phase at Mountain Home Air Base in Idaho, US flew more than 100 sorties in what can be termed as a 'cost effective' deployment with the team making full use of the training infrastructure made available to them. The format of the deployment followed was 'crawl, walk and run' - a term used for a systematic increase in the pace and scope of exercise and combat manoeuvring. During this, IAF team participated in air defence mission, offensive air operations, large force engagements and dynamic targeting. For this purpose, squadrons of USAF, F-16s and F-15s were in flying missions with IAF aircraft and the challenge which IAF team faced was to adapt itself to the complex and advanced network-centricity of USAF. The IAF special force, Garud practiced hostage rescue operations in urban warfare scenario.
The tough and prestigious exercise formally began at Air Force Base Nellis, Navada with inaugural briefings and mission planning by the participating Air Forces. IAF with SU-30s, the French Air Force with Rafale, South Korean Air Force with F-15s and US Air Force with F-15s and F-16s participated in the exercise.
Exercise Red Flag provided a realistic war situation in which the Blue Force pilots had all possible odds 'thrown' at them. Availability of a large air-to-air range with threat replication contributed to the tremendous training value of the exercise. The replication of the air war saw the IAF's SU-30 aircraft participating in suppression of enemy air defence (SEAD) air-to-air and air-to-ground missions. The IL-78 tankers and USAF AWACS were in active support role.
Addressing the participating air warriors, Contingent Commander Gp Capt D Choudhury said, "We have trained long and hard for this day. It is the time to showcase our professionalism. I have total faith and confidence in you. The world is watching us, so gentlemen lets show them what we are made up of.” Air Marshal PV Naik, Vice Chief of Air Staff, Indian Air Force visited the team IAF along with Lt Gen Loyd Utterback, Commander 13th Air Force, USAF, Hawai on August 15. During the course of visit, Air Marshal Naik attended the exercise briefings and witnessed flying and exercise debriefs. He also visited the combined air and space operation centre at the base. He had a detailed interaction with the air crew on how their missions were progressing. He congratulated the technicians for 100 per cent serviceability rate.
Speaking to the mediapersons on the side-lines of his visit, Air Marshal Naik said, “I am of the opinion that the relations between countries are best started by the Armed Forces. India and USA have been natural friends for a long time and they are getting closer and closer. We are looking for increased cooperation in future. Network- centric warfare capability is vital and indispensable in today's warfare. IAF is a network-enabled air force and we are progressing towards complete network-centricity very fast. Network-centricity involves linking the ground, air and space assets together so as to have complete situational awareness. For this, we are in the process of laying a network of fibre optics data links called the AF Net which will be a part of the Integration Air Command and Control System (IACCS). The integration of operational data link on the airborne platforms of IAF will complete the chain. The connectivity of platforms will be “written” on them. In the month of October we are expecting the AWACS which will be a crucial link in our network-centricity." Lt Gen Loyd Utterback also addressed the air warriors and said, “I have flown down from Hawai to meet you all. The USAF and IAF together form an incredible team. I have been planning to get the IAF team in Red Flag and it has now materialised for peace and security in the region. I am looking forward to work more with you.”
The IAF special force commandos, Garuds, successfully demonstrated their mission capability during the exercise Red Flag, when they neutralised an enemy radar site capturing an airfield and carrying out combat search and rescue operations in Navada desert.
On August 21, the exercise entered into its final 'run' phase. During this phase of the exercise, a present-day air campaign is replicated in which opposition forces, or the 'aggressors' F16 and F15s, were the air-to- air and air-to-ground threats to the Blue Land and its force. Surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), such as SA2, SA3, SA6 and SA8, along with long and short range quick reaction missiles, were always present to neutralise the friendly Blue Forces. The Red Land always kept shifting their SAM sites making it difficult for the Blue Forces.
An interesting aspect of the air war between the Red and the Blue Forces was that the 'aggressors' used all possible means to gather intelligence from the Blue Forces. This they used against the Blue Forces in air. Thus it was imperative on the part of all the Blue Force personnel not to give away any information to unauthorised person as he or she could be a Red Land 'spy'.
The success of the missions in these air campaigns was dependent on the situational awareness of all persons involved. Hence, the network-centric operations were the pivots on which the difference of life and death rested. The challenge during the exercise for the team IAF had been to adapt to the USAF network and also carry out 'stand alone' tasks simultaneously. The young IAF pilots did this with amazing dexterity.
Capt Marcus 'Spike' Wilson of the USAF Aggressors, in his appreciation of the team IAF, said, “IAF is a world class air force with great aircraft and great leadership. It's a great training opportunity for USAF and IAF to integrate our assets in training environment. We would like to have IAF here as a regular participant”.
During extreme heat conditions there was a tendency of the flying machines to develop snags such as leaks in hydraulic systems, engine oil gear box etc. The performance of avionics system also becomes erratic as integrated circuits develop problems in extreme heat conditions However, due to proper planning and hard work of IAF technicians, aircraft serviceability was kept high at all times.
Till now, 21 countries including US, UK, Denmark, Norway, South Korea, Israel, Italy, Egypt, Germany, Sweden, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Spain, Netherland and Portugal, have participated in Red Flag exercise. India and France had the honour of participating in this prestigious exercise for the first time.
-Wg Cdr S M Sharma