The US and Indian air forces have kicked off a crucial bilateral air warfare exercise — Ex Cope India-18. The USAF ended the highly consequential drills nearly 10 years ago, but has brought them back amid growing concerns about China and other threats.

This is the first iteration of this drill in nearly a decade and it comes as the two nations are working to expand defense and security cooperation in the face of regional security challenges and threats, especially with regards to China.

Ex Cope India 2018, the fourth edition in the series of the bilateral joint exercises, has been planned at two Air Force bases — Kalaikunda and Panagarh in West Bengal — from 3-14 December. USAF has brought twelve F15 C/D planes and three C-130 aircraft, while IAF is participating with its Su-30 MKI, Jaguar, Mirage 2000, C-130J and AWACS aircraft.

The USAF fighter aircraft F-15 arrived at Kalaikunda IAF base on Saturday. It has been ascertained that the exercise will host more than 40 aircraft including F-15 and C-130H aircraft of USAF.

Ex Cope India-18, Ex Cope India 2018, India-US bilateral air warfare, Kalaikunda IAF base, Air Force Station, Air Chief Marshal Birender Singh Dhanoa,
The USAF fighter aircraft F-15 arrived at Kalaikunda IAF base on Saturday. (Photo: IAF)


Commenting on Ex Cope India-18, IAF spokesperson Wing Commander Anupam Banerjee said: “International exercises like this not only increases the bonhomie between the two forces but also widens the horizon of the participating individuals as well.”

The IAF contingent comprises Su-30MKI, Mirage-2000, Jaguars, IL-78, C-130J, AWACS & AEW&C aircraft. “The exercise will provide operational exposure and undertake mutual exchange of best practices towards enhancing operational capability,” Banerjee added.

Air Chief Marshal Birender Singh Dhanoa visited the Air Force Station in Kalaikunda on Wednesday to interact with the participating forces. He was received by Air Marshal R Nambiar, Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief Eastern Air Command, and Air Commodore Saji Antony, Air Officer Commanding Air Force Station Kalaikunda.

During his visit, the Chief of the Air Staff was briefed in detail about various phases of the exercise and was apprised of its progress. Post the briefing, he visited the USAF and IAF detachments, where he interacted with the personnel of both forces. He was satisfied with the progress of the exercise and complimented all participants on their professional approach and conduct during the exercise, according to an official statement.

Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa emphasised on the importance of joint exercises as they create an environment of camaraderie and an opportunity to learn from each other’s best practices in enhancing operational synergy.

Ex Cope India-18 is a testimony of the growing Indo-US military relationship. In the past, the Indian Air Force has participated in international exercises with USAF, including the Ex Red Flag. Recently, for the first time, the IAF participated in Ex Pitch Black at Darwin, Australia, where 130 aircraft from 16 countries took part.

(The writer is a Delhi-based independent contributor)