The ongoing Ex-Cope India 2018 is a true testimony of growing India-US military relationship. The 12-day bilateral joint military exercise between IAF and USAF kick-started on December 4, 2018, with an aim to enhance operational coordination, and would conclude at Kalaikunda and Panagarh air bases in West Bengal on December 14, 2018.

7th day of Ex-Cope India 2018: Ground and Air might comes alive in West-Bengal
A USAF – Eagle landing at Kalaikunda AFS after exercise. (Image Courtesy: Indian Air Force)

 

The aim of the exercise is to provide operational exposure and undertake a mutual exchange of best practices towards enhancing operational capability, as expressed by both the forces. USAF has brought in 12 Eagle – F15 C/D planes and three C-130 aircraft, while the IAF is participating with its Su-30 MKI, Jaguar, Mirage 2000 from its fighter fleet, and C-130J and AWACS aircraft from Panagarh.

7th day of Ex-Cope India 2018: Ground and Air might comes alive in West-Bengal
AOC, AF Station Kalaikunda, Air Commodore Saji Anthony with Ex-directors from IAF and USAF along with co of Eagle sqn AC. In the background is the Eagle. (Image Courtesy: Indian Air Force)

 

The 12-day exercise started with familiarisation sorties for both sides followed by a performance demo, graduating to 1v1 and 2v2 and large force engagement later. “This is not an ‘us’ versus them scenario. We flew mixed formations and attempted to learn from each other’s best practices,” said AOC, AF Station Kalaikunda, Air Commodore Saji Anthony.

7th day of Ex-Cope India 2018: Ground and Air might comes alive in West-Bengal
IAF AEWC back from a mutual mission. (Image Courtesy: Indian Air Force)

 

The USAF force commander further added, “The effort is to interact and learn from each other. I am sure the IAF is benefitting as much as we are from this joint exercise.” EX-Cope India 2018 is also witnessing the active joint efforts by the elite commandos of both the forces. GARUDs of IAF and USAF DELTA (SFOD-D) pursued their regular routine drills on the sidelines of the joint aerial exercises.

7th day of Ex-Cope India 2018: Ground and Air might comes alive in West-Bengal
A line up of Eagles at Kalaikunda AFS. (Image Courtesy: Indian Air Force)

 

The indigenous AEWC aircraft of the IAF served as the vigilant eyes in the sky, controlling missions in the air and has proved its mettle in a dense aerial environment. Commanding Officer of the AEWC Sqn, Group Capt Batra further briefed on how the platform, a total in-house modification to an ‘Embraer’ aircraft is successful in controlling the scenario from the sky in hours of concern.

7th day of Ex-Cope India 2018: Ground and Air might comes alive in West-Bengal
USAF personnel in front of an IAF Jaguar. (Image Courtesy: Indian Air Force)

 

Speaking about the exercise Air Commodore Jasvir Singh Mann said, “There are times when the mission leader for mixed formations have been USAF pilots and at times IAF pilots. This brings out the maximum learning value from the EX-Cope India18.”

7th day of Ex-Cope India 2018: Ground and Air might comes alive in West-Bengal
USAF personnel in front of the display. (Image Courtesy: Indian Air Force)

 

Kalaikunda, or KKD as it is generally referred to, generally hosted most of the IAF’s international exercises. The base was built in 1955 by the IAF but a portion of it existed even during WW2 and was generally used by the allied forces for the so-called Hump’ Operations at that time.

Apart from flying and warfighting discussions, both the sides have built up bonhomie over games and cultural activities, the latest being a cycle expedition to Digha beach 125 km away during the last weekend between both the forces. This is also the first time that an international exercise is being planned and executed over two IAF bases, an event which requires an immense amount of coordination and care to ensure success and safety.

Ex Cope India-18 seems to be a true testimony of the growing Indo-US military relationship. In the past, the Indian Air Force has participated in international exercises with the 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 to print and online publications)