An elite group of air guardians from the Indian Air Force have taken off on a mission to a far-off land. The guardians will fly against the best pilots from around the world in one of the most contested air exercise. Pilots from the Indian Air Force (IAF) are participating in the coveted ‘Red Flag’ air exercise hosted by the USAF at Alaska, USA.
The IAF contingent consists of 12 aircraft formed of 4 each Sukhoi Su-30 MKI fighter aircraft, and Jaguar deep penetration strike aircraft and 2 each Boeing C-17 Globemaster Heavy Lift aircraft and Ilyushin Il-78 mid-air refueller aircraft. The aircraft have taken off from Jamnagar Air Force Base (AFB) and will travel through Bahrain, Egypt, France, Portugal and Canada before arriving at Eielson AFB, Alaska.
Red Flag is an aerial combat training exercise which depicts the realistic scenarios in a hostile air space. The exercise is to be held from April 28th to May 13th 2016 at Eielson Air Base, Alaska. The participating aircraft are divided between Blue forces and Red Forces. The Blue forces are friendly and engage the hostile forces represented by the Red forces. The exercises are planned taking into account every single military asset deployed in the region. Aircraft are required to perform in interdictory roles, CAS and CAP missions.
Briefing about the air force’s preparation for the exercise a senior air force officer was quoted saying “Apart from the aircraft, the IAF contingent has 202 personnel, including 71 officers. The contingent will reach Alaska flying via Bahrain, Egypt, France, Portugal and Canada. Before the actual exercise gets going, our contingent will undergo intensive work-up phases to get familiar with the new operational environment,”
A key part of the ‘Red Flag’ exercises are the de-briefing and analytical sessions held after every aerial combat mission. These sessions are aided by an advanced system called the Red Flag Measurement and Debriefing System (RFMDS). This system uses multiple hardware and software systems to gather and analyse the flight data of every aircraft on a real time basis. This system allows the participating pilots to understand and hone their combat skills.
Every ‘Red Flag’ exercise is composed of various assets from USAF and her allies. The ‘Green Flag’ exercise is the initial part of the ‘Red Flag’ air exercise and demands the participating aircraft to fly Close Air Support (CAS) missions. Pilots during this phase hone their Air to Surface combat skills. The next phase of the air exercise is the Mobility Air Forces Exercise (MAFEX) and Joint Forcible Entry Exercise (JFEX) where Special Forces are rapidly deployed with the assistance of strategic and heavy lift aircraft like Lockheed Martin C-130 Super Hercules and Boeing C-17 GlobeMaster aircraft. These aircraft are escorted by fighter aircraft and fly right through enemy air defences and air bases.
The next phase of the ‘Red Flag’ air exercise mainly includes fighter aircraft flying in formations to perform interdictory and strike missions. Initially the aircraft participate in the ‘Jaded Thunder’ operations where the aircraft are required to strike high-value targets in civilian rich territory. Pilots are extensively trained to operate in urban environment and this helps to minimize collateral damages in the battlefield. The next phase of the exercise involves aircraft flying in CAP roles. It is named Joint Expeditionary Force Experiment (JEFX) missions and fighter aircraft fly-in air superiority roles fighting out each other in closely contested aerial battles. It is here that the best out of the pilots are brought out.
What makes ‘Red Flag’ air exercise the toughest aerial combat exercise is its realistic factor and the participating contingent. Pilots from the around the world will be battling it out against the best men and machine combinations. The frontline battle machines of the IAF – the Su-30 MKI air superiority aircraft will be challenged by the F-22 Raptors, F-18 Hornets, F-16 Falcons, Eurofighter Typhoons and Mirage fighter aircraft. If Raptors are considered to be the toughest, the F-16’s and F-18’s fly-in stinging on the wounds leftover by the F-22’s.
The Sukhoi Su-30 MKI aircraft will fly in air superiority missions and will closely guard IAF’s only CAS role aircraft – the Jaguar deep penetration fighter aircraft. The Boeing C-17 GlobeMaster aircraft will be ferrying necessary spare parts and support systems. In the later part of the exercises the C-17’s will perform in rapid deployment missions. The Il-78 mid-air refuellers drastically boost the combat radius of the Su-30’s and Jaguar aircraft.
India has participated two times in the ‘Red Flag’ exercises and has earned laurels from their counterparts. USAF personnel have termed IAF pilots to be fierce and outrightly genius in aerial combats. Our air guardians with their Su-30’s have at several instances outperformed the F-16 and F-18 fighter aircraft. The Lockheed Martin F-16 fighter aircraft are the mainstay fighters of the neighbouring Pakistan Air Force. Successfully outperforming these aircraft is a major morale booster to our pilots. A single phase of the coveted air exercise is expected to cost India over INR 100 crores. However, the experience and knowledge gained serve as a major force multiplier to the pilots of the Indian Air Force (IAF).