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Indian Air Force, in war games, gives US a run

Foreign fighter jets performed well against F-16s in recent exercises.

By Scott BaldaufStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / November 28, 2005



NEW DELHI

Mingling over a few rounds of golf, dogfighting a bit over the jungles of West Bengal - this month's Cope India 2005 war games were billed as a standard two-week exercise between Indian and American top guns.

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But in website chat rooms devoted to the arcania of fighter aircraft, there was a buzz. Arre, wa! Oh, wow! Had the Indian Air Force beat the Americans?

Not exactly, according to observers and participants. The exercises had mixed teams of Indian and American pilots on both sides, which means that both the Americans and the Indians won, and lost. Yet, observers say that in a surprising number of encounters - particularly between the American F-16s and the Indian Sukhoi-30 MKIs - the Indian pilots came out the winners.

"Since the cold war, there has been the general assumption that India is a third-world country with Soviet technology, and wherever the Soviet-supported equipment went, it didn't perform well," says Jasjit Singh, a retired air commodore and now director of the Center for Air Power Studies in New Delhi. "That myth has been blown out by the results" of these air exercises.

For now, US Air Force officials are saying only that the Cope India 2005 air exercises were a success, and a sign of America's growing appreciation for the abilities of its newfound regional ally.

But there are some signs that America's premier fighter jet, the F-16 Fighting Falcon, is losing ground to the growing sophistication of Russian-made fighter planes, and that the US should be more wary about presuming global air superiority - the linchpin of its military might.

"The Sukhoi is a ... better plane than the F-16," says Vinod Patney, a retired Indian Air Force marshal, and former vice chief of air staff. "But we're not talking about a single aircraft. We're talking about the overall infrastructure, the command and control systems, the radar on the ground and in the air, the technical crew on the ground, and how do you maximize that infrastructure. This is where the learning curve takes place.

"So let's forget about I beat you, you beat me," he adds. "This is not a game of squash."

F-16s 'got their clocks cleaned'

Tell that to the participants of bharat-rakshak.com (Guardian of India). On any given day, this website seems devoted to which Indian fighter plane uses which missile, with occasional grumblings about why Saurav Ganguly is still playing on the Indian cricket team. But during Cope India '05, Bharat Rakshak was a veritable cheering session for the underestimated Indian Air Force.

Typical was a posting by a blogger who called himself "Babui." Citing a quote from a US Air Force participant in Cope India '05 in Stars and Stripes - "We try to replicate how these aircraft perform in the air, and I think we're good at doing that in our Air Force, but what we can't replicate is what's going on in their minds. They've challenged our traditional way of thinking on how an adversary, from whichever country, would fight." - "Babui" wrote, "That quote is as good an admission that the F-16 jocks got their clocks cleaned."

Another blogger, Forgestone, advised against such "chest-thumping." "Coming out on the winning or losing side of a scorecard doesn't change their large technological edge, their resources, their experience, their talent, their geostrategic position," he wrote, referring to the US Air Force.

More recently, an American pilot who participated in the exercise, added his own two cents on the blog. "It makes me sick to see some of the posts on this website," wrote a purported US "Viper" pilot. "They made some mistakes and so did we.... That's what happens and you learn from it."

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