Indian Air Force makes first staging visit to Saudi Arabia
A flying contingent of the Indian Air Force (IAF) are on a maiden visit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia from August 1-4
A flying contingent of the Indian Air Force (IAF) are on a maiden visit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia from August 1-4.
Indian Embassy Charge d’Affaires Hemant Kotalwar, while addressing a press conference, called the visit significant, and yet another feature that is set to give the Indo-Saudi relations a boost.
“The visit underscored the close defense ties between India and Saudi Arabia, which received a fillip following Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman’s visit to New Delhi, when he was Crown Prince in February 2014, to sign a Bilateral Defense Cooperation Agreement,” he said.
Kotalwar thanked King Salman and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salam, minister of defense, for the support and cooperation rendered during the visit.
The contingent consisting of 110 IAF officers and airmen onboard Sukhoi 30MKI fighter aircraft, C-17 Globe Masters, C-130 Super Hercules and IL-78 aircraft while en route to United Kingdom for a multinational exercise landed at King Fahd airbase in Taif.
The inaugural staging visit that the IAF pilots called very interactive and fruitful. They will be leaving for Athens prior to the UK for the multinational exercise.
Earlier, RAF Coningsby welcomed the international visitors from the IAF, who had traveled to the UK to support Exercise Indradhanush IV, with a C130, C17 and 4 IAF SU30MKI aircraft till the end of July.
The aim of the exercise, that began on July 21 and ended on July 31, was to enhance mutual operational understanding between the two Air Forces and to provide ample opportunity for exchange of ideas relating to concept of operations in a dynamic warfare environment.
The fighter aircraft, according to a press release, were based at 3(F) Squadron and worked with Typhoon fighter aircraft. 3(F) Squadron, one of the Typhoon squadrons based at RAF Coningsby, was the first Operational Typhoon Squadron.
The SU30MKI aircraft are part of No. 2 Squadron (Winged Arrows) a unit dedicated to close air support based at Kalaikunda Air Force Station, an IAF Base near Kharagpur. The squadron has as its emblem an arrow with spread wings, with the No. 2 attached to the shaft. On a scroll below this crest is inscribed "Amogh Lakshya" (Unwavering Aim).
The RAF and IAF fighter pilots, who participated in Exercise Indradanush, said they were full of admiration for each other’s capabilities and aircraft.
The two-week exercise provided a rare opportunity for RAF pilots to test themselves against the fourth generation Russian built fighter. Over the course of two weeks the complexity of the training sorties increased, starting from 1 v 1 dogfight to sorties involving up to 20 fighters.
Wing Commander Chris Moon, the Officer Commanding 3(F) Squadron, said: “First impressions of the Flanker are very positive. It is a superb airplane and it’s a privilege to operate our Typhoon alongside it.
“The RAF and IAF both pride ourselves on operating some of the leading edge technical equipment in the world. However, without the people to support that we are nothing so that’s where our real strength lies.”
His views were echoed by Squadron Leader Avi Arya, a Qualified Weapons Instructor responsible for training pilots on the radar and weapons systems of the Su-30. He said: “Both are fourth generation aircraft and so are matched evenly, so the learning value comes from the person to person contact, it’s the man behind the machine which matters. All fighter pilots speak the same language, that’s the common thing we have and it’s very comfortable to learn from each other.”
Speaking shortly after his first encounter with the thrust vector equipped Su-30, Typhoon pilot Flight Lieutenant Mike Highmoor had no doubt about the values of the bilateral exercise: “This is fantastic. It’s the first time I’ve flown against a Flanker this morning and it’s fascinating to see another air force do its thing in a different airplane. Flying against an aircraft which is equally comparable to the Typhoon isn’t something we get to fight against on a regular basis in the UK. It’s very exciting. It’s an incredibly impressive fighter but the Typhoon is a good match for it.”
Opposing Flt Lt Highmoor on that first sortie was Squadron Leader Amit Gehani, who trained with the RAF in the UK. He said: “It’s going well. We’re flying a lot of missions that are proving our air combat missions. We brief on the ground, we go up there, set up the fights and thereafter it’s a free for all.
“The Typhoon is a good aircraft, a very powerful aircraft. The RAF pilots here are really amazing and flying with the Typhoon we’re learning a lot of new lessons from the RAF, which we will take back to India. Of course we’re also giving some good points to the Typhoon pilots.”
On training sorties the fighters are being refueled in mid-air by tanker aircraft from their respective countries operating from RAF Brize Norton. C-130J Hercules aircraft are undertaking joint parachute drops of RAF Regiment and IAF Garud troops while RAF and IAF C-17 crews are also training together.
This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette on August 3, 2015.