For the second year running, the Indian Air Force came out with flying colours in their brush with the world's most technological advanced airpower -- the United States of America.
Like fish taking to water, Indian fighter pilots took their maiden introduction to Airborne Early Warning and Control System technology, which flew over the country's skies for the first time. Fresh from having proved their mettle in manoeuvres with their United States Air Force counterparts in exercises last year on F-15 Tomcats, IAF pilots held their own, when they came up against the Fighting Falcons -- F-16's, billed as the most superior fighter in the world during the almost two week long joint exercises.
Their performance held in an AWACS environment won them the pat from the visiting American Vice Commander of the Pacific Fleet, Lieutenant General DA Deptula and commanders of the F-16's. "IAF pilots performed exceedingly well during the exercises which for the first time were being held in an AWACS environment", Deptula told newsmen here. His top F-16's commanders Captain Eathen White was more forthcoming saying that 'IAF pilots were outstanding. We watched them very closely and have learnt a lot from them".
Indian fighter pilots were agog for flying in tandem with the E3 Sentry AWACS system saying it "definitely was a force multiplier. Giving you an eye deep beyond you". They said there were all fired up for the induction of the Indian AWACS system by 2007. "Our pilots were exposed to flying in an AWACS environment which will help us when we induct our AWACS," Air Marshal F H Major, Air Officer Commanding in Chief Eastern Air Command, who was also present, said.
On their flying experience in tandem with the AWACS, Indian pilots said it gave them an eye deep into rival territory. "We could pick up incoming targets whether aircraft or missiles almost 400 kilometers away. It gives a grand battle coordination in the air", they said. Indian flight controllers were allowed by the US Air Force personnel to handle the AWACS system during the exercises, senior IAF officers said.Though both Air Force officials shied away from giving any figures of "kills" or "hits", USAF pilots said they had been impressed by the flying skills of the Indian pilots. Deptula as well as Major stressed that the pilots flew in mixed groups simulating dissimilar Air Combat Missions, Basic Fighter Manoeuvres and large-scale engagements in which no individual scores were kept. "The US Air Force is the largest and most technologically advanced air force in the world with rich operational experience. At the same time, the home grown ingenuity and skill of the IAF pilots has earned them respect from different nations of the world", Major said.