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Forging ties: India and France team for fighter training.

An Indian Air Force detachment left for France on June 9 to take part in the two-week bilateral Garuda II exercise with the French Air Force. Leaving Bareilly AFS, located close to Nepal in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, via Jamnagar AFS in Gujarat (where they stayed for two days of mission briefing), the Indian Air Force team, consisting of six Su-30K air-superiority fighters and a single Il-78 mid-air refueller, were participants in India's second joint fighter exercise with the French Air Force and the first ever to take place in France.


After the success of Garuda I, the initial joint exercise held in India at Gwalior AFS in February 2003, the two air forces held Garuda II in France alter skipping a year.

The Su-30Ks, from No. 24 Squadron ("Hunting Hawks") and the Il-78 from the Agra-based No. 78 Mid-Air Refuelling Squadron (MARS), supported en route by another Il-78 and two standard Il-76 cargo planes ferrying ground personnel and support equipment, were flagged off from Bareilly AFS by Vice-Chief of Air Staff Air Marshai S. K. Malik. Speaking on the occasion, Malik called on the airmen to "live up to the reputation" of the Bharatiya Vayu Sena for Indian Air Force in Hindi) by doing well in the exercise. Observing that it is difficult to build a reputation and equally difficult to maintain it, he said the exercise offered them "a big challenge of flying in a different environment and tight air space."

Later briefing national reporters on the aims of the exercise, Air Marshal Malik said Garuda II--in which the Su-30Ks match their expertise against the French Air Force's Mirage 2000-5 fighters, along with the older Mirage 2000B and C versions--would focus on advanced air-defense techniques, as well as acquaint the Indian Air Force (IAF) with the use of a French E-3F AWACS.


The IAF exchange team, led by Group Captain Shreesh Mohan, arrived at Istres on June 15 in the afternoon after a two-day stopover at Jiyanklis AB in the Egyptian Nile delta. The Indian party was greeted on French soil by Lt. Col. Jean-Sebastien "Big" Macke, commanding officer of Escadron de Chasse 2/5 "Ile de France" (a squadron equipped with Mirage 2000 air-superiority fighters and relocated for the duration of the exercise from the nearby Orange Base Aerienne 115), host of the event, along with Col. Bruno Clermont, commander of the Istres Base Aerienne 125.

Instead of Orange AB, Istres AB was retained for the exercise because it (already well known by US Air Force KC-135 and U-2 crews) possesses a 5,000-m runway, whereas Orange AB only has a NATO-standard 2,400-m runway, too short to be used operationally by large tanker aircraft like the Il-78MKI.

The 15-day exercise at Istres AB was due to last from June 16-30 and saw the IAF's Su-30s competing against the French Mirages, including the powerful Mirage 2000-5, which is one of the four multirole fighter aircraft the IAF is considering buying (with the Gripen, the MiG-29M, and the F-16) (see "Buying in Bangalore," JED, April 2005, p. 14).

Describing the French Air Force as an extremely "experienced and capable" force, AVM Sumit Mukherjee, India's assistant chief of the Air Staff (ACAS), said that the IAF had had the opportunity to exercise with the US, Singapore, Thailand, and Australia, as well as the NATO countries--all regarded as the world's most experienced air arms, with a level of training second to none. "We have had a fruitful exchange with them and look forward to learning from their experience and employment philosophy," he said, adding the French also would have their very first exposure to the Su-30 and were awaiting it with keen interest.

Asked if the IAF intended to gain more experience in beyond-visual-range (BVR) operations and mid-air refueling, as the French had demonstrated their prowess in these two procedures during Garuda 1 two years ago, ACAS (Ops C & D) Mukherjee said these were part of the learning process of such endeavours. "Our armed forces have been somewhat insular, just exercising with each other, though our equipment was on par with the best in the world," he said. "However, all this changed in the last few years, with increasing military cooperation and exercises with friendly countries. During Garuda 1, we realised that while we were flying the same aircraft (Mirage 2000) as the French, they were using it in a somewhat different way and getting good results. This formed a part of our learning process."

The IAF contingent consisted of 120 personnel, of which 18 belonged to Su-30 aircrews and five to the Il-78 crew. The remaining 97 included flight engineers, technicians, administrative officials, and medical personnel. The flying component was led by the commanding officer of the "Hawks" squadron: Wing Commander K.V. Raju. While at Istres, it was observed that the IAF team was mostly made up of highly experienced senior pilots, with squadron leaders (majors) and wing commanders (lieutenant-colonels) only.

The exercise also afforded Indian controllers with an opportunity fly as observers onboard an E-3F AWACS aircraft to be fielded by the French Air Force's ESDA 0/36 from Avord AB.

The Su-30 model flown by No. 24 Squadron and dispatched to France is the same aircraft that achieved initial operational capability with the Russian Air Force in 1992. Based on the two-seat Su-27UB trainer and originally known as the Su-27PU, the Su-30 is intended to be a long-range precision-attack fighter, similar in mission to the F-15E Strike Eagle. Although retaining the air-to-air interceptor duties of the Su-27, the early Su-30 and Su-30K models, like those flown by No. 24 Squadron, are optimized for long-endurance air-superiority missions of 10 hours or so. These aircraft are also fitted with a radio-location system that allows them to transmit the positions of up to 10 targets to four other aircraft simultaneously. Thus, up to 10 targets can be engaged cooperatively by a group of five Su-30 fighters. This feature makes the Su-30 suitable for use as a tactical fighter leader, designating targets to be attacked by other aircraft.

The six Su-30s that visited France were all from the second batch of 10 aircraft (SB009 to SB018) delivered to No. 24 Squadron at Lohegaon AFS in November 1999, as Su-30Ks. The K, or export variant, has limited precision-guided-munitions (PGM) capability, and these machines were originally built to fulfill a canceled Indonesian order for 12 Su-30s. Nowadays, No. 24 Squadron flies a total of 18 baseline Su-30 two-seat fighters: eight Su-30MKs and 10 Su-30Ks. All aircraft from this initial batch are due either to be upgraded to the MKI standard after 2007 or even traded for new airframes built by IAPO. No. 24 Squadron's aircraft are easily recognizeable, as they are devoid of canard foreplanes and painted in the standard Russian two-tone air-defense camouflage.


As revealed by their pilots at Istres, the Su-30 models flown by No. 24 squadron are actually early-production Su-30s complete with Russian equipment and avionics, both with mentions in Cyrillic and in English. This model joined the eight early Su-30MK (M for modified and K for export) aircraft, which have a precision ground-attack capability and can carry a wide range of advanced guided bombs and missiles. In addition, the latest air-to-air weapons can be employed by the Su-30 fighters of No. 24 Squadron. The Sukhoi OKB design bureau actively marketed the Su-30MK, and it has since been purchased in large numbers by India as the Su-30MKI (I for "Indiisky," Russian for "Indian") and China as the Su-30MKK (K for "Kitaisky," Russian for Chinese).

India, though, is currently the No. 1 customer for this very potent fourth-generation, long-range fighter, having ordered a total of 190 Su-30s so far in three separate deals. Today, the Indian Air Force has three Su-30 units flying a total of fifty aircraft. Of these, 18 are baseline aircraft while the rest are full-up Su-30MKIs fitted with canards and vectored thrust nozzles to their AL-31 turbofan engines for improved maneuverability. The first such improved Su-30MKI was flown on July 1, 1997, but crashed on June 12, 1999, during the 43rd Paris Air Show, while trying to recover from a low-altitude loop.

Russia delivered the last 10 Su-30MKI fighters to India in December 2004, completing a contract for 50 of the modern fighter-bombers (see "Indian Su-30MKIs Nearly Ready," JED, April 2005, p. 20). A total of 140 Indian-built aircraft are currently planned. The first two, assembled from parts delivered from Russia, were handed over to the Indian Air Force in November 2004. It is now agreed that, during the production run, Russian parts will gradually be replaced by Indian-made ones, but the first totally Indian-built Su-30 is not scheduled to leave the factory before 2010. Present plans call for the production run to be completed in 2017. Avionics systems for the aircraft will also be manufactured locally. The N011M Bars Mk 3 radars, for example, will be produced by HAL Hyderabad Division.


While training in France with the French Air Force Mirage 2000s, India's Su-30Ks practiced combined as well as dissimilar-aircraft sorties with air-to-air refuelings from the Il-78MKI and the C-135FRs over the Mediterranean, both air forces using the same probe and drogue technique. First air-to-air contacts were logged by the Su-30Ks on a C-135FR flying south of Marseilles on June 21, and the following day, the French Mirages performed their first air-to-air refuellings from the Il-78MKI.

Incidentally, the single Il-78MKI tanker and its crew served as host of the locally based Groupe de Ravitaillement en Vol 0/93 "Bretagne," commanded by Lt. Col. Olivier Goudal. France's only tanker unit, employing a mix of 14 Boeing C-135FR and KC-135R Stratotankers, GRV 0/93 is one of NATO's oldest tanker outfits, having been established in 1964 to support the nascent Mirage IVA nuclear-bomber force. One third of the Groupe's Stratotanker force is permanently abroad, supporting French operations in Central Africa and French Air Force Mirage fighter-bombers involved in Operation Enduring Freedom over Afghanistan.

Headed by Wing Commander V. Ravi, commanding officer of No. 78 "Battle Cry" Squadron, headquartered at Agra in Uttar Pradesh, the Indian tanker detachment, with its single crew and lone aircraft, stood in line for two weeks at Istres AB with some 10 GRV 0/93 Stratotankers. A young outfit, having been established less than three years ago. No. 78 MARS today flies the first three Il-78MKIs in Indian colors. These planes were ordered from Russia in August 2001 and delivered in 2003. They are part of a total order for six Built at Chkalov, by TAPO near Tashkent, in Uzbekistan, each aircraft has a three-point air-to-air probe and drogue tanker system capable of delivering fuel to three fighters simultaneously.

Developed from the Il-76 Candid transport by Ilyushin the Il-78 Midas entered Soviet Air Force operational service with the 409th Air Tanker Regiment at Uzin in 1987. It represents Russia's newer and only in-flight-refueling aircraft, since the Tupolev Tu-16N and Tu-16Z Badger tankers now no longer fly, not to mention the much older Myasishchev 3MS-2 and M-4-2 Bison tankers, which were retired in 1994. In the Il-78M the Il-76 standard cargo bay houses two huge 22,000-liter fuel tanks, permanently fixed to the floor, and the aircraft is fitted with the UPAZ-1A Sakhalin flight-refueling system, consisting of three refueling pods (one under each wing and a third one on the left side of the tail section) and equipped with impact pressure turbines, not very different technically from the British FR or Smiths refueling pods today in service with the KC-135R or those entering service on the new KC-767A tankers. The refuelling speed is 232-319 knots (430-590 kmph), and the fuel-transfer rate ranges from 900 to approximately 2,500 liters per minute. When operating at maximum takeoff weight, it can transfer some 50,000 liters of fuel over an operational range of 2,500 km (1,345 nm).


A variant of the Il-78, the Il-78M, which is roughly the size of a C-141A, has a strengthened wing structure and increased maximum takeoff weight of 210 tons. Thanks to the elimination of the rear clam-shell doors, two internal overhead winches, fold-down roller conveyors, and loading ramp, the Il-78MKI can takeoff with nearly 113 tons of fuel onboard. The cargo hold is fully pressurized and has a titanium floor to withstand the weight of the internally mounted fuselage tanks. Cylindrically shaped, pallet-mounted fuel tanks in the cargo hold together contain 35 tons of the aircraft's 100-ton total transferable fuel load. The refueling process is monitored by an observer occupying the former tail gunner's position and is controlled from the flight engineer's station in the cockpit. Receiver/tanker rendezvous is facilitated by a simple homing radar housed behind a broad flat aft-facing radome located forward of the standard rear loading ramp.

The Il-78M is capable of supplying 75,150 liters (16,530 gallons) of fuel to receivers at ranges up to 1,800 km (968 nm) from base or 40,000-43,800 liters (8,800-9,640 gallons) up to 4,000 km (2,152 nm) from base. It is a very sturdy tanker platform, and the RSBN-75 radio-navigation system integrated with the Vstrecha rangefinding radar mounted in the rear fuselage allows the aircraft commander to monitor the receivers securely to rendezvous in bad weather and low visibility from a distance of 300 km (185 nm) The variant flown by the Indian Air Force is the Il-78MKI.

The Garuda II exercise was certainly not downplayed both the Indian and French Air Forces, as the new IAF chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Shashindra Pal Tyagi, paid a week-long visit to France on this occasion. Starting June 14, his visit led him first to the 46th Paris Air Show, where he met French officials with his host and French counterpart. General d'Armee Aerienne Richard Wolsztynski. Although Tyagi stayed in Paris for two days to observe the air show and hold talks with Wolsztynski, he later travelled to southern France to meet with the IAF contingent participating in Garuda II. His visit at Istres AB was considered very positive, and Indian and French aircrews worked hand in hand to achieve positive training results.
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Comment:Forging ties: India and France team for fighter training.
Author:Guhl, Jean-Michel
Publication:Journal of Electronic Defense
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Sep 1, 2005
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