Indian fighter pilots are now planning to match their air combat skills with among the best in the world, first against their British counterparts this year and then against American top-guns next year.
IAF pilots are gearing up to fly their Sukhoi-30MKI "air dominance" fighters and IL-78 mid-air refuellers to the UK to take on the Royal Air Force during the "Indra Dhanush" exercise, which is scheduled for July-August.
But the real test of their skills will come if they take part in the world famous "Red Flag" exercise to be held in Alaska in the US in April next year. If the IAF does indeed get all the requisite clearances for the Red Flag exercise, it will be the second time for the force in the high-voltage, "network-centric" exercise.
IAF chief Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha on Monday left for a four-day visit to the US, during which he is slated to receive a detailed briefing on the Red Flag combat manoeuvres at the Nellis US Air Force base in Nevada, northwest of Las Vegas, among other consultations.
It was in 2008 that the IAF had earlier participated in Red Flag at the Nellis airbase, which is considered the "mother" of all air combat exercises since it comes closest to realistic air combat without actually going to war.
It was also the first time that the Russian-origin Sukhoi-30MKI fighters had flown over the American mainland. Though not quite familiar with operating in an AWACS (airborne warning and control systems) environment then, the IAF fighter pilots had performed quite well in the demanding exercise.
Since then, the IAF has inducted and operationalised three Israeli Phalcon AWACS of its own. Apart from detecting incoming hostile fighters, cruise missiles & drones much before ground-based radars, AWACS play a crucial role in directing friendly fighters during combat operations with enemy jets.
Participation in such exercises also serve to establish IAF's capability to ``project air power'' by deploying "a trans-continental task force" of fighters, tankers and airlift aircraft across the globe. IAF fighter pilots have managed to hold their own, many a time outgunning their rivals, in the series of bilateral exercises with US, UK and France, among others, over the years.