India relied heavily upon Soviet-made weapons and technical support until the collapse of the Soviet Union and the 1991 Gulf War. Relations between the U.S. and India improved throughout the 1990s but suffered a setback upon India’s test detonation of a nuclear weapon in 1998. The Clinton administration promptly imposed sanctions prohibiting military interaction and limiting political relations.
The aftermath of the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks, however, sparked a renewed American interest in South Asia and subsequently forced both the US and India to reconsider their strategic relationship. Since India came to the United States' aid after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the two countries have engaged in the most active military-to-military exchanges in 40 years. High-level contacts resulted in codified agreements such as the Next Steps in Strategic Partnership and a ten-year defense agreement between the two countries. Equally important have been the growing organizational and military ties between the U.S. and India.
The two militaries had participated in training exercises and visits since 1962, when the first U.S.-India military exercises were held after the Sino-Indian border war, but not to the degree in these recent exchanges. The Air Force exercises - Cope India was the third in six months - are a continuation of President Bush's policy toward India. After Sept. 11, when India was one of the first nations to offer the United States help, Bush lifted U.S. sanctions and called for a more open relationship.
Cope India 2003
Indian Army paratroopers jump from a USAF C-130E over a drop zone near Air Force Station Agra, India, during Exercise COPE INDIA 2003.
Cope India 2004
USAF relations with the Indian Air Force (IAF) progressed apace with U.S. policy as indicated by the highly publicized and successful Exercise Cope India 2004. Air Forces from the United States and India participated in the second Cope India exercise Feb. 15-27, 2004. The exercise at Gwalior Air Force Station, India, will provide valuable training for aircrew and maintenance personnel, and will enhance military-to-military relationship between the U.S. Air Force and the Indian Air Force.
During Cope India 04, both forces conducted their first bilateral dissimilar air combat exercise together to enhance relations and the understanding of each other's mutual capabilities. US Air Force assets participating included F-15 aircraft and approximately 140 personnel from Elmendorf AFB, Alaska. A variety of IAF aircraft will participate including Mirage 2000, MIG-21, MIG-27, SU-30 and Jaguar.
The first bilateral dissimilar air combat exercise between the U.S. Air Force and the Indian air force in more than 40 years began Feb. 16. Approximately 150 airmen from Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, are here for the exercise. Dissimilar AIR COMBAT TRAINING, otherwise known as DACT, is simulated combat flying between two different types of aircraft. Indian air force aircraft participating in the exercise include the Mirage 2000, MiG-21, MiG-27 and SU-30. The airmen from Elmendorf are flying F-15 Eagles. Cope India 04 afforded each air force the opportunity to enhance and mature operational understanding and set the basis for future cooperation.
The station, located approximately 10 miles from the city of Gwalior in North Central India, is one of the oldest Indian air force bases in South Asia. The air force station is the center hub of operational training, testing and national-level exercises and includes the only Indian air force electronic warfare range, used to aid new pilots in aircraft familiarization.
Cope India ‘04 was the first bilateral dissimilar air combat training exercise held between US and Indian air forces in more than 40 years. Following two days of familiarization flights, American F-15s joined the Indian SU-30K Flanker, Mirage 2000, MIG-29 Fulcrum, MIG-27 Flogger and MIG-21 Bison aircraft in a series of offensive counter-air and defensive counter-air engagements.
At the Cope India exercise held in 2004 at Gwalior, Indian pilots flying MiG-21 Bisons (upgraded with Russian Phazatron radar, Vympel R-73 missiles and the beyond visual range Vympel R-77 air-to-air missiles) blew away the F-15 and the F-16 fighters of the USAF on one-on-one as well as in mixed exercises. The USAF acknowledged the MiG-21 Bisons and Su-30MKIs were tough opponents. In the next Cope India exercise in 2005 at Kalaikundi, Indian pilots operating the MiG-21s and Sukhois emerged victorious most of the time.
At the Cope India exercise held at the Gwalior air force range on February 15-27, 2004, Indian pilots reportedly notched up an astounding 9:1 kill ratio against the all-powerful USAF, sending shock waves through the American defence establishment. Tthe adaptive capability of Indian Air Forces flying seemingly inferior former Soviet systems in a superior manner to overcome technological inequalities disproved many American threat assumptions.
While the Pentagon brass tried to knock the IAF’s achievement, the USAF gave their Indian counterparts their due. Aviation Week & Space Technology’s David A. Fulghum quoted Colonel Mike Snodgrass, commander of the USAF’s 3rd Wing based at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska: “The outcome of the exercise boils down to (the fact that) they ran tactics that were more advanced than we expected...They could come up with a game plan, but if it wasn't working they would call an audible and change (tactics in flight)."
About the different IAF fighters the six F-15Cs from the 3rd Wing encountered, Snodgrass said: “The two most formidable IAF aircraft proved to be the MiG-21 Bison, an upgraded version of the Russian-made baseline MiG-21, and the Su-30MK Flanker, also made in Russia".
About the capabilities of IAF pilots, USAF team leader Colonel Greg Newbech said: “What we’ve seen in the last two weeks is the IAF can stand toe-to-toe with the best air force in the world. I pity the pilot who has to face the IAF and chances the day to underestimate him; because he won’t be going home.
“They made good decisions about when to bring their strikers in. The MiG-21s would be embedded with a (MiG-27) Flogger for integral protection. There was a data link between the Flankers that was used to pass information. They built a very good (radar) picture of what we were doing and were able to make good decisions about when to roll (their aircraft) in and out."
The Times of India summed up the aerial encounter: “The US Air Force underestimated the Indian Air Force pilots and their numerical skills. They thought these are another set of Iraqi or Iranian pilots."
Republican Congressman from California, Duke Cunningham, told a House Appropriations defence subcommittee hearing that USAF F-15Cs had been defeated more than 90 percent of the time in direct combat exercises against the IAF.
Cunningham’s revelation kicked up a huge uproar in Washington DC. Some Western military observers attempted to debunk the results, claiming the USAF did not bring its true ‘go-to-war-gear’ to these exercises and that the American pilots fought with several handicaps.
The F-15Cs that participated in Cope India 2004 were not equipped with the active electronically scanned array (AESA) radars. But then neither were the Indian jets. Secondly, at India’s request the USAF agreed to mock combat at 3-to-1 odds, which meant the six American jets were up against 18 IAF aircraft. And finally, the Americans agreed not to simulate their beyond-visual-range (BVR) missiles.
The IAF did not deploy its advanced Su-30 MKI Flanker, only the older Su-30, because the MKI’s radar frequencies are classified.
The lopsided result can be explained in the difference in combat styles of the two air forces. While the IAF varied aircraft mixes, altitudes and formations, the American pilot seemed stuck in the static Cold War-style of ground-controlled interceptions, which gives little leeway to the individual pilot.
Cope India 2005
The USAF returned for Cope India 2005 in November 2005. Although these exercises were helpful to evaluate air combat tactics, many observers were more interested in the results of head-to-head engagements between foreign- and US-built fighters to determine the superior aircraft. In particular, many arguments surrounding the exercise pointed to Indian successes against American aircraft as an argument for additional F-22 procurement.
Cope India 2006
Exercise Cope India ‘06 marked the first time F-16 Fighting Falcons had flown against Indian fighters -- including their newest Su-30MKI variant -- in dissimilar air combat training. E-Sentry airborne warning and control system aircraft also participated. At times, Indian and American fighters mixed it up in the air.
Cope India 2008
Cope India 08 is very poorly attested and may not have taken place.
Cope India 2010
US and Indian air force officials were pleased with the positive results of all of the joint-training operations executed during Cope India 10, 19 to 23 October 2009 [the exercises are denominated by the Fiscal Year in which they occur, and FY2010 began 01 October]. By then, Cope India was a United States and India airlift exercise that provided training for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations. A combined total of 25 sorties were flown on the C-17 Globemaster III and C-130 H and J Hercules during the exercise.
More than 400 combined airmen from the United States and India began the fourth installment of exercise Cope India, a bilateral humanitarian assistance disaster relief exercise, after officially kicking-off here Oct. 19. The exercise will exchange airlift, air land, and tactical airdrop delivery techniques using three C-130H Hercules, one C-17 Globemaster III, one C-130J, and IAF aircraft to include one IL-76 Gajraj, four AN-32 Sutlejes, two MI-17 Prataps, and one Chetak Alouette.
During Cope India, the U.S. Air Force and Indian air force exchanged information on airlift plus loading and unloading operations and procedures. Two dozen troops from the 613th Contingency Response Squadron at Andersen Air Force Base conducted airfield assessment operations, such as how to evaluate a suitable airfield at a deployed location. They showed the Indians how to determine the best location for a tent city in case they want to embed troops or aircraft somewhere.
Cope India 2012
Exercise Cope India was apparently discontinued after Cope India 10.
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