Why IAF's entry into Ex Desert Flag is a big deal
Historic multilateral air combat exercise sees India partner with the US, France, UAE, Saudi Arabia and South Korea for the first time.
Six Su-30 MKI, two C-17 Globemaster III and one IL-78 tanker aircraft.
That’s the Indian contingent as it embarks on a historic multilateral air combat exercise in the United Arab Emirates from today (Wednesday), partnering with the US, France, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Bahrain and of course the hosts UAE for the first time.
Exercise Desert Flag is an annual multinational large force employment warfare exercise hosted by the UAE Air Force, and is scheduled to run from March 3 to 21 at the Al Dhafra airbase – the same facility that had provided fuel support to the India’s first five Rafale jets, during their 7,000-km long journey to India from France.
“The IAF is participating for the first time in Exercise Desert Flag-VI along with air forces of the United Arab Emirates, United States of America, France, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and Bahrain,” said the IAF in a statement.
While the C-17 Globemaster will provide support for the induction and de-induction of the IAF contingent, the Su-30 MKI aircraft will undertake a long-range ferry, routing directly from India to the exercise area with aerial refuelling support from the IL-78 tanker aircraft.
Strengthening defence ties with the Arab world
The aim of the exercise is to provide operational exposure to the participating forces, while training them to undertake simulated air combat operations in a controlled environment, the IAF said.
The war games come at a time when India’s defence and military relations with the Arab world have been on a trajectory of strategic growth and depth.
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In December last year, Indian Army Chief General M.M. Naravane had visited UAE and Saudi Arabia – the first such visit by an Indian army chief to Gulf nations. The UAE and Saudi Arabia have also shown increasing interest in India’s indigenous Akash air defence missiles systems and BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles, with negotiations expected to reach an advanced stage soon.
Last month, the Indian Defence Ministry hailed the arrival of Indian Naval Ship (INS) Pralaya in Abu Dhabi during the IDEX and NAVDEX defence exhibitions as underscoring “the deep rooted, friendly ties and multi-faceted cooperation between India and the UAE”. The INS Pralaya visited Abu Dhabi to participate in the NAVDEX 21 and IDEX 21 defence exhibitions and to “further strengthen defence cooperation between the two countries," the Ministry said. Separately, INS Mysore, an indigenously built guided missile destroyer, which is deployed in the Gulf region on a mission, also made a port call at Abu Dhabi for three days during the event.
“The future of India-GCC defence ties appears bright… Growing tensions in the Gulf has compelled India to employ its naval ships to accompany oil and other cargo ships. Such actions envisage close cooperation with Gulf countries as well as better understanding with the US Navy which has a strong presence in the region. Growing military cooperation is essential,” said Major General (Retd) Harsha Kakar. “Secondly, there is scope for enhancing military-to-military ties, especially with Saudi Arabia. Thirdly, defence manufacturing and export of military hardware to these countries can be enhanced. Given the nature of security threats in South Asia and the Gulf, both India and the Gulf countries import large quantities of defence equipment and weapons from other nations. India can become a reliable supplier in the future,” he said.
After taking part in the US military's Red Flag in 2016, Israel's Blue Flag in 2017 and Pitch Black of Australia in 2018, Desert Flag will be IAF's fourth multilateral wargames.