Military Aviation

India’s Tejas, Rafale, Su-30MKI to dogfight against USAF F-15E Strike Eagle fighter bombers in Cope India air exercise

The timing of Cope India with participation of the F-15E is important as the F-15EX is one of the contenders for the planned competition for the 114 multi-role fighter aircraft competition by the Indian Air Force.

The air forces of India and US will meet at Kalaikunda air base, India next week to resume the Cope India air exercise.

Cope India 2023 will be held from Apr. 10 to Apr. 21 and “further enhance operational capability and interoperability between the two air forces”.

As reported by ETNOW, in the fighter training exercise, the Indian Air Force (IAF) will field the Rafale, Sukhoi Su-30MKI and Tejas fighters as well as AEW&C (airborne early-warning and control) planes, C-17 Globemaster-III strategic airlift aircraft and IL-78 mid-air refuellers.

Media reports from India says the US Air Force (USAF) will be sending its F-15E Strike Eagle fighter bombers to this bilateral exercise.

Cope India 2023 is of significance as it comes at a time when India has been engaged in a three-year-long military confrontation with China in eastern Ladakh along with the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war.
India and the US regularly conduct several exercises, which range from the bilateral `Yudh Abhyas’ land combat one to the quadrilateral Malabar naval wargames.

According to India Today, the timing of the exercise with participation of the F-15 fighter aircraft is important as the F-15EX is one of the contenders for the planned competition for the 114 multi-role fighter aircraft competition by the Indian Air Force.

The exercise between the two sides that was put on hold due to the complexities arising out of the Covid-19 pandemic is being held after a gap of four years.

Cope India began in 2004 as a fighter training exercise held at the air station in Gwalior. The exercise has evolved to incorporate subject matter expert exchanges, air mobility training, airdrop training and large-force exercises, in addition to fighter-training exercises. The last edition of the exercise was held in 2019.

Cope India ’04 exercise was the first dissimilar air combat training exercise between the USAF and the IAF in more than 40 years. Noteworthy during the first edition of the drill the Indian pilots reportedly notched up an astounding 9:1 kill ratio against the USAF F-15Cs, sending shock waves through the American defense establishment.

However, the USAF gave their Indian counterparts their due.

This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. F-15E Strike Eagle 366th Fighter Wing, 391st Fighter Squadron, MO/90-0249 – Mountain Home AFB, ID – 2008

The US participants said the Indian pilots showed innovation and flexibility in their tactics. They also admitted that they came into the exercise underrating the training and tactics of the pilots they faced. Instead of typical Cold War-style, ground-controlled interceptions, the Indians varied aircraft mixes, altitudes and formations. Indian air force planners never reinforced failure or repeated tactics that the US easily repelled. Moreover, the IAF’s airborne commanders changed tactics as opportunities arose. Nor did US pilots believed they faced only India’s top guns. Instead, they said that at least in some units they faced a mix of experienced and relatively new Indian fighter and strike pilots.

The USAF F-15C pilots who took part in that exercise said that “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.”

According to RBTH, because of the storm kicked up by Cope India 2004, the following year the IAF and USAF opted for exercises that had mixed teams of Indian and American pilots on both sides. But observers and participants at Cope India 2005 said in a surprising number of encounters – particularly between USAF F-16s and Indian Su-30 MKIs – the Indian pilots came out on top.

Cope India 2005 proved the previous year’s IAF performance was no fluke.

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Photo credit: U.S. Air Force

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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