Military Aviation

USAF B-1B Bombers take part in Cope India exercise for first time (The Indian Air Force would need a Squadron of Lancer Strategic Bombers urgently)

The Indian Air Force, which has reportedly toyed with the idea of acquiring modern bombers in the past, would need to purchase a cruise missile carrier urgently.

Two US Air Force (USAF) B-1B Lancer strategic bombers will take part for the first time in ‘Cope India’ exercise, a joint India-US exercise that began on Monday Apr. 10, 2023. The B-1Bs heavy bombers will participate in the exercise later this week.

Amid the current geopolitical situation and China’s exerting coercion in the Indo-Pacific region, the exercise started off in Kalaikunda air base and comprised American platforms that include F-15E Strike Eagle fighter bombers, C-130 and C-17 airlifters.

General Kenneth S Wilsbach, the commander of the US Pacific Air Forces, confirmed the B-1B bombers and F-15E fighter bombers will take part in the exercise later this week.

According to India Today, two B-1Bs were part of the American exhibits at the Aero India 2023 in Bengaluru in February this year.

Explaining the first-time participation of the US bomber in an exercise in India, Gen. Wilsbach said, “We have an opportunity not only to show the aircraft in public, but the crew also have an opportunity to train with one another and incorporate the bombers into the scenarios so that everybody on all sides has a chance to see how they operate and we can improve our tactics, techniques, and procedures.”

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.

Given the above reasons, the IAF, which has reportedly toyed with the idea of acquiring modern bombers in the past, would need to purchase a cruise missile carrier urgently. In fact, India is currently relying on a few Su-30MKIs, which can carry just a single Brahmos-A each.

The USAF Global Strike Command has retired 17 B-1 bombers from its fleet of 62. The 45 that remain in service will serve until the new B-21 stealth bomber is ready for duty.

Some of the retired B-1Bs had severe structural fatigue, especially at the wing-pivot points, because the jets were flying high and slow instead of low and fast with wings swept, as they were designed to do. However, repairs would fix the issues.

A USAF official says, “It would have taken between $10 million and $30 million per aircraft to get back to a status quo fleet in the short term until the B-21 comes online.”

As explained by Eurasiantimes, ‘the IAF could lease or acquire a squadron of B-1B bombers and cruise missiles to go with them for around $1 billion! Purely from the point of view of augmenting its strike power to a level where it can deter Chinese belligerence, a B-1B bomber squadron would be the most cost-effective and quick option available to India.

‘India and the US have all the agreements in place for the sale/lease of the bombers:

  • In June 2016, the US designated India a “Major Defense Partner,” allowing for transferring a B-1 B-like system.
  • The 2016 Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) allows our militaries to use each other’s bases to repair and replenish supplies.
  • The 2018 Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) agreement facilitates the sale of high-end technology from the US to India.
  • The October 2020 Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) agreement facilitates sharing of Geospatial Intelligence.

‘The reasons listed above for the participation of the two B-1B bombers in Cope India 2023 are pure speculation. What is real is the fact that the B-1B participation in the exercise is not whimsical!’

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

During the drill, 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.

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.

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force

This print is available in multiple sizes from – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. B-1B Lancer 28th FW, 34th BS Thunderbirds, EL/86-129 / 2005
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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