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Indian Air Force’s Su-30-MKI Jets To Spread Wings For ‘Desert Flag’ Drills With The UAE

The Indian Air Force (IAF) will be taking part in a multi-nation air combat exercise, Desert Flag, in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in a move to strengthen defense ties between the two countries.

This will be IAF’s first-ever war drill in the strategically-located Persian Gulf region.

Six IAF Su-30-MKI fighters, two C-17 Globemaster-III aircraft, and around 125 personnel will fly from India to the UAE on Wednesday.

The exercise will see the participation of 10 countries, including the US, France, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, and Bahrain. Greece, Jordan, Kuwait, and Egypt would join as observers in the three-week-long war games. Fighter jets such as American F-15s, F-16s, French Rafales, and Mirage 2000s will accompany Indian Sukhois.

The exercise has come just a month after the UAE Air Force helped Rafale fighter jets with mid-air refueling when they were being flown from France to India in January. A senior officer was quoted by The Times of India as saying that this is the first time that the Indian Air Force will take part in such a multilateral exercise in a crucial like the Gulf region.

He said the exercise will comprise a gamut of offensive and defensive operations with force enhancers like airborne warning and control systems (AWACS) and flight refueling aircraft in a realistic combat setting.

Earlier, IAF has participated in American ‘Red Flag’ in 2016, the Israeli ‘Blue Flag’ in 2017, and the Australian ‘Pitch Black’ war games in 2018. Indian officers believe it is due to the IAF’s versatility of operating in diverse terrains, from the high-altitude region of Ladakh to the deserts of Rajasthan, that it has become a suitable choice for such war games.

Another factor that works in favor of India is that it has inducted western fighter jets such as Rafale, Mirage-2000, and Jaguar along with Sukhoi and MiG besides the indigenously-developed Tejas.

The India-UAE ties have seen an upward trajectory in 2020 when top leadership from the two countries have held several meetings to enhance cooperation on different fronts. It was very much reflected when Indian Army Chief Gen. MM Naravane and India’s External Affairs Minister had visited the UAE recently.

Naravane had met the UAE’s Land Forces and Staff Major General Saleh Mohammed Saleh Al Ameri and discussed key issues of mutual interest and defense cooperation. India has over the past several years strengthened defense ties by undertaking joint exercises, military training, and intelligence sharing. The UAE is keen on having joint defense production ventures with India.

With India focused on pushing defense exports, it is likely that it will be selling BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles with a range of 290km and Akash air defense missiles with a range of 25km to the Gulf countries, among others.

It has been reported that the UAE firm Caracal is among the foreign contenders for a ‘Make in India’ project to manufacture 4.6lakh close-quarter battle carbines for the Indian armed forces.

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