Indian, Omani air forces to hold joint exercise

Indian, Omani air forces to hold joint exercise

The exercise, codenamed Eastern Bridge, would be held at the Royal Air Force of Oman (RAFO) base in Thumrait, nearly 1,200 km from capital Muscat, which is home to over 350,000 Indian expatriates. Oman has always been important for India in terms of business as companies like Larsen & Toubro and Punj Lloyd have invested heavily there.

"The exercise will enhance the understanding of operational, maintenance and administrative procedures between the RAFO and the IAF. The bilateral exercise would also be cost-effective in terms of benefit realization of operational and tactical preparedness over an unknown mixed terrain of land and desert," the IAF vice chief, Air Marshal P.K. Barbora, told reporters.

"It would expose our fighter pilots to low flying over unfamiliar terrain," he added.           
Asked if through the exercise, the IAF was preparing for anti-piracy operations in support of the Indian Navy, which has deployed its warships in the Gulf of Aden, Barbora said: "We do not know whether we would be called for such operations. But it's better to be prepared."

"In case of a requirement, we can send our fighters for patrolling and surveillance. We can also help our navy in terms of speed and manoeuverability. Such joint exercises would help manifold to come to each other's aid in a short time," he added.

Both air forces will undertake air-to-ground missions, conduct live firing from air to ground and practice integrated training and operations in desert terrain during the joint exercise, for which the IAF would field six single-seater Jaguar fighter bombers while the RAFO would also deploy Jaguars, as also F-16s.

The two air forces are among the three primary users of the twin-engined warplane. Both also operate British-made Hawk advanced jet trainer and follow similar training procedures. RAFO fighter pilots have also been training at the Jaguar's stimulator training centre in Gorakhpur.

An IL-78 midair refueller will ensure an uninterrupted flight to Oman while the support crew will be carried in an IL-76 heavy lift aircraft. The IAF's flying contingent comprises 33 officers and 65 personnel below officer rank (PBORs). The support team comprises 12 officers and 26 PBORs.

Oman is geographically India’s closest neighbour among the Arab countries in the strategically vital Persian Gulf region. This is the second time IAF is exercising in the region. It had staged a joint drill with the UAE air force last year. 

Oman features among the IAF’s priority-one countries listed for defence cooperation. IAF-RAFO defence cooperation was initiated in 2006, and has increased substantially in the current year. The RAFO has been availing courses in India on a self-financing basis.

Several rounds of talks with the RAFO have provided the necessary framework to expand defence cooperation with RAFO and the rest of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries.
Oman has also been providing turn-around facilities to transiting IAF aircraft.

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