(text and pictures by Paolo Rollino/Aviation Reports)





GARUDA is a bilateral air exercise between France and India held alternatively in the two Countries. This mutual air training started in 2003, when four Mirages 2000C from Cambrai flew to Gwalior, in India. Two years later Indians came to France for the first time, at Istres Air Base, with six Su-30Ks. GARUDA III had been again in India, at Kalaikunda, where the French deployed some Mirage 2000s that flew alongside the new Su-30MKIs and Mig-27s; then the fourth edition was held again in France in 2010, with the Su-30MKIs flying from Istres, and the Singapore AF F-16C/Ds, which occasionally took part for the first time, based at Orange. Four years later, in 2014, it was India to host the exercise: this time in Jodhpur, with the locals playing with Su-30MKIs, MiG-27UPG and MiG-21 and the French with the Rafale omnirole-fighters of EC.3/30.
Finaly, after five more years, GARUDA VI is back in France, at Mont de Marsan Air Base, and Indian Air Force (Bharatiya Vayu Sena) came in with four Su-30MKIs from Bareilly AFS based 24 Sq. 'Hunting Hawks' and one 78 Sq. 'Battle Cry' Il-78MKI tanker aircraft, based at Agra AFS. Host of the exercise has been EC02.030 'Normandie-Niemen' that currently flies with Rafale Bs and Cs fighter aircraft; also present during the two weeks long meeting were Mirage 2000Ds from Nancy, Alphajet Es from ECE01.030 Côte d'Argent, and other Rafales Cs from Saint Dizier. The C-160 and CN-235 for Tactical Air Lift, the E-3F for airborne surveillance and the C-135FR for in-flight refuelling operated from their own airbases and did join the air exercise upon request.
Indian Air Force contingent was strength as of 110 personnel, four Su-30MKIs fighter aircraft along with an IL-78MKI tanker, which also took active part during the exercise. Two C-17As strategic lift aircraft provided the logistic support to the contingent during the induction and de-induction phase. Planning of the trip started at the beginning of the year: getting in and going back with such a lot of stuff was also demanding from a pure logistic point of view. The ferry flight began on 26 June via Al Dhafra (UAE) and Cairo (Egypt) and the aircraft landed at BA 118 on the 28. During the final leg over the Mediterranean a French C-135FR gave gas to the fighters. The way back was also a four days journey.
Throughout the first months of planning, a lot of efforts were made to understand mutual training needs and expectation, in order to finalize the air exercise, the time, and the money spent, with the maximum benefit for everybody.
Colonel Antoine Courty, CO of RC 2/30 added that Garuda air exercise isn't an air war game, similar to Red Flag for instance: the objectives of the exercise were to share the know-how of French and Indian pilots and to enhance interoperability and cooperation between Armée de l'Air and Indian Air Force, including in air refuelling tasks. The aircrews conducted daily combat training missions against or alongside each other, in a range of tactical scenarios offering increasingly complex and realistic training situations. This will enhance understanding of interoperability through mutual operations between the two Air Forces and provide an opportunity to learn from each other best practices.
As stated by Gp Cmdr Arvind, the chief of the Il-78 delegation at Mont de Marsan, there were no problems at all for in-flight-refuelling from both sides. Both French C-135FR and Indian IL-78MKI uses the same basket and the same system, so it was just a matter to pay more attention when dropping fuel to foreign fighters. Air-to-Air refuelling is not an easy task anyway: pilots need to get their speeds right, get in correct formation and synchronise with the refueler. Training and skills make it easier.
The exercise took place from July 1 to July 12, 2019: the first week was mainly dedicated to familiarization flights, with Rafales flying alongside Sukhois to let them know French procedures, the air path, and escort them to the training area and on the range. To make things more interesting they also started 1v1, 2v1 and 2v2 DACT missions.
In the second week were planned the Large Force Employment packages, with a maximum of 15 aircraft flying Offensive Counter Air attacks and with 7 aircraft in the defensive role. Indian Sukhois were employed only in the air-to-air tasks and played combat only in the Blue Forces. Two missions were also scheduled as night flight. Usually the day in advance the AirBoss gave the Air Tasking Order to the crews and they started to plan the missions. In the Mont the Marsan Coordination Center a special area was given to Indian and French controllers, which followed the movements of the aircraft on the displays. No aircraft was loaded with special recording instrumentation like the one in use on ACMI ranges. Depending of the missions and the type of aircraft, pilots can fire FOX 1 (short distance), FOX 2 (semi-active medium distance) or FOX 3 (Active) missiles. Controllers on the ground had to understand from the screen and the parameters collected from the radar stations if a missile hit the target or not, and say to the pilots if they are still in the game or have to regenerate to a new life to fight again.
During the two weeks some French pilots had the opportunity to fly in the Sukhoi backseat, as well some Indians pilots got a ride on the Rafales. That helped a lot both sides to understand the potential of the adversary. We have to remind that India signed a government-to-government deal with France in 2016 to buy 36 Rafale DH/EH fighter jets, and the first of them are scheduled to be delivered in September to Ambala AFs based 17 Sq. 'Golden Arrows'.
Just to mark the importance of this air exercise for French-India relationships, Indian Air Force Vice Chief Air Marshal RKS Bhadauria did pay a visit and flew the Rafale during an LFE mission. Air Marshal Bhadauria is a qualified test pilot and has flown various types of aircraft. Briefing the media, Air Marshal Bhadauria spoke on the joint operations of the Rafale and the Su-30MKI, calling it an effective combination which will give enemy sleepless nights. "Once the Su-30MKI and the Rafale start operating together, it will be a powerful combination against our enemies, be it Pakistan or anybody else. It will be a strong capability. Any enemy would be worried about such a combination".


2019©Paolo Rollino/pierrestudio