New Delhi: Israeli Air Force F-16 pilots are to visit India next month for a working visit to one of the squadrons of the Indian Air Force. The air force described it as a “first of its kind exercise,” but would not say whether the pilots would be flying in India.
The visit is part of an air crew exchange between the two militaries. Indian Air Force crews visited a combat squadron at the Ramon Air Force Base three months ago and met with other air force units, including the air force’s search and rescue unit (Unit 669) and the IAF Flight Academy at Hatzerim.
The Indian pilots got briefings from their Israeli counterparts and explanations about the F-16, which is known in Israel as the Sufa (“storm”) and is considered the IAF’s most advanced fighter jet. Something similar is expected to take place in India, which operates Russian Sukhoi-30 jets that were adapted for the local military.
The Indian Air Force also operates aircraft used by the IAF, such as the Heron drone, made by Israel Aerospace Industries (which the IAF calls the Shoval), and the Samson (C130J) cargo plane made by Lockheed-Martin.
The Israeli and Indian defense establishments have a wide-ranging working relationship. Then-Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon declared that military cooperation between the two countries would be broadened during a visit to India last year. IAF commander Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel visited India last December, and India’s air force chief, Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha, visited Israel in March. The IAF regards its Indian counterpart as a “strategic partner.”
Israel is a major supplier of arms to the Indian military, with the value of the transactions estimated at a billion dollars a year. Several transactions were recently reported, like the sale to India of Spike anti-tank missiles, made by Rafael, and Israeli Barak ship-borne missiles, which are destined to be installed on Indian battleships. Two months ago, India conducted successful tests of the land version of the Barak missiles that were developed jointly by Israel and the United States.
While India is continuing to equip itself with advanced weaponry, an Israeli defense industry source expressed concern about whether the Indian military would continue to make large purchases from Israel. Lately, India seems to be favoring American aircraft over Israeli ones, the source said, noting that India has expressed the intention to procure Predator drones made by General Atomics, rather than the Israeli-made alternatives.
The IAF began a joint exercise with other air forces, including the Pakistani air force, in the United States this week. During the Red Flag exercise, taking place at the Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, fighter jets are simulating combat as part of a coalition.
Before the exercise began, aviation photographers took pictures of Israeli, Spanish and Pakistani fighter planes practicing in the region. A cargo plane from the United Arab Emirates was also spotted, indicating that its air force is also involved. Israeli F-16As are participating in the exercise, and both air and ground crews are taking part. Red Flag is scheduled to end on August 26.