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Cope India

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Interesting report flew by on the New York Times:

The success of the Indian air force against American fighter planes in a recent exercise suggests other countries may soon be able to threaten U.S. military dominance of the skies, a top Air Force general said Wednesday.

“We may not be as far ahead of the rest of the world as we thought we were,” said Gen. Hal M. Hornburg, the chief of Air Combat Command, which oversees U.S. fighter and bomber wings.

The U.S.-India joint exercise, “Cope India,” took place in February near Gwalior in central, India. It pitted some F-15C Eagle fighters from the 3rd Wing at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, in mock combat against Indian MiG, Sukhoi and Mirage fighters.

The F-15Cs are the Air Force’s primary air superiority aircraft. The Indian fighters, of Russian and French design, are the type of planes U.S. fighters would most likely face in any overseas conflict.

Hornburg, speaking to reporters, called the results of the exercise “a wake-up call” in some respects, but he declined to provide details, other than to suggest the Indian air force scored several unexpected successes against the American planes.

Here are links to the exercise summary. This is something you’ll want to take with an enormous grain of salt, and I’ll explain why. Apparently at some point during the exercise, a force of MiG-21s (somewhat older and less capable than an F-4), MiG-27s, MiG-29s, and Su-30s were able to beat a force of F-15Cs. The Indians had a 2-1 quantitative advantage.

Is this yet another indication of the dreadful state of unreadiness left by the Clinton administration, soon to be remedied by AWOL George? Not really. A poster at Strategypage.com sums it up nicely:

For the USAF, the political benefit to be derived from the exercise was to “prove” how badly we need F-22. For the Indians, the political benefit to be derived from the exercise was to “prove” they have a world class air force that can hang with the USAF. I use quotes in both cases because I’m not agreeing or disagreeing with either premise, just saying that such was the benefit to be derived beyond a little joint training and getting to look at the other guy’s kit.

So it would be in India’s interest to pull out all the stops (or almost all) and put on the best show they could. They’re not going to be fighting the US, but a strong showing in training with the US probably did not make Pakistan, or China for that matter, feel warm and fuzzy

General Hornburg, quoted at top, made a point of mentioning that the first F-15s came into service in the 1970s. Of course, the modern F-15 bears minimal resemblance to those first aircraft, and the F-15C can still top just about any fighter in the world. But hey, those F-22s sure look nice, and it would be great if Congress would buy a few.

In terms of the current security situation the US faces, I can imagine a few things we need less than the F-22. But F-22s won’t help the situation on the ground in Afghanistan, or in Iraq, and won’t make a whit of difference if we decide to attack Iran or North Korea. I’m inclined to doubt as well that they would make a significant difference even in a war against China, although that’s the best case for the F-22. The advantage over the current generation of aircraft seems quite minimal, as we already have much greater than 1-1 superiority over Chinese aircraft. This is about the Air Force trying to play the press in order to play Congress in order to get a new toy. But don’t be surprised to hear GW and various other candidates mention the dreadful lack of F-22s in the USAF while on the campaign trail.

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