Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Air Force Times: India at Red Flag

India joins Air Force exercises
By Oskar Garcia - The Associated Press
Posted : Tuesday Aug 12, 2008 6:00:13 EDT

LAS VEGAS — India’s military pilots are expected to participate for the first time in Air Force training exercises above the Nevada desert, marking another step in steadily improving U.S. relations with the Asian subcontinent nation since the Sept 11 terrorist attacks.

South Korean and French pilots will also take part in the combat exercises that begin Monday and will put about 65 airplanes in the skies over two weeks, Air Force officials said.

“This particular Air Force exercise is important because India is included among some very important allies,” said Christine Fair, a South Asia specialist at the Rand Corp., a nonprofit think tank. “This is definitely an extension of an arc that has been mapped out since 2000, and it really signifies that India and the United States have is a strategic relationship.”

The Indian and U.S. militaries had little interaction during the Cold War, when India was more closely aligned to the Soviet Union and the U.S. was seen as an ally of Pakistan, India’s neighbor and rival.

But relations have improved, with increasing political, economic and military ties. The Sept. 11 attacks in the U.S. and the subsequent fight against terrorism brought the two sides even closer.

Military ties have expanded rapidly since then, with a series of joint exercises in the air, on land and at sea. Analysts said the U.S. is eager to use India as a counterbalance to China in the region.

India is also extremely worried about China’s growing military and political influence in the region and has upped its military spending.

The strongest negative reaction to the joint military exercises would most likely come not from China but from North Korea, said Jing-dong Yuan, a nonproliferation expert at the Monterey Institute of International Studies.

“Pyongyang, through its state-run news agency, the Korean Central News Agency, has consistently and passionately criticized such ventures accusing the United States of harboring hostile intentions toward North Korea,” Yuan said. “Beijing would likely remain reticent [about] such training since it does not see itself as directly and imminently affected by such activities.”

The Air Force exercises are not designed to target any specific country or threat but to test how the forces would work together during large-scale missions, said Capt. Marcus Wilson, team chief for the exercises.

“We will learn how our allies operate in response to similar threats,” Wilson said in a statement. “It will allow us to build observations to eventually learn those lessons about what it takes to integrate, talk, fly with, employ, deploy and sustain air power with places like India, Korea and France.”

Wilson said more than 1,000 people would participate in simulations ranging from bomb-dropping to hostage rescue.

A growing military alliance between the U.S. and India would be welcomed by U.S. firms eager to get a share of the arms market in India, where Russia has long been the prime supplier. India has already agreed to buy six of Lockheed’s C-130J Hercules airlift aircraft for roughly $1 billion.

Boeing Corp. and Lockheed Martin are among those bidding on a $10 billion deal with India to supply 126 fighter aircraft.

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