Reports of Indian pilots in their Sukhois, Mirages and MiGs going one up over their American counterparts flying F-15s appeared last year and created a flutter. The United States Air Force used this to justify the acquisition of newer aircraft, while some other potential purchasers of F-15s sought reassurance. Whether or not the Sukhoi is better than the F-16/F-15, and whether or not Indian pilots are more skilful, what really matters, as retired Air Marshal Vinod Patney points out, is ‘the overall infrastructure, the command and control systems, the radar on the ground and in the air, the technical crew on the ground, and how do you maximize that infrastructure. This is where the learning curve takes place’. While it suited the Americans to register their surprise at being beaten, it suited their Indian counterparts to do nothing to negate that perception.
The same story is now being repeated after this year’s joint-exercises. Scott Baldauf of the Christian Science Monitor reports that American air force personnel were full of praise for Indian pilots, who demonstrated superior tactics and response times. But just as he mistakes participants at Bharat-Rakshak‘s discussion forums for bloggers, he mistakes Indian reactions to the exercise as “occasional outbursts of jingoism” due to “India’s growing economic and diplomatic aspirations”. Baldauf’s report promises to begin another media hype cycle. Again Air Marshal Patney puts it right.
“Whether the Indians win or lose is crew room gossip,” says Mr. Patney. “The important thing is for us to be involved with the Americans; the purpose is to fly alongside each other, to learn from each other, to see if there is any interoperability. And for the Americans, the main thing is to see what we [Indians] can do with limited resources.” [CSM]