Indian Air Force (IAF) and Royal Air Force of Oman (RAFO) will conduct a week-long bilateral Air Force exercise codenamed – Eastern Bridge – at the RAFO Base, Thumrait, Oman, from Oct 22-29. This will be the first-ever air exercise between the two countries.
Six, single-seat, Darin-I Jaguars from the Indian side will participate alongside RAFO Jaguars and F-16s. Incidentally, the two Air Forces are among the only ones that continue to operate the twin-engine Jaguar aircraft till date.
The IAF will also involve two IL-78 MKI air-to-air refueler aircraft for tanking the Jaguars enroute to Oman. Meanwhile, an IL-76 will airlift the IAF air warriors to Oman.
The main IAF contingent comprises 33 officers and 65 personnel below officer rank (PBOR). The support team of IL-76 and IL-78 MKI additionally comprises 12 officers and 26 PBOR.
Group Captain V Dedgaonkar is the team leader, while Group Captain K Kale is the Exercise Director for the IAF. The Jaguar Detachment will be led by Wing Commander A Mathur. The pilots belong to the two Jaguar squadrons – 16 (Cobras) and 27 (Flaming Arrows) that are based at IAF’s Gorakhpur airbase under Central Air Command.
A senior Air HQ observer along with one staff officer will also visit the IAF contingent during the period of the exercise.
The exercise in the Gulf region will enhance understanding of operational, maintenance and administrative procedures between RAFO and the IAF. The bilateral exercise would also be cost-effective in terms of benefit realization of operational and tactical preparedness over an unknown mixed terrain of land and desert.
Oman features among IAF’s priority-one country listed for defence cooperation. IAF-RAFO defence cooperation was initiated in 2006, and has increased substantially in the current year. The defence cooperation is characterized by high-level visit exchanges, training and bilateral exercises between the two air forces.
Oman has also been availing courses in India on a self-financing basis. Oman has also been providing turn-around facilities to our transiting military aircraft. Several rounds of Air Force Staff Talks with RAFO have now provided the necessary framework to expand defence cooperation with RAFO and rest of the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) countries. Oman is geographically India’s closest neighbor among the Arab countries in the strategically vital Persian Gulf region. The presence of over 3, 50,000 expatriate Indians and centuries of people-to-.people contact further enhances its importance in India’s security mosaic.