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IAF preparing to join anti-piracy operations in Gulf

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An Indian Air Force (IAF) 14th Squadron Jaguar. A File Photo.

NEW DELHI (PTI): The IAF is gearing up to join future anti-piracy operations in Gulf of Aden and is holding the first-ever exercise with Omanese Air Force this month to get experience in operating fighter aircraft there.

"The IAF may be called upon to conduct aerial surveillance of the swathe of the Gulf of Aden region, where pirates are widening their area of operations fast," IAF vice Chief Air Marshal P K Barbora told reporters here Wednesday.

Joining the anti-piracy operations would not mean the IAF would unleash an offensive against the sea brigands, but would carry out surveillance of the vast area that the Navy would be unable to cover due to "speed and manpower" constraints, Barbora said.

"With our (IAF) surveillance capability, we can help the comity of nations fighting the piracy menace there. Navy may not be able to cover the area in terms of speed and number of men. It is not necessary that we use our fire power," he said.

Assuring that the fighter aircraft could perform surveillance role too, the IAF vice chief said with the midair refuelling capability, the fighters' endurance levels to fly for longer hours and patrolling the area increased substantially.

The 'Eastern Bridge' air exercise with Royal Air Force of Oman (RAFO) from October 22 to 29 would focus on achieving jointness and enhancing understanding of operational, maintenance and administrative procedures between the two air forces, he said.

Both India and Oman are the only countries that continue to operate Jaguar air-ground strike fighter fleets and they would bring these jets to the exercise to be held at Thumrait RAFO air base.

Six single-seat twin-engine Darin-I Jaguars of the IAF from 16 Cobras and 27 Flaming Arrows squadrons, based in Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh, would participate alongside the RAFO Jaguars and F-16s.

The IAF would also take two IL-78 mid-air re-fueller for tanking the Jaguars to and fro from Oman and an IL-76 heavy lift aircraft for carrying the 45 officers and 91 airmen there.

"The bilateral air exercise would be cost-effective in terms of benefit realisation of operational and tactical preparedness over an unknown mixed terrain of land and desert," Barbora said.

Asked if Oman could support IAF's anti-piracy operations by providing "operational turning around" facility by opening up its airbase for maintenance and fuel, the IAF vice chief replied in the affirmative, saying since the two air forces operated Jaguars, it was possible.

However, to another question, he said there was no proposal to have a permanent base there, though RAFO personnel were being trained at the IAF facilities here in India.

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