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March 17, 2005



Bill, I am an advocate of the revamped or transformed military that Secretary Rumsfeld is working to create. That being said, I would not oppose the purchase of the higher number of F-22's, but I do oppose any political maneuvering by the AF to achieve that goal. My hope is the training was more for the benefit of the India AF and that we didn't manipulate the rules to aid the AF argument for more F-22's. Keep up the good work.


Upon rereading my post above, I can see that I implied that the political angle was the dominant reason for the US "loss". I believe the strategic objective of gathering intelligence for a possible future conflict against the SU-30 was the primary reason for the imposed "cuffs" on the F-15C pilots. The political angle of pursuing the F-22 funding, in my opinion, was a secondary advantage to losing COPE India 2004.

Dawn's Early Light


Nice analysis.

John Blake

As a veteran of USAF Intelligence (many years ago), may I say that --just as an impression-- this article and Comments give me real confidence that our military planners exercise sophisticated foresight in broader contexts. The very idea that belligerent ChiCom cadres would seize on Taiwan as an excuse to stave off inevitable reform renders me incoherent with dismay. But taking such writeups as the above to heart, I do expect that we'll either pre-empt 'em somehow, or stop 'em in their tracks. And by '08 or so, the world will have changed sufficiently, and for the better, that the danger of an overt attempt at cross-Straits invasion will probably be past.

Thomas Hazlewood

In addition to the several rationales you have presented, there is one which supposes that, with the prospect that a future foe has developed good counter-measures, our aircraft might not have the capability of exercising winnowing long-range strikes before engaging. In such an event, the odds would likely be the same as those used in the exercise and the results might, then, be similar.

That's a lot of 'supposing', but, I much prefer to see our military examining less than optimum scenarios in order to prepare for the unknowable future.


Brian H

Well, the "cuffs" were pretty comprehensive, TH. Acting as though you had winnowing when you didn't is literally just asking for it, e.g. This was a special kind of "testing to failure" of limited parts of the US capacity, not a realistic exercise.

Thomas Hazlewood

Brian H,

Perhaps your point is the more valid, yet, I'm thinking of circumstances like the German's surprise upon learning of the T-32 tank, and the American's comeuppance upon first meeting the Tiger at Kasserine, and the Israeli shock in 1973 upon finding every other Egyptian soldier carried SAMs.

A test in which we approach the enemy as though we have a capacity which we would THEN find to be useless would test our ability to adapt on the fly (pardon the pun). For instance, how much preparatory bombardment should the Navy provide before assaulting Tarawa Atoll, circa 1942? Will the bomber always get through, General Douhet? Did we learn anything of value from Dieppe?

Failure to provide for eventualities has, historically, proven costly. Better to test such eventualities in rehearsal than to learn bloody lessons the hard way.



Its correct that the ratio of attackers to defenders was 12 (Indian) to 4 (US), but AFAIK, the distribution of the 12 Indian planes was 4-6 strike aircraft (Jaguars or Mig 27s) - with no air to air capability. That evens out the odds a little.. dont you think ?


Wrong to say that India wanted to send a message to pak and china. because it is clear that the Indians had not let out a peep, all the chest beating and information leaks are from the US sources.

Also ratio is not 12vs4. Indians flew a strike package. four to six strike aircraft with an 'escort' of another four to six. In reality it was an equal pile up on both sides.

Lastly, the Indians ketp the best fighters they had OUT of the exercises. So what if the AESA Eagles were not used? the indians did not use the best birds they had either


The reason perhaps Indians wanted to have a non-BVR opponent is to help understand the PAF's response. That's not at all a bad idea, except that it didn't help as US did not exhibit, as it looks like, any useful tactics under such conditions! It is more important, also, to keep in mind that the USAF was surprised more with Mig-21-93s than others!



I read multiple reports of the USAF being suprised by the Mig-21s. They performed well above expectations. However, I think there are some other possible explanations:

1) The expectations from the USAF were so low that surpasing them where not as challenging as it may have appeared (I understand the IAF uses an upgraded Indian/gray market designed radar on the aircraft).
2) This was a comment, that while true, was trumpeted instead of the USAF pilots stating that they gathered some great intel on the SU-30. By this I mean it was a diversionary comment, away from what the USAF may have been most pleased about the exercise.

All of the above is mere speculation. It also could be that there is no secret behind their being suprised by the MiG-21 performance.


Dawn's Early Light Blog


Thats a pretty half baked analysis you have there.

Its quite true that the USAF is using Cope India to push for the F/A-22, but the entire event was hardly as well planned out as you assume.

1. The AESA F-15's were "dropped" because of logistical concerns and because the IAF was not seen a threat meriting them.

2. The USAF was clearly overconfident.
They ,per their own admission, expected the Indians to be a bunch of Russia trained poorly equipped third world types..they were shocked to learn that IAF pilots flew upto 350 hrs per year...the Su30 pilots did exactly that.

3. They expected vintage aircraft and standard tactics- the IAF varied aircraft, changed tactics and mixed interceptors with strike packages to surprise the US..

4.If the US was not allowed the use the Amraams..then we also need to consider that the Indian aircraft were all inferior to the F-15's. The F15's had the APG73 radar...the best the Indians fielded was the NOO1V on their Su30K's...a generation older and equipped with a cassegrain antenna.

5. The training matters...Indian pilots fly blue air...they train against the best of their peers..the USAF flies red air..per their own subsequent admissions and sometimes that leads to a policy wherein the opfor has downgraded to simulate realism..and training is easier. The IAF system is more brutal and hence has its payoffs.

6. The USAF AMRAAM limitation sucked but then so did the fact- for the IAF- that their avionics werent as good. The IAF did not field their Su30MKI's which could easily match the F15C's.

7. Out of the 12 a/c- half of them were strikers, not air to air aircraft. The USAF F15C's faced approximately equal number of Air to air opponents, each of which was flying an inferior aircraft overall.

8. The IAF MIg21's are the most upgraded versions in service- they have Russian radars, avionics, Indian RWR's and Israeli jammers..plus R77's, helmet sights and R73E's. In the close fight and with an element of suprise they can level the playing field.

9. Indian Sukhois used their IRST's to conduct passive attacks against the F15's taking them by surprise. Again- tactics backed by technology.

In essence, Cope India was "dont underestimate your opponent"- if you do so, you get yourself surprised.

Thats exactly why the IAF was invited to the Alaska exercises thereafter..they proved their worth as credible opponents and hence the USAF wanted to see if they could spring any more tricks.


One correction-the F15s had the APG63 radar, not the73..73 is on F/A-18's..


And cant edit my post, anyhow the 63 is much better than the 73 in terms of range and overall power. As I said, the US F15's had the first look advantage and terrific SA- they were all datalinked also..

The problem with the analysis on this board.is that like all conspiracy theories, it posits a 0 or 1 situation, with nothing in between.

Most creditable observers admit that its possible that the IAF could suprise a complacent USAF crew which didnt expect high calibre opfor and that the USAF brass would use this "embarassment" to push for the F/A-22.

In real life, a shooting war, it'd be the IAF on the defensive- the USAF has too many long range sensors, networked a/c and BVR shooters for the IAF to overcome..

The IAF knew that and thats why they didnt go to town bragging about the exercise.

The USAF used the exercise to push for the F/A-22 but the F15 jocks were caught off guard and that led to some widespread derision in the competitive fighter jock community.

And you can be sure that the next time the USAF goes to India- they'll be prepared and that kill-loss ratios will be more balanced, as befits two professional air arms duking it out.


Sore losers. Nothing more.

The IAF and the armed forces of India have the most intense training in the world. Officially, it was the USAF and not the IAF that came out and admitted the loss. The IAF also thrashed the RSAF of Singapore but the whole issue was kept quiet.

It's embarassing to see Americans come up with stupid excuses because they live under the same delusion that they are the best in the world and that money is everything.

No one would argue that the USAF would win in war, but that's because of the entire USAF as a system and not the individual pilots themselves. As I recall, the red forces got repeatedly bombed in simulated excercises, by IAF Jaguars, in the joint excercise held at Alaska. The Indians got the mission commander status, twice.

Anwar Sadat

March 24 post about there being more to it than a simple win loss motive behind the report rings the most true to me. It seems that something novel happened in this exercise. While ROE might not have been in favor of the USAF they were not overly tilted against them either, specially if you take into account that the attacking formations had about the same number of non-strike aircrafts as the defending F15.

Of course USAF is the superior air force vis-a-vis the IAF. When all the gloves are off and it is a no-holds barred fight USAF will win. But if some of the advantages are not available then this exercise shows that in skill, daring and tactics others, read the IAF, is an equal if not superior. So this constant chest thumping on TV and other media about how "superior" the US pilots are because of their training should be taken with a handful of salt and not just a pinch.

It also seems to me that while it is true that partially this "loss" is being played up to buy F22 and perhaps it was a deliberate sabotage by the USAF one should remember that the USAF is planning to alter its training to rectify the deficiencies. No more substandard "red forces". This should give us something to think about. While this propoganda might have been needed to push through the F22 there was no need to subsequently change the training regimen using the same pretext. The change could have been brought about in the training without linking it with the loss suffered in the skies over Gwalior.

Also, would not IAF be total nincompoops to schedule annual exercise after the USAF sabotaged the exercise to suit its own political agenda?

No Gentlemen and Ladies, I think the truth, like the observer pointed out on March 24, is somewhere in between. The ROE were such that they put the pilots of the two air forces on more or less equal footing and the superior aircrafts and pilots under those conditions won. In this case it was the Sukhois/Migs and Indian pilots. The loss does provide the US political ammunition to push through for F22. But the shock of the defeat is real or else training would not have been altered.

Trent Telenko

You are being far to kind to the F-15 jocks here.

See what I wrote over on Winds of Change a piece titled "Interview with a Weasel Pilot" January 16, 2003:


TRENT: The Fighter Pilot Mafia also seemed to have curious delusions of "Beyond Visual Range Godhood." They think Sparrow and AMRAAM radar guided missiles are far longer ranged than those of the Russians, when the opposite was true, and absolutely ignored the possibility of air-to-air ARM's when the Russians have large numbers of them both for anti-fighter and anti-AWACS work.

SOURCE: BVR radar air-to-air missiles will be like our M1A1 tanks and Apache helicopters were in Iraq -- we had the thermal sensors and the weapons to kill enemy tanks, who didn't even know we were there. The AA-10 has some long-range motor models that shoot quite a long way, and some variants have an ARM seeker (good to use on US fighters who ALWAYS use their radars). We'll get a nasty surprise some day like Israel did in 1973.

Bear in mind this interview was based on a an e-mail conversation circa about 1998.

As far as I can tell USAF senior F-15 pilots are still as plug ignorant of the modern threat environment as my Weasel Jock correspondent described then.

God only knows what they are going to do, besides die, when the Chinese start shooting AA-10 and AA-12 missiles with anti-radar homing seekers at their precious F-15 AESA long range radars.


Interesting analysis. As nothing in this world is black and white, I have to think the reasons stated aren't the entirety of the case.

To those who are claiming the handicaps are evening the ground between the forces, ya'll are wrong. To those who are getting ugly, wise up. And it's ugly to accuse someone of bragging and chest thumping and turn around and do it yourself.

Wrong: 1. Do you, honestly, consider 90% win rates to be the result of an "even" match-up?
Sure, the USAF admitted to underestimating the IAF. Do you think the men and women of the USAF didn't wise up as soon as the IAF showed thier stuff? I'd be surprised if it took more than 2, 3 at the most, sorties before the USAF decided they needed to play thier A game.
Unless they were under orders not to. Or under orders to do mission X, which didn't include winning a sortie, but instead had another objective, outside the excercise? Gathering info and profile on a new machine?

If it were a 60% win/loss rate, I could see USAF over-confidence being a major factor. Of if only a handful of sorties were flown. Like 5. But not 90%.

2. Training. Training, training, training. The original article, and the subsequent comments have ignored or forgotten how important training is, especially to a reflex level activity like combat flying.
The IAF was flying how they trained. With the equipment they trained with.
The USAF was not flying how they trained. Without the equipment they trained to fly with.
The sources point out, "We generally don't train to an active missile threat" and "While the U.S. pilots normally train to four versus 12, that takes into account at least two of the U.S. aircraft having AESA radar and being able to make the first beyond-visual-range shots."

The USAF trains to use the tools it has. They were denied some of thier tools, specifically the ones they used to deal with the situation they were given.

This still wouldn't account for a 90% loss record.

Now, I don't want to knock the IAF. From all accounts, they are top-notch. From all readings, they earned bragging rights. I'm looking forward to this years results, and expecting good things from the IAF.

I'm especially impressed that they have _not_ crowed thier victory. That takes an honor, and esprit de corps, that is found only among the best of the best.

On an aside, to answer Anwar's question: No, they would not be nincompoops. Accepting the sabatage arguement, even as the only reason, still gave plenty of value to the excercise. Training, training against different aircraft, different pilots, different tactics, multi-national training , multi-national intermingling and contacts, etc. It takes alot of training to get two forces to work well together. And much of that has nothing to do with the pilots or aircraft. Also note the primary source notes the IAF has been training in a "vacuum," so finding out if thier assumptions were correct, refining thier assumptions, would be valuable. Heck there's even the cost issue. It costs less if your aggressor force is paying it's own fuel and salaries, instead of you paying for it.

I would also point out the benefit of building that multi-national relationship. If, when, something happens in that sphere of the world, there's a strong possibility the US will become involved. And a good, if not equally stong probability India will be involved as well. If there's already a foundation, or better yet, a solid relationship, between the US and India, less work, less mistakes, and less problems will occur when the two need to work together.


Anwar Sadat

No chest thumping on my part. The results, at least what is known thus far, from leaks and from a few sparse authoritative comments, seems to be 90% loss for the USAF versus the IAF in the scenario set up by the ROE which were agreed upon by both sides.

It sounds less than astute to suggest that 60% loss rate sounds more reasonable and less of a political stunt than a 90% loss rate. How about this argument to counter your speculation, in fact USAF knowing that their politicians would smell a rat if the loss rate was higher actually arranged for a loss rate of 64.567243189054789% to be exact (in support of F22), by extensively modeling the ROE on their Langley based supercomputers. Because anything higher they knew would be questioned by the US politicians. Therefore they arranged for the ROE to give them that much of a disadvantage and no more. Therefore when the results came out to be 90% loss indeed the applecart truly upset. Taking away the 14.567243189054789% advantage based upon the ROE it can therefore be concluded that Indian pilots truly in an evenly balanced ROE scenario would have won (90% - 14.567243189054789%) of the engagements. Ergo IAF pilots are definitely superior to US pilots! You do the exact math. :)

I posit these are attempts at reading tea leaves beyond what is truly "known" to us. What is known is that there were rules of engagement agreed upon by both sides. Within those parameters IAF and its pilots proved to be far superior to their USAF counterparts. Unless the US went there to be the proverbial turkey in the turkey shoot, one must deduct from the information available that the ROE were not overly tilted or else, why change the training procedures at the end of the exercise. If the rules of engagement were such that they can never arise in a real knife fight then why alter the training regimen and make the red forces take their gloves off. Also notice they are talking about removing the gloves of the red forces in training not making them superior to the blue forces which is what people are claiming happened in India.

No friends, I think my rationale still stands. USAF trained with IAF (Israeli Air Force) without the latest AIM-9s in WVR scenarios where the Israelis had Helmet Mounted Sights with wide angle shooting capability on their missile and they shot down USAF 90% of the time. This was a few years ago I believe. This time around the USAF had Helmet Mounted Sights along with the requisite WVR AA weapons. The USAF did not decide to change its training regimen after their exercise with the Israelis a few years ago. So what is different this time around? Something happened in the air over Gwalior that was indeed a wake-up call for the USAF. Just as has been stated by Cunningham and others in authroity. The gap is narrow if it is there at all. And improved equipment and training is needed to regain the edge.

I admit that it is possible that there was resistance to changing training as well and it coinicided with the need to buy F22s and these facts led to the USAF tanking this matchup. But the chances of these two motivating factors coinciding are remote at best. Remember the old adage about the simpler explanation being the correct one? The simpler explanation here is the following. USAF went to India without AWACS. ROE was set up to even the playing field. This probably caused more discomfort to the US pilots than to the Indians, who too were not using their latest equipment. They met in air in various situations and the IAF bested the USAF. USAF is reacting to the lessons learned by changing the way it trains. No greater compliment could have been paid to the IAF than this simple but very important fact that is being repeatedly ignored by all who are grasping at all kinds of fantastic explanations for the loss. Case closed. Let us move on to the next chapter.

IAF trained with French Air Force a few years ago. In BVR engagements they go their behind kicked. They changed their tactics, trained longer and better, improved their equipment and in limited BVR scenarios the results were there for all to see when they trained for with the USAF in Gwalior.

All this does not diminish the fact that the USAF is a better air force than the IAF. When the full suite of equipment is available to the USAF pilots IAF probably will be knocked out of the sky. Perhaps at a slower rate than the Iraqi Air Force was in 1991 or the Syrian Air Force by the Israelis but invariably and without question it will lose. $100s of billion beats $10s of billions. But then again this situation will never arise because there are many factors that will prevent this from happening besides our friendship, for instance the nucelar issue, the distance between us, world economy, intervention of other Nations such as Russia, etc, etc.

In any case like you point out there has been no official comment on the issue by the Indian military etsablishment. Only recently on their official website they have posted the comments of US generals etc. To date no IAF or government official has said anything about superiority or inferiority based upon the training exercise.

The only reason I have commented here is because I keep seeing sorry excuses being made based upon the flimsiest of facts. This rubs me the wrong way. This is a very typical American thing to do. Having been taught to hate losing from an early age it translates into becoming the most ungracious of losers in adulthood. I speak from experience. I have not won a match against an American player in racquetball or basketball or any other sport for that matter where my opponent says that he did not play his best, or was not feeling well, or did not consider me the luckiest SOB on Earth, etc, etc. So I could not keep quiet when I heard the same nonsense being repeated here ad infinitum.

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