Exercise Indra–2017

Exercise INDRA-2017 provided an opportunity to the armed forces of both countries to train in counter terrorism operations in a multinational scenario in a joint tri-service environment

Issue: 10 / 2017By Air Marshal B.K. Pandey (Retd)Photo(s): By Twitter
(Top) Indian and Russian pilots flew Russian Mi-8 aircraft practicing troop insertion in support of ground operations in INDRA 2017; (Above) True bonhomie – Indian and Russian Pilots learning from each other; Task Force Commander being briefed by IAF Pilots.

Regarded as a landmark event in the history of Indo-Russian defence cooperation, Exercise INDRA 2017, the first ever Tri-Service Joint Exercise between the armed forces of India and Russia, was conducted over a period of ten days in the Eastern Military District of Russia from October 19 to 29, 2017. The venue of this exercise was the 249th Combined Army Range, Sergeevisky and in the Sea of Japan near Vladivostok. The Indian contingent consisted of 350 personnel from the Indian Army and 80 from the Indian Air Force (IAF) with two Il-76 aircraft for their transportation and one Frigate and Corvette each from the Indian Navy. The task force consisted of Armoured, Mechanised Infantry and Infantry elements, supported by combat aircraft and armed helicopters. As the IAF operates a large fleet of Su-30MKI combat aircraft and Mi-17 armed helicopters, both of Russian origin, pilots of the IAF who were part of the task force, participated in the exercise flying the Su-30 fighters and Mi-17 armed helicopters of the Russian Air Force. The need to send these platforms of the IAF was therefore dispensed with. The end of Exercise INDRA 2017 on October 29, 2017 was marked by an elegant closing ceremony held at Vladivostok.

The Russian Federation Armed Forces were represented by around 1,000 soldiers of the 5th Army, Marines, Ships of Pacific Fleet and aircraft from Eastern Military District.

On October 18, 2017, the Indian contingent consisting of personnel of the Indian Army and the IAF was flown in two Il-76 aircraft of the IAF to Vladivostok. The contingent, led by the Task Force Commander, Maj General N.D. Prasad, was accorded a warm welcome by Commander of the Fifth Army of Russian Eastern Military District, Maj General Kutuzov. Observers deputed for the Exercise included Lt General J.S. Negi, Air Vice Marshal V.R. Chaudhari and Rear Admiral V. Sreenivas. The observer group visited the 249 Sergeyvsky Training Ranges where a major part of the army and air force component of tri-service Exercise Indra-2017 was conducted. The delegation was briefed on the overall conduct of the exercise, after which they visited the camp where the contingent was being accommodated.

India and Russia have been conducting military exercise since 2003. In The previous nine editions of Exercise Indra had been conducted as a single service exercise, alternately between the two countries. This year, in a major departure from the existing practice, the format of the exercise was altered to include elements from all the three wings of the armed forces of both the nations. This clearly reflects the increasing importance the armed forces of both the nations attach to jointmanship in operations.

Simulated Terrorist Attack

One of the items of Exercise Indra-2017 was simulation of a terrorist attack on a humanitarian aid convoy which was as per the exercise setting to test the capability of the combined task force of Indian and Russian forces participating in the exercise of providing swift response. The terrorists were successfully isolated and the humanitarian aid convoy was escorted to safety. Simultaneously, combat aircraft and armed helicopters neutralised the terrorists with an exceptional display of firepower.

INTERNATIONAL JOINT AIR EXERCISE ENHANCES INTEROPERABILITY BETWEEN THE PARTICIPATING AIR FORCES SHOULD THERE EVER BE AN OCCASION TO CONDUCT COMBINED AIR OPERATIONS

As per Air Commodore R.G.K. Kapoor, leader of the IAF team, the manner in which the exercise was conducted, was a reflection of the high level of professionalism of both Indian and Russian Armed Forces. The exercise has proved to be a great learning experience and the synergy evident among the three services of both sides, has reinforced the importance of tri-service cooperation and is the harbinger of things to come in future operations The final scenario of Exercise Indra-2017 carried out on October 28, 2017, was an amphibious landing at Cape of Klerk training area by Indian and Russian Naval Elements with IAF element providing air support.

Aims, Objectives and Benefits

Exercise Indra-2017 provided an opportunity to the armed forces of both countries to train in counter terrorism operations in a multinational scenario in a joint tri-service environment. The scope of the Exercise included professional interaction, establishment of joint command and control structures between the Indian and the Russian forces and elimination of terrorist threat in a multinational scenario under the UN mandate. The exercise would certainly go a long way to help enhance mutual confidence, interoperability and facilitate sharing of best practices between both the armed forces of India and Russia. Exercise Indra-2017 was a demonstration of the increasing commitment of both nations to address common challenges across the full spectrum of operations. Joint exercises are a part of the learning curve for the IAF that gets the opportunity of exchanging notes with air forces that are possibly more modern and better equipped. Such exercises were particularly important as the IAF is in the process of acquiring new technologies and equipment.

The IAF has been participating regularly in joint air exercises with the air forces of the leading powers such as the United States (US), the United Kingdom and France. These exercises have been conducted in India as also in the participating countries. In the recent past, the IAF has turned its attention to smaller nations especially in the region and has carried out air exercises with the Air Forces of Sri Lanka, Thailand, the UAE and Oman. The aim of joint air exercises is to enhance coordination and cooperation between the participating Air Forces. The joint air exercise offers an opportunity to both the Air Forces to study and evaluate standard operating procedures of each others as well as exchange ideas on joint operations. International joint air exercise enhances interoperability between the participating Air Forces should there ever be an occasion to conduct combined air operations. This is particularly relevant in scenarios where the air forces of two different nations are involved in anti-terrorist operations or humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) operations, a situation that is highly likely in the prevailing environment as such operations are not inhibited by national boundaries. Besides, the IAF needs to reorient itself to the country’s expanding strategic boundaries through such exercise. Air Chief Marshal Fali H. Major, former Chief of the Air Staff, had even suggested that as the Indian Army was going to carry out a joint exercise with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China, the IAF ought to explore the possibility of conducting joint air exercise with the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) to further strengthen military ties. It would also help the IAF assess more accurately, the capability of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF). In 2015, the Indian Army and the PLA carried out a joint counter-terrorism exercise, at Kunming Military Academy in Yunnan province located in South Western China. The joint Exercise was code-named Hand-in-Hand 2015.

Evolving Geopolitical Scenario

One notable feature has been the timing of Exercise Indra-2017 which was held soon after the military standoff at the Doklam in Bhutan between India and China that lasted for two months. Although, the standoff had ended well before Exercise Indra-2017 commenced, there are other developments that have escalated tensions in the region and have become a matter of global concern. China is engaged in expanding its naval presence in the Indian Ocean and is building infrastructure on the Spratly archipelagos. What is of immediate concern for India is China’s initiatives at infrastructure development in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan, activities that are disconcerting to India. Undoubtedly, there are mountainous challenges for the nation ahead that can be best dealt with cooperation with partners and allies. International joint exercises are therefore a step in the right direction.