IAF readies for Red Flag, its toughest exercise with US NEW DELHI: Top-gun Indian fighter pilots on their Sukhoi-30MKI and Jaguar jets are now finally on their way to match combat skills with their US counterparts in the high-voltage Red Flag exercise, often touted as taking part in the most realistic air combat manoeuvres without actually going to war. The Indian Air Force on Sunday dispatched four Sukhoi-30MKIs, four Jaguars, two IL-78 mid-air refuellers and two C-17 Globemaster-III strategic airlift aircraft from its Jamnagar airbase for the Eielson USAF airbase in Alaska for the Red Flag exercise that will be held from April 28 to May 13. "Apart from the aircraft, the contingent has 202 personnel, including 71 officers. The contingent will reach Alaska flying via Bahrain, Egypt, France, Portugal and Canada. Before the actual exercise gets going, our contingent will undergo intensive work-up phases to get familiar with the new operational environment," said an officer. The demanding "network-centric" exercise will not only give IAF pilots the opportunity to hone their combat skills with the USAF, but also serve to establish IAF's capability to deploy "a trans-continental task force" of fighters, tankers and airlifters across the globe, as was earlier reported by TOI. This will be the second time that the IAF will be participating in the Red Flag exercise. IAF had earlier participated in Red Flag at the Nellis airbase in Nevada, northwest of Las Vegas, in 2008. The entire endeavour then had involved flying close to 20,000-km, with well over 300 sorties. It was also the first time the Russian-origin Sukhoi-30MKI fighters had flown over the American mainland. The IAF would of course like to participate more often in the Red Flag exercise but such endeavours can prove quite costly, with the price tag coming to over Rs 100 crore. targets, realistic threat systems and an opposing enemy force that "cannot be replicated anywhere else in the world", the USAF itself tom-toms the Red Flag exercise as the best platform "to train to fight together, survive together and win together". Incidentally, IAF fighter pilots have managed to hold their own and often outgun their rivals in the series of bilateral exercises with US, UK, France and others over the years.