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08-07-04, 08:13 AM
America's Eagle is brought down to earth with a bump
By Peter Spiegel
Published: August 6 2004 04:00 | Last updated: August 6 2004 04:00

It started as one of the dozens of military exercises the Pentagon conducts with friendly governments each year - operations that are as much about bilateral diplomacy as about testing military capabilities.

But the exercise carried out in February, involving mock combat between the US and Indian air forces over the skies of Madhya Pradesh in central India, has taken on a life of its own. The reason? The US lost.

Not only did the US aircraft lose, but they lost repeatedly. According to one member of Congress briefed on the exercise, the US air force's top fighter, the F-15 Eagle, was defeated more than 90 per cent of the time in simulated dogfights with Indian pilots.

As a result, reports on the exercise have not only reached the highest levels of the Pentagon and Capitol Hill but have travelled around the world to military procurement agencies in Singapore and South Korea. As details have gradually leaked out, the exercise has become one of the prime topics of gossip at global air shows and arms fairs. It has also opened a rare window on to the overlapping loyalties and increasingly cut-throat competition that mark military procurement in an age of shrinking defence budgets.

The exercise, known as Cope India, was conceived almost two years ago as part of thawing relations between New Delhi and Washington. Some Pentagon officials saw improved diplomatic ties with democratic India as a way to balance the growing strength of communist China. It was the first combat training exercise between the two air forces in more than 40 years.

But Pentagon planners also had an important military goal: US air force pilots had never had the chance to go up against the Su-30 Flanker, the latest Russian-built fighter designed by Sukhoi, which India began acquiring in 1997.

Many of the details of Cope India remain classified. Accounts conflict: some say the F-15s lacked the US air force's most sophisticated radar; others that the Indians used special helmet-mounted targeting systems unavailable to US pilots; and others that the Americans were outnumbered at least two to one.

Whatever the reasons, the US Air Force might normally be expected to keep such a defeat under wraps. But in recent weeks, senior officers have begun leaking information about the exercise, freely admitting their technical inferiority. "We may not be as far ahead of the rest of the world as we once thought we were," says General Hal Hornburg, head of the US's air combat command.

The reason for the sudden candour has little to do with the F-15, and much more to do with another high-performance aircraft: the $72bn F/A-22 Raptor, a new stealthy combat jet that the US Air Force is desperate to save from Congressional and Pentagon budget-cutters. The craft has come under fire from those who say the

US no longer needs a fighter originally designed to fight the next generation of Soviet MiGs. So senior officers have decided that the risks of revealing the inadequacies of the F-15 are outweighed by the opportunity to convince the government to keep buying the higher-priced fighter.

"Something like Cope India, when we find that some of our advantages aren't as great as we thought they might be, leads me to remind people that we need to modernise our air-to-air capability," says Gen Hornburg.

Lockheed Martin, the prime contractor on the F/A-22, has been more than happy to play along. In recent briefings, senior executives have made thinly veiled references to Cope India.

"The bottom line is, the US no longer has a technological combat advantage, based on aircraft versus aircraft," says Ralph Heath, the Lockheed executive overseeing F/A-22.

It would seem only natural that the F/A-22's largest subcontractor, Boeing, would play along too - except for one problem: Boeing makes the F-15. The company recently won a competition to produce F-15s for South Korea and is engaged in a heated contest to build 20 for the Singapore air force. "We were concerned," says George Muellner, head of Boeing's air force business.

In an effort to save the F-15 from the Pentagon's self-inflicted wounds, General John Jumper, the air force chief of staff, recently briefed Singaporean officials on the Indian exercise. Singapore, which is also looking at the Eurofighter and the French Rafale, has reason to be worried: China has bought the Su-30, as have Malaysia and Indonesia.

Caught in between is Sukhoi itself, which does not seem to know what to make of the mixed American messages. "We feel part of a game," protests Alexander Klementiev, Sukhoi's deputy director general. "But we are not participants in that game."

08-07-04, 12:08 PM
hmmmm. I wonder in this day and age if air to air combat is really that important? after all, with bomber and missle technology what it is, wouldn't we be more likley to destroy most of our enemy's planes on the ground?

I am not really sure, but it just seems to me that bomber and ground warfare has taken on more importance these day's. Of course only really have two wars in recent times to base this judgment on, so who really knows?

08-07-04, 02:59 PM
Now I don't want to sound like I'm launching conspiracy theories, but I guess this may be one:

What if we allowed the odds to be set against us in order to "fail". Hek nothing more motivating to the congress to get money flowing as a big slap in the face. In the article it even says that the US rarely ever lets this type of information out. Now its being used as a talking point for the Raptor. HMMMMM

Don't get me wrong, I think it would be cool as hades to see that bird flying over the US. (sswwweeeeeeeeet) Just a thought is all.

08-07-04, 05:12 PM

08-07-04, 09:34 PM
We question the timing of the release of this information.
With Congress set to cut back or eliminate some programs.
The F/A-22 being one of those program to be set back or aside because we cannot fund everything.
Seem like some lobbyists are doing a bit of work here.
Would the military or government skew facts?
No but some big industrical corporation might skew facts for mega-bucks...

Semper Fidelis/Semper Fi

Honor, Courage and Commitment
Try to live those words everyday of your life
Or they might become just words on bantered walls.

08-07-04, 10:21 PM
I remember back in 83....or was it 84?.....Well we had some of our F-4Js spank some air force F-15s. Course they were some old salt instructor Phantom Flyers.