The US' decision to send four F-15E Eagles for Cope India 2023 is being seen by many as an effort to convince India that this Boeing-built twin-engine fighter jet is the best option available in the market.
The US government has granted permission to Boeing to sell F-15 jets to India. Not only the F-15Es, even the superior F-15EXs are on offer, a source said. After acquiring 36 Rafales from France, India is on the lookout for several more Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) to fill the existing gap between the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas and the much heavier Su-30 MKI.
"Four F-15Es from the Pacific Air Command of the United States Air Force (USAF) have been participating in joint exercises with Rafales, Tejas, Jaguars and Su-30 MKIs of the Indian Air Force (IAF) at the Kalaikunda Air Force Station. The idea is for IAF pilots to check how compatible the aircraft is as an MMRCA.
"The IAF has never used US-made fighter jets though it has acquired strategic transport aircraft like the C-130Js and C-17s as well as helicopters like Apaches and Chinooks. Though the F-15Es are not as robust and sophisticated as the F-15EXs, the basics are the same," the source added.
A former IAF official said that Cope India 2023 is being held at a time when India is concerned with China's military build-up along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). Though the US and Boeing claim that the F-15EX Eagle-II can counter any threat from China, several rounds of trials will be required, he said.
Any MMRCA that the IAF procures has to operate in extreme weather conditions, whether in temperatures ranging around 40-degree Celsius in the Western Sector, or the sub-zero climes of the Himalayas.
Boeing maintains that the Eagle-II is much larger than the Rafale and has a take-off load carrying capacity that nearly equals that of the Su-30MKI. The aircraft can carry up to 22 missiles, including hypersonic ones. It can also counter any threat from Chinese-built hypersonic missiles. It's fuel tanks also give it an extended range.
The F-15EX has only been inducted into the USAF recently. The aircraft is in the wishlist of several countries, the US claims.
While exercises are fine, officials in India are skeptical about making any commitment and will weigh all the options first, including the indigenous twin-engine Tejas that is being developed.
On Monday, officials at AFS Kalaikunda said that all the aircraft involved in the exercise have flown extensively.
"Multiple missions were flown to enhance Within Visual Range and Beyond Visual Range combat deployment philosophy in large force package," an official said.
Though there was no specific mention of China, an US official said that both India and the US are keen on maintaining a peaceful Indo-Pacific region.