EXCLUSIVE: IAF's Red Flag team to report airborne ELINT on Sukhois

The Indian Air Force's Red Flag 08-4 team will include, as part of its routine report to Air Force HQ, notings on two "extra-exercise incidents" by what were possibly US Electronic Intelligence (ELINT) aircraft -- one at Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho, where the IAF warmed up, and the second over the Nevada range airspace off Nellis where the Red Flag exercise was held. An official with the contingent that attended the exercise at Nellis confirmed that team leader Group Captain Diptendu Chaudhary's official debrief to Vayu Bhawan would contain descriptions of two incidents that will be categorized formally as "suspicious" and "unscheduled".

According to this official's account, the first incident took place on July 21 at Mountain Home AFB in Idaho, during the training phase. The second took place on August 17 during Red Flag itself. The nature of both incidents is, so far, unknown. In separate incidents, one unconfirmed account suggests that IAF Sukhois were spooked by a USAF RC-135 rigged with an ELINT payload twice in July -- once when a fleet of Sukois were near flying near the Southern Coast of England (they were there for the Farnborough Air Show), and the second, in the same month when the Red Flag squad was flying into the United States.

As has been reported in the American press, the Sukhois flew during their exercise with their Tikhomirov Instrument Bureau (NIIP) radars "trimmed" to training mode, and with pre-set instructions not to use electronic or active countermeasures, because of which they were repeatedly slammed by ground-based enemy air defences.

I spoke to former AOC-in-C Western Air Command, Air Marshal AK Singh yesterday as part of the story I did on Headlines Today last evening. He was one of the pilots who ferried Jaguars to Ambala from the UK in 1981. He described repeated incidents where US intelligence aircraft based in Saudi Arabia would spook the Jaguars, and, on one memorable occasion, when one even formated with the Jaguars over the Arabian Sea.

The question of course is, how much does the US already know about the Su-30MKI. Does it know everything it already needs to? In which case, are any spooking attempts simply efforts to confirm already held information?

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