Pune: In a first, India’s indigenously-built light combat aircraft Tejas featured in the Indo-Russian joint tri-service “Exercise Indra” when fighter pilots from the two countries flew the aircraft during the air force element of the exercise at Air Force Station in Lohegaon.

“This was for the first time that the Russian and Indian pilots flew the Tejas aircraft together from our base on December 17 as a part of the exercise,” Air Commodore Rahul Bhasin, the Air Officer Commanding of the AFS, Lohegaon, told reporters at the concluding session of the air force element on Thursday. The previous edition of the joint exercise had taken place in Russia, where our pilots had flown Russian jets, he said.

Russian pilot Nesterov Andrey, who has flown the MiG-29 and versions of multi-role combat Sukhoi aircraft, said, “I feel proud to have got the opportunity to fly Tejas. The aircraft provides good control and all systems in the cockpit are excellent as I could read, see and analyse data from the same. It has a comfortable ejection seat. I would like to fly it again.”

A senior Indian Air Force (IAF) officer, who did not wish to be named, told TOI, “The Tejas had first participated in the IAF combat exercise ‘Gagan Shakti’ at our forward bases in the western and the northern sectors in 2018. It’s involvement in Exercise Indra augurs well from the viewpoint of global showcasing and achieving strategic objectives.”

The joint tri-service exercise, which began on December 10 simultaneously from Babina, Gwalior, Goa and Pune, is aimed at strengthening mutual confidence and interoperability and enabling sharing of best practices between the armed forces of both the countries. This year, IAF had fielded Su-30MKI, Jaguar, Mirage-2000, transport aircraft IL-76, MI-17 helicopters and Airborne Warning & Control System aircraft.

Colonel Bargin Sergey, the contingent commander of Russian Federation Air Force, said, “The joint tri-service exercise has shown how both the countries are close to each other. Organising such exercise at regular intervals is necessary to understand each other’s culture, operating methodologies, flight safety, pilot training and other aspects. Also, it develops mutual understanding among the troops of both the nations.”

Bhasin said, “The joint exercise has provided a unique opportunity and exposure to armed forces of both the countries to carry out joint operations under the United Nations (UN) mandate in future. To carry out any kind of operation, joint planning and formulating strategy is necessary. Such exercise forms synergy among troops of both the nations.”