M A I N   N E W S

Aircraft were part of multi-nation exercise
Vijay Mohan
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, April 3
The two IAF Jaguar aircraft which crashed near Sonamarg yesterday are believed to be part of an exercise being undertaken to train pilots for participating in a multi-national air force exercise, Cope Thunder, in Alaska. The exercise, which will include men and aircraft from several countries, including NATO, is scheduled to be held in June.

Well-placed sources told The Tribune here today that a large-scale Air Force exercise is currently underway in the Western Sector to hone pilots’ skills in high-altitude flying. Besides the Jaguar, several other types of combat aircraft are also participating in the exercise, though not all would be flying to Alaska. The exercise began a few days ago.

The sources said the preparations for the Alaska exercise was the most probable reason for the sorties as Jaguars were not meant for operating at that altitude. Jaguars are deep-penetration interdictors and are used for targets such as railway stations, ammunition and fuel dumps and other static establishments.

IAF spokesperson Sqdn Ldr Mahesh Upasini declined to comment on the exercise. “Jaguars are capable of operating at all altitudes,” he said, simply stating that the four Jaguars had been undertaking training sorties.

The sources added that the aircraft were also testing new equipment recently installed on the aircraft. They, however, discounted the possibility that the aircraft were providing air cover to the President during his Siachen visit as the Jaguars are not designed or equipped for the role. Nor were the aircraft reported to be carrying any weapons.

The two Jaguars lost contact with the ground control after they reportedly entered clouds during their training sortie. Four Jaguars, all from the Ambala airbase, had been flying in formation. The Jaguar pilots had reportedly told ground control about the cloud cover and their intention to fly over it.

Initial reports, according to sources, suggest that two of the aircraft failed to pull up and flew into the clouds, where they lost radio contact with ground control. Sources add that the aircraft, in all probability, had collided in mid-air. There are chances of the aircraft loosing altitude and flying into the mountains.

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