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US, India airdrop training mission a historic one

Indian air force Wing Cmdrs. Sukumar S. Kumar and Anil Vesma, discuss the aerial procedures of the 517th Airlift Squadron prior to an air drop mission Sept. 9, 2014, at Joint Base Elmnedorf-Richardson, Alaska. Indian air force personnel were visiting Elmendorf as part of a tactics, techniques and procedures exchange program between the two countries. It marked the first time such training has been conducted between India and the U.S. Air Force at Elmendorf. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Sheila deVera)

Indian air force Wing Cmdrs. Sukumar S. Kumar and Anil Vesma, discuss the aerial procedures of the 517th Airlift Squadron prior to an air drop mission Sept. 9, 2014, at Joint Base Elmnedorf-Richardson, Alaska. Indian air force personnel were visiting Elmendorf as part of a tactics, techniques and procedures exchange program between the two countries. It marked the first time such training has been conducted between India and the U.S. Air Force at Elmendorf. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Sheila deVera)

JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska (AFNS) -- Airmen from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska and the Indian air force achieved a historic milestone after completing a joint air transportability training sortie Sept 9.

Three Indian air force airmen rode along on a C-17 Globemaster III crewed by the 517th Airlift Squadron as part of a tactics, techniques and procedures exchange program between the two countries. It marked the first time such training has been conducted between India and the U.S. at Elmendorf.

"We are here to practice procedures we are adopting in India," said Wing Cmdr. Sukumar S.Kumar, the Indian air force’s 77th Squadron parajump instructor leader. "Quite often, this will help us when operating together in the future."

The three-day exchange allowed the IAF members to see many different facets of Elmendorf. The highlight of the exchange was the sortie, in which Soldiers jumped and their equipment was airdropped to Allen Army Airfield, Fort Greely, Alaska.

"As pilots, our objective was to see and understand how USAF pilots are operating their aircraft while the drops are taking place," said Squadron Leader Hans Raj Bhatt, a 77th Squadron C-130J Hercules pilot and the transport combat leader. "We want to see and compare the nuances so we have a better understanding of how to better operate."

U.S. Air Force Capt. Zach Coburn, a 517th Airlift Squadron C-17 instructor pilot, said focusing on communication was a key teaching and learning point for the sortie.

"Communication is very important," Coburn said. "There are critical crunch points throughout the flight. The IAF was able to observe and see they have a lot of the same challenges and we shared ideas on how to work through them."

Bhatt said he agreed with Coburn and said the trip also served as a quality control check. The IAF had received similar training three years ago at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas.

"The procedures we have set in place, they are primarily based upon the training that was imparted to us during out trip to Little Rock," Bhatt said. "The objective was to see if we have departed anywhere from that training, and we are happy to say we have not. That's a big takeaway for us."

Although the pilots who visited currently fly the C-130J, the Indian air force is beefing up its transport capability in the form of a C-17 fleet.

"The IAF will have the second largest C-17 fleet in the world," said U.S. Air Force Maj. Michael Bliss, the 703d Aircraft Maintenance Squadron commander. "They are a key partner in the Pacific Command area of responsibility. Events like this, where ideas and lessons learned are exchanged, are key to the further interoperability in capabilities such as airlift, air delivery, search and rescue, and aeromedical evacuation."

Bliss emphasized the mutual shared benefit of the program as key to the program's success.

"I think both countries desire to coordinate closely to enhance the ability for PACAF (Pacific Air Forces) and IAF to operate alongside each other in bi/multi-lateral operations. Tactical exchanges like this will make that a reality,” Bliss said.

While there are worlds of difference between a C-130 and a C-17, Bhatt said the concepts of airdrop and transportation is similar.

"The concepts are more or less the same, so we received some very beneficial training," Bhatt said. "It was an awesome learning experience."

Both sides had only glowing reports for each other.

"They are extremely professional, upstanding and friendly people," Coburn said. "They were here to observe but wanted to help wherever they could - push a pallet or carry something. It's always rewarding when you get to meet an individual who does the same thing you do but from a different cultural perspective. Meeting them and learning from them was a fantastic experience."

The Indian air force echoed their counterpart's words.

"We are proud and privileged to be here," said Wing Cmdr. Sukumar S. Kumar. "Everyone we have interacted with has been so warm and welcoming. The crew we flew with today was very professional. We are looking forward to when we can do this again."

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