Hawaii Air National Guard jumpmaster Master Sgt. Bill Kissenberger of the 204th Airlift Squadron, left, controlled the jump of Indian paratroopers Monday from an Air Force C-130 over Agra Air Station, India.

U.S. and Indian forces
team up for training

Weeklong exercises are the first
for the nations in 4 decades

By Gregg K. Kakesako

Thirteen Hawaii Air National Guard pilots and air crew members will return to Hickam Air Force Base tomorrow after spending a week in India participating in the largest military exercise between the two countries in four decades.

The weeklong "Cope India" exercises began Monday and involved paratroopers and aircraft from both countries. The training maneuvers were held at the Agra Air Base, 95 miles southeast of New Delhi, India's capital, said Maj. James Law, Pacific Air Forces spokesman.

The purpose of Cope India was to exchange information and procedures so, if U.S. and Indian air forces ever deployed together, both could operate efficiently and effectively.

Master Sgt. Bill Kissenberger, a C-130 loadmaster with the Hawaii Air National Guard's 204th Airlift Squadron, said that on Monday 111 Indian paratroopers jumped from his aircraft.

"The following day we dropped about 1,650 pounds of equipment and an evening drop with 120 Indian paratroopers was planned for Wednesday," Kissenberger said in a phone interview last week from the 3,400-acre Agra Air Base, the largest in India.

Maj. Neal Ernst, a C-130 navigator with the 204th Airlift Squadron, looked over the cockpit of an AC-32 Indian cargo aircraft last week as an Indian flight officer explained the navigational controls. Ernst was in India supporting a bilateral exercise between U.S. and Indian air forces.

Kissenberger, a 1972 Damien High School graduate and 1984 University of Hawaii graduate, said initially there were minor problems because the Indian Air Force uses twice the number of jumpmasters, or "dispatchers," who help the paratroopers out of the plane.

But adjustments were smooth, Kissenberger added, because "we had a long pre-mission briefing with the Indians, plus they came out prior to the flight to get a feel for the aircraft and to see the equipment."

Maj. Jim Yuki, a C-130 Hawaii Air Guard pilot, said there were more similarities than differences in how each service works. That assessment was shared by an Indian cargo pilot who flew on one of the missions.

"Many of the procedures were similar," said Flying Officer Saurav Dattagupta, whose rank is equivalent to a lieutenant. He was one of 12 Indian observers on one of the cargo drop missions. However, he said, "the C-130 is more maneuverable than the AN-32 (the Russian cargo plane used by India)."

Yuki, a 1977 Honokaa High School graduate who flew missions with the Air Force in the 1991 Desert Storm campaign, said, "dropping 100 or so soldiers at time is an experience in itself, since at home we generally only drop 15 soldiers at a time."

"Our goal here is to increase the level of interoperability between the two air forces," said Col. Jeff LeVault, exercise director for U.S. forces. "Knowing what to expect from your friends and how they do business aids immeasurably in being able to get missions done together. In that sense, interoperability becomes a force multiplier."

In 1962, the first air defense exercises between the United States and India were held in eastern India in the wake of a border war between India and China. But as India drew closer to the then-Soviet Union, a major supplier of military hardware for New Delhi, the exercises became fewer. They were resumed at the end of the Cold War in 1992.

But Washington imposed economic sanctions and broke off military cooperation ties with India after it conducted five nuclear tests in May 1998, followed by nuclear tests in Pakistan.

The sanctions were lifted after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Since then, the United States military has held exercises with the Indian army and navy, and Indian soldiers have trained with American soldiers in Alaska.

Air Force Gen. Bill Begert, Pacific Air Forces commander, said: "Cope India provides an excellent opportunity to increase our understanding of each other's capabilities. This will allow our two air forces to work together as a combined and integrated air force team in the global war on terrorism and in the long term, enhance regional stability.

"I'm excited about the future possibilities for expanded activities, exchanges and exercises."

Law said the 13 Hawaii Air Guard personnel worked with 140 active duty U.S. Air Force members from Guam and Japan and four more C-130's for the one-week airlift event.

"It's been a great experience for all of us," said Yuki. "To have the chance to be here in India to train with the Indian Air Force and to experience some of the culture of this country is amazing."

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