Categories: Military Aviation

Cope India: when India’s Russian jets achieved a surprising 9:1 kill ratio against U.S. F-15s

According to Indian media an air exercise held ten years ago “highlighted the innovativeness of Indian fighter pilots, the impact of Russian jets and the potentially fatal limitations in USAF pilot training.”

Held at the Gwalior Indian Air Force range from Feb. 15 to 27, 2004, Cope India 04 exercise gained the headlines not only because it marked the beginning of a new chapter in bilateral relations between India and US, but also because Indian pilots were able to win more than 90 percent of the mock air engagements conducted against U.S. Air Force F-15C jets from 3rd Wing based at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska.

The results of this joint training was surprising, somehow shocking.

According to the Pentagon, several limitations reduced the chances of victory of the Eagle drivers against the Indian fighters. First of all, the lack of the advanced active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar on their F-15s. Second, the air engagements typically involved six Eagles against up to eighteen IAF aircraft with no chance to simulate any beyond visual range (BVR) missile shot (due to the Indian request of not using the AMRAAM). Furthermore, the Indians had sent their most experienced airmen to fight against the Americans whereas the latter belonged to a standard squadron (hence there was a mix of experienced and less experienced pilots).

Anyway, regardless of the Rules of Engagement, the outcome of the engagement proved the skills and level of preparedness of the Indians.

As highlighted by Rakesh Krishnan Simha in an article published in Feb. 2014 on Russia & India Report, David A. Fulghum in its Cope India report for Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine quoted Colonel Mike Snodgrass, commander of the 3rd Wing as saying: “The outcome of the exercise boils down to (the fact that) they ran tactics that were more advanced than we expected…They could come up with a game plan, but if it wasn’t working they would call an audible and change (tactics in flight).”

Moreover even the Indian jets faced several limitations during the exercise.

IAF jets weren’t equipped with the AESA radar either and they were Su-30MKs, less advanced than the MKIs that the Indians  did not want to dispatch to Cope India. The Flanker wasn’t the only aircraft that the Eagle’s drivers faced in mock air-to-air combat: “The two most formidable IAF aircraft proved to be the MiG-21 Bison, an upgraded version of the Russian-made baseline MiG-21, and the Su-30MK Flanker, also made in Russia,” Snodgrass explained to AW&ST. Low radar visibility, instantaneous turn rate, acceleration and the helmet mounted sight combined with high-off-boresight R-73 air-to-air missiles were among the factors that made the upgraded MiG-21 a deadly adversary for the U.S. F-15s.

Cope India 2005 saw the U.S. Air Force deploy several F-16s that operated also mixed up with IAF Su-30MKIs (and not only against them). Nevertheless the results of the drills were much similar to those of the previous year, with Indian pilots able to win most of the engagements.

However according to Simha, the poor performance of the US aircrews during the exercise was also due to the old tactics used by the Americans during the air engagements who relied on the static Cold War ground-controlled interceptions which limited the pilots during the mock air combats.

But the 9:1 kill ratio achieved by Indians pilots against USAF fighters during the Cope India 04, was also reached thanks to their skills as USAF Colonel Greg Newbech said: “What we’ve seen in the last two weeks is the IAF can stand toe-to-toe with the best air force in the world. I pity the pilot who has to face the IAF and chances the day to underestimate him; because he won’t be going home. They made good decisions about when to bring their strikers in. The MiG-21s would be embedded with a (MiG-27) Flogger for integral protection. There was a data link between the Flankers that was used to pass information. They built a very good (radar) picture of what we were doing and were able to make good decisions about when to roll (their aircraft) in and out.”

As reported by Scott Baldauf for CSMonitor, the same opinion is shared by Vinod Patney, retired Indian Air Force Marshal, and former vice chief of staff who said that the skills of IAF pilots combined with those possessed by Indian ground crews have been the real game changer during the several Cope India exercise editions since “..We’re not talking about a single aircraft. We’re talking about the overall infrastructure, the command and control systems, the radar on the ground and in the air, the technical crew on the ground, and how do you maximize that infrastructure. This is where the learning curve takes place.”

So, provided that the it went exactly as reported, was poor training the reason of the bad results achieved by US aircrews during Cope India exercises? Did the U.S. underestimate the IAF before the first simulated dogfights?

Maybe. For sure some lessons were learned.

When, in 2008, the Indians took part in Red Flag with Su-30MKI the results of the engagements leaked thanks to a video which surfaced on Youtube. Footage showed a U.S. Air Force pilot, Col Terence Fornof, lecturing an audience about the Indian Flankers with plenty of details about the poor performance of the Indian jets.

During his interesting speech, the F-15 pilots highlighted several shortcomings of the Indian Su-30s, including problems with the engines, FOD (Foreign Object Damage) procedures requiring 60-second intervals between takeoffs, poor performance in 1 vs 1 dogfights with the U.S. F-15s, to such an extent, after a few days, Indian didn’t want “any more 1 vs 1 stuff.”

Obviously, Fornof comments, are strongly denied on Indian side. Rightly. The U.S. Colonel is mistaken on some of his claims, including the engine of the Flanker and the radar of the Mig-21 and there is a chance he was playing to the gallery.

Most probably the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

Dario Leone and David Cenciotti

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  • LOL. The real story is that outnumbering them 3:1 and denying the Eagles their most important weapon only netted a claimed 9:1 kill ratio.

    • lol dude
      The US has all the big guns in the world, yet you cant even handle a bunch of villagers running around with AKs in afghanistan
      Not to mention the humiliating defeat in Vietnam or korea

      Or the fact that the US had to use a nuke bomb(developed by a german) to tame a country as small as Japan

      Put that all together with shrinking US softpower and lack of initiative to confront countries as small as syria and iran and submitting to Russia vis a vis Ukriane, paints a rather shocking picture illustrating and highlightening the mirage of USA invincibility

      You guys are just All talk and no show.

    • LOL they denyed Indians the use of their most powerfull weapons whenever US hosted this, and also the advanced radar capabilities, so what you do to others...

  • This is nonsense and anybody who was associated with this exercise will tell you the same thing. The U.S. Air Force can, and would, smoke everything out there in a way that you cannot even imagine.

    • No it can't and it wouldn't. The RAF owns it at every Red Flag. That's fact, not Indian state media nonsense.

  • This was debunked almost as soon as it came out. mikey rivero on "what really happened" loves to defecate all over America. What REALLY happened indeed.

  • Why this report of 2004 exercise coming out now? Is it skewed? Then why?

  • What is striking is that India spends a fraction of the money that US spends on defense budget and overall US airfield infrastructure is far superior to IAF. Add to that the latest weapons and upgrades and overwhelming numbers and US can beat India any day any time in air combat.

    However if US AF ever visits the Russian airspace with a superiority complex they will encounter a nasty surprise. Flanker is one hell of a fighter. Without F22s and overall air superiority due to support infrastructure USAF will never beat the Russians.

    • lol dude
      The US has all the big guns in the world, yet you cant even handle a bunch of villagers running around with AKs in afghanistan
      Not to mention the humiliating defeat in Vietnam or korea

      Or the fact that the US had to use a nuke bomb(developed by a german) to tame a country as small as Japan

      Put that all together with shrinking US softpower and lack of initiative to confront countries as small as syria and iran and submitting to Russia vis a vis Ukriane, paints a rather shocking picture illustrating and highlightening the mirage of USA invincibility

      You guys are just All talk and no show.

    • Piyu2cool, I worked in Russia for 20 years in aviation. The Russians can't get 3/4 of their planes even off the ground at any one time. The 1/4 that can have pilots with minimal flight hours and lack skill with their equipment. Sorry it is sad but the truth. In a war the entire Russian air force would last at most a day or two, not because the planes are bad (although most outdated) but because they are very poorly organized and badly supplied. Also most Russian pilots that I knew would never take to the air if they new they were going against a Nato air force, same as with the Iraquis, I don't blame them either, let the politicians jump in the cockpit if they are so gun ho :)

      • We have seen what happened to Nazis when they attacked Soviet union with this wet dream of fast victory and called the Russians, inferior sub humans. The west does not learn from history.

        As far as air defense goes, USAF will be not only fighting Russians interceptors but surface and naval SAMs. They do their job just fine.

        • had the germans committed all their strength then, and not only a fraction of it (they had troops over the whole continental Europe, a fair share facing England, another in the Balkans, some even in Syria and Irak), and had they begun their attack on time ( that is, had they not been forced to bail the italians out in front of Albania, Yugoslavia and Greece), the outcome would have been quite different.

          • Agreed. But Soviet Union was the first country to successfully stop the Blitzkrieg and even reverse it. They learnt fast and used German tactics against the Wehrmacht later in the war but with their own doctrine of using overwhelming numbers. If Germany had more numerical strength, air power to match the allies and access to secure oilfields, war would have looked very different.

          • Hahahaha... ARE YOU SHITTING US??? Hitler moved 192 divisions on USSR + dozen more "alied" divisions, to a total of more then FOUR MILION MEN, with thousands of tanks and airplanes and artilery peaces, when total German strength was maybe six milion, so don't be so full of crap, he threw 3/4 of what they had and lost!!!
            IF Stalin didn't omit warnings and troops didn't fear him so much that they refused to shoot back in case this was an exercise the Germans would get their asses kicked much sooner, that is the only truth!!

        • The US was supplying Russia with fighters, tanks, trucks, and war material at the time through lend lease.

    • The worry in Russian airspace would be shitloads of radar/SAM installations, not as much the aircraft. Sure, Russian planes are good. What the Russians don't seem to get is that we really don't want to invade them. We have lesser countries to invade.

  • The picture also becomes very murky due to Indians refusing to turn ON their radars and the fact that in red flag, both the red and blue forces are of mixed formations i.e. there are US and Indian fighters on both sides.

  • The real story is,

    that in the event these personally owned fictional private corporate territorial jurisdictions known as countries, find themselves tasked deliberately to fall out with each other, then,

    the member-citizens to these 'figments of the imagination' or 'creations of the mind', must ensure their actions do not impact anybody to be found outside of their territorial jurisdictions, and the airspace above those territorial jurisdictions.

    Pray tell, where are these territorial jurisdictions as countries to be found and therefore the airspace above these territories, in which their member-citizens can participate in happy combat, should the owners of these countries decide to engage their member-citizens in deliberately tasked for conflicts?


    Its interesting to note -

    what is considered to be the legal or legislative definition of the airspace of a country ?

    "Airspace means the portion of the atmosphere controlled by a country above its territory, including its territorial waters...."


    What is meant by international waters and airspace?

    How then, can we picture 'where' the 'physical geography' of countries, and the airspace above them, actually exist in nature or the physical world ?

    Using the assistance of maps or illustrations, that relate to the physical geography of the physical world, we can 'see' where countries are merely 'claimed' to be, and then come to 'understand', what then is the mere 'claims' of their airspace above them -

    See pages 18 & 19 -
    Maritime Zones and Jurisdiction



    Note. One wonders, how aircraft are supposed to take-off from the subsoil & then land back into it -

    The question that must always be borne in mind is -

    "Do I live where these countries are claimed to be found in the physical world" ?


    For those individuals who care to explore how this situation, of where countries are to be found, was arrived at, the following explanation found part way down the source document linked, maybe of some use, having read its contents under the subtitled heading -





    With regards to India, and where to find their Double Taxation Treaties or Double Taxation Avoidance Agreements, one would do well to -

    - first confirm they indeed do have such agreements, and then,

    - in the same manner in which Sweden's agreements were found, as demonstrated in the link 'The Business of Knowing Your Place', confirm that they maybe held elsewhere on behalf of India, and then,

    - consult with where they are to be found, and that would most likely be with the OECD


    Note. Mention of OECD can be found on Page 5 -
    Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement with India


    Tolstoy spoke wisely indeed, when he wrote -

    I know that most men, including those at ease with the problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives ~ Leo Tolstoy


  • Happened near the Russian border: an invisible US jet was called by a Russian radar operator to get the fuck out of Russia. Hey - you can't see me said the American.

    Americans can never put up a fight with real armed nations or human beings.

  • Haha, an American are bragging. Germans and other nations actually produce things - Americans paint and assemble them.

    • Good grief. You might want to research the gap in industrial output between Germany and the US before making yourself look stupid again, Adolf.

      The US "produces" more "things" than the entire European Union combined.

      • Germany was the one who transferred technology to US . You should keep that thing in your mind also

      • yes.. producing state debt obligations.. dollars ... but not real concurency able products.. btw cars are 20 years behind germans and europeans... when chinesse,indian,european,russian developers will go home than what... us is not able make a tram and metro units ...

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