Thursday, August 20, 2009

Coming, US heavy metal - Iraq warhorse to be deployed in India for drill

The US is shipping 17 Strykers, its most modern fighting vehicles which lead many ground operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, to India for the largest joint army exercise between the two countries. This will be the largest deployment of Strykers by the US outside Iraq and Afghanistan.

The exercise will be the latest in a series of drills called Yudh Abhyas that has so far been wargamed on counter-insurgency themes. The deployment of the Stryker armoured fighting vehicles — designed to be more agile but with the firepower of tanks — alongside a formation of the Indian armoured corps suggests the level and intensity of Yudh Abhyas is being scaled up.

The Strykers will be shipped from Hawaii, the headquarters of the US Pacific Command, to Mumbai and then taken either by air or road to Babina near Jhansi in Uttar Pradesh. Babina is the headquarters of the Indian Army’s 31 armoured division. The division is an element of the 21 Strike Corps and trained to lead ground operations in desert and semi-desert terrain on the India-Pakistan border. The 31 division has T-72 Russian-origin tanks and is currently being re-equipped with the later-generation T-90 tanks.

Yudh Abhyas-09, scheduled for the second fortnight of October, will coincide with a major India-US Air Forces’ exercise that will be centred in Agra. The US will deploy C-130J Hercules for the latest edition of the Cope India series of wargames. Six of the Lockheed Martin-made aircraft for medium cargo lifts and special forces operations have been contracted by the Indian Air Force. The US will also fly in the much bigger C-17 Globemaster made by Boeing. The Indian Air Force has projected a need for a heavy lift transport aircraft in the category of the Globemaster. But the government has not yet called for proposals from prospective sellers.

The Agra base is home to the Indian Air Force’s transport and refueller aircraft and to the special forces’ Parachute Training School. An army source said the configuration of the Indian deployment for the land forces’ exercise, most likely to be held in the field firing ranges near Babina, was still being worked out. The US Stryker has replaced or is replacing most of the Bradley fighting vehicles that, along with the M1A1 Abrams tanks, the Humvee and the Hummer, led the charge into Iraq from Kuwait in 2003. Subsequently, the US army chief, General Eric Shinseki, formulated the idea of Stryker Brigade Combat Teams that are the mobile land components in the wars. The Stryker is capable of carrying 11 troops in its infantry-carrying version. But it can also be used for heavier mobile firepower and mounted with cannons and mortars. It is also used for medical evacuation and as a mobile command centre.

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