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Indian Air Force, in war games, gives US a run

Foreign fighter jets performed well against F-16s in recent exercises.

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Mingling over a few rounds of golf, dogfighting a bit over the jungles of West Bengal - this month's Cope India 2005 war games were billed as a standard two-week exercise between Indian and American top guns.

But in website chat rooms devoted to the arcania of fighter aircraft, there was a buzz. Arre, wa! Oh, wow! Had the Indian Air Force beat the Americans?

Not exactly, according to observers and participants. The exercises had mixed teams of Indian and American pilots on both sides, which means that both the Americans and the Indians won, and lost. Yet, observers say that in a surprising number of encounters - particularly between the American F-16s and the Indian Sukhoi-30 MKIs - the Indian pilots came out the winners.

"Since the cold war, there has been the general assumption that India is a third-world country with Soviet technology, and wherever the Soviet-supported equipment went, it didn't perform well," says Jasjit Singh, a retired air commodore and now director of the Center for Air Power Studies in New Delhi. "That myth has been blown out by the results" of these air exercises.

For now, US Air Force officials are saying only that the Cope India 2005 air exercises were a success, and a sign of America's growing appreciation for the abilities of its newfound regional ally.

But there are some signs that America's premier fighter jet, the F-16 Fighting Falcon, is losing ground to the growing sophistication of Russian-made fighter planes, and that the US should be more wary about presuming global air superiority - the linchpin of its military might.

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