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Avani Chaturvedi: IAF’s first woman pilot to lead aerial war games abroad

Flying a Su-30, Chaturvedi is set to become the first IAF woman pilot to participate in an air exercise abroad as India and Japan go ahead with bolstering their defence cooperation…reports Ateet Sharma

Squadron Leader Avani Chaturvedi, one of the first three women fighter pilots of the Indian Air Force (IAF), will script history once again next week as the inaugural joint Air Exercise between India and Japan kicks off at the Hyakuri Air Base on January 12.  

Back in 2016, Chaturvedi, Bhawana Kanth and Mohana Singh were conferred with the President’s Commission making India a part of the select few nations in the world to have women fighter pilots in their Air Forces.

Flying a Su-30, Chaturvedi is set to become the first IAF woman pilot to participate in an air exercise abroad as India and Japan go ahead with bolstering their defence cooperation to tackle joint responses to future threats in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond.

The ‘Veer Guardian-2023’ exercise, to be held till January 26, will see the participation of four Su-30 MKI, two C-17 and one IL-78 aircraft from the IAF while the Japan Air Self Defence Force (JASDF) will be represented by four Mitsubishi F-2 multirole fighters and four F-15 aircraft. The presence of IL-78, a workhorse tanker, shows that the mid-air refuelling will be part of the sophisticated manoeuvres.

Both countries had decided to hold their first air-combat exercises following the 90-minute bilateral between visiting Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and his Japanese counterpart Yasukazu Hamada in Tokyo on September 8.

Held at the headquarters of the Japanese Defence Ministry ahead of the second India-Japan 2+2 Foreign and Defence Ministerial, the discussion finalised a roadmap to step up bilateral defence cooperation and engage in more military exercises. This also included the holding of the first joint fighter jet drills, reflecting the growing security cooperation between the two sides.

“This exercise will thus be another step in deepening strategic ties and closer defence cooperation between the two countries,” the Indian Defence Ministry said on Saturday.

The inaugural exercise will include the conduct of various aerial combat drills between the two Air Forces. They will undertake multi-domain air combat missions in a complex environment and will exchange best practices. Experts from both sides will also hold discussions to share their expertise on varied operational aspects.

“Exercise ‘Veer Guardian’ will fortify the long-standing bond of friendship and enhance the avenues of defence cooperation between the two Air Forces,” the ministry added.

As India and Japan celebrated the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations, Chief of Air Staff Vivek Ram Chaudhari also visited the key JASDF base in May last year at the invitation of its chief Shunji Izutsu.

Air Chief Marshal Chaudhari was given a detailed presentation by Hyakuri Air Base Commander, Lieutenant General Ishimura, on the units, equipment, etc.

Both New Delhi and Tokyo have acknowledged the importance of the India-Japan defence partnership and the critical role it will play in ensuring a free, open and rules-based Indo-Pacific region.

The improvement of interoperability between the two countries, including the use of the Japan-India Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement, or the ACSA, in joint exercises has been welcomed by both sides.

The agreement signed between the two governments in September 2020 establishes a framework such as the settlement procedures for the reciprocal provision of supplies and services between the Self-Defence Forces of Japan and the Indian Armed Forces.

Furthering the narrative of ‘Make in India, Make for the World’, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh has also been particularly interested in the need to expand the scope of the India-Japan partnership in the field of defence equipment and technological cooperation.

During the September visit to the Japanese capital, Singh had invited Japanese industries to invest in India’s defence corridors where a conducive environment for the growth of the defence industry has been created by the government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Quite significantly, Hamada expressed his determination to fundamentally strengthen Japan’s defence capabilities through the formulation of a new National Security Strategy.

Quad partners India and Japan already participate in several bilateral and multilateral defence exercises such as ‘Dharma Guardian’, ‘JIMEX’, Sea Dragon, and the India-Japan-US-Australia joint exercise ‘Malabar’.

The two countries continue to enhance maritime cooperation, including maritime domain awareness, building on the consensus that a strong India-Japan relationship is very important for a free, open, rule-based and inclusive Indo-Pacific based upon the sovereignty and territorial integrity of nations.

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