India-Japan aerial wargames turn Hyakuri base into AvGeek paradise

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Hyakuri is the only air base in the Tokyo metropolitan area that has a combat air wing and was once home to the former Navy Hyakurigahara Air Corps…writes Ateet Sharma

As the inaugural joint Air Exercise between India and Japan gathers steam, the presence of Indian Air Force’s frontline Su-30 MKI fighter aircraft at the Hyakuri Air Base, about 80 km northeast of Tokyo, has generated a lot of buzz in the large aviation enthusiast community of Japan.

A huge number of plane spotters, also known as ‘AvGeeks’, parked themselves outside the Japan Air Self Defence Force (JASDF) base located in the Omitama City of Ibaraki Prefecture much before the arrival of a nearly 150-member strong IAF contingent on Tuesday for Exercise ‘Veer Guardian-2023’ that kicked off on January 12.

Hyakuri is the only air base in the Tokyo metropolitan area that has a combat air wing and was once home to the former Navy Hyakurigahara Air Corps, which was established in 1938. In 2010, as the Ibaraki Airport terminal building was completed, the airfield was shared with the airbase.

There are several ‘observation decks’ overlooking the main civil aircraft ramp and the military aircraft across the main runway which are considered good for plane-watching.

Armed with sophisticated cameras, phones and tripods, dozens of aviation geeks climbed on top of their car roof to catch a glimpse and record the landing of IAF’s four Sukhoi-30 MKI aircraft, two C-17 transport aircraft and one IL-78 aircraft (being used for aerial refueling of fighters) at the airbase.

The photographs and videos shot by them, including those which showed Indian aircraft receiving a traditional water cannon salute welcome after landing, soon went viral on social media.

The holding of the first joint fighter jet drills, reflecting the growing security cooperation between the countries, continues to create a lot of excitement in Japan.

From providing regular weather updates to tracking the movement of the aircraft on the tarmac, the plane-spotters have contributed extensively to make ‘Veer Guardian-2023’ trend on social media, especially Twitter.

The exercise is not just deepening strategic ties and closer defence cooperation between the two countries but also doing its bit in uniting the aviation enthusiast communities of India and Japan.

“A big appreciation to the Japanese photographers. Posting such beautiful pictures of Flankers, Globemaster and Gajraj. Never seen such beautifully set shots. Exceptional quality,” posted an Indian aviation aficionado on Twitter.

The exercise, to be held till January 26, is also seeing the participation of JASDF’s four Mitsubishi F-2 multirole fighters and four F-15 aircraft.

Not just the aviation geeks, but even the officials of the JASDF Hyakuri Base are quite excited to watch India’s indigenously manufactured SU-30MKI parked alongside its Japanese fighters.

Not surprisingly, another week full of multi-domain air combat missions and drills starting Monday will give an adrenaline rush not just to the participants from the two air forces but also to the onlookers.

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