India and France are all set to hold their largest-ever naval exercise with aircraft carriers, destroyers, submarines and fighters early next month, Indian defence sources said the two countries will be deploying their aircraft carriers, INS Vikramaditya with its MiG-29K fighters and FNS Charles de Gaulle with its Rafale-M naval jets, and other warships for the exercise.
India and France are all set to hold their largest-ever naval exercise with aircraft carriers, destroyers, submarines and fighters early next month as part of their expanding strategic partnership, even as the political slugfest between BJP and Congress over the Rs 59,000-crore contract for 36 Rafale jets continues.
Indian defence sources said the two countries will be deploying their aircraft carriers, INS Vikramaditya with its MiG-29K fighters and FNS Charles de Gaulle with its Rafale-M naval jets, and other warships for the “Varuna” exercise off Goa and Karwar from May 1.
“It will be a top-level naval exercise, with intensive dual carrier task group operations and anti-submarine warfare manoeuvres. India and France are also working to implement their action-oriented joint strategic vision for cooperation in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), which was finalised in March 2018,” said a source.
The two countries have operationalised their reciprocal military logistics support agreement, which saw French anti-aircraft destroyer FNS Cassard docking at the Mumbai naval port in January. Under the pact — the second one after India inked the first with the US in 2016 — Indian warships can access French bases like the Reunion Islands near Madagascar and Djibouti on the Horn of Africa.
France also has a naval air station in Abu Dhabi (UAE) and a military base at Mayotte in the Comoros archipelago off the coast of south-east Africa. With such mutual logistics pact with the US and France, India intends to counter China’s expanding strategic footprint in the IOR, which includes its first overseas military base at Djibouti established in August 2017.
For the Varuna exercise, apart from its nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, France is dispatching destroyers, FNS Forbin, FNS Provence and FNS Latouche Treville, nuclear attack submarine FNS Amethyste and tanker FNS Marne. The 42,500-tonne carrier will have its complement of Rafale-M fighters, E2C Hawkeye early-warning aircraft, AS-365 Dauphin and other helicopters.
India, in turn, will be fielding the 44,400-tonne INS Vikramaditya, with its integral MiG-29K fighters and helicopters, diesel-electric submarine INS Shankul, guided-missile destroyer INS Chennai, stealth frigate INS Tarkash, tanker INS Deepak, P-8I long-range maritime patrol aircraft and Dornier-228 planes.
Steadily cranking up naval engagements to build “interoperability” with like-minded countries, India has just concluded its biggest-ever exercise with Australia called “AUSINDEX” off the Visakhapatnam coast. Then, the trilateral high-voltage “Malabar” exercise with the US and Japan is slated to be held later this year. The Navy also continues to deploy around a dozen warships on regular patrols near “choke points” in the IOR under its “mission-based deployments” from the Persian Gulf to Malacca Strait, apart from several overseas deployments.
Destroyer INS Kolkata and tanker INS Shakti, for instance, have just finished an exercise with Vietnamese warships off the Cam Ranh Bay, as part of the deployment to the contentious South China Sea. Interestingly, the two Indian warships are now headed for Qingdao in China to participate in the International Fleet Review there.