New Delhi: India and France have begun a joint naval exercise ‘Varuna’ off the Goa Coast which will extend to the maritime area near Djibouti in the Indian Ocean and highlight “unprecedented” ambition in terms of scope and scale.
The multi-domain exercise covering the sea, air and undersea aspects, will involve French nuclear submarine, frigates, 20 Rafale fighters along with the country’s aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, which is being deployed for the first time after undergoing major refits and being made “brand new”.
French Ambassador to India Alexandre Ziegler noted that this will be the 17th edition of the annual exercise which is “illustrative of our historic and strategic partnership”.
“France is an all-weather, unconditional and predictable partner, and with India, our naval cooperation has been exemplary. It was initiated in 1983. It is an integral and key part of our bilateral strategic partnership since 1998,” he told reporters here.
“We have made a lot of progress, and it shouldn’t be a surprise that this particularly significant exercise takes place a year after the state visit of President Macron,” he added.
During that visit, the two countries adopted 2 key documents “that are being implemented successfully today: The Joint Strategic Vision of India-France Cooperation in the Indian Ocean Region and the Reciprocal Logistics Support Agreement between our Armed Forces,” he said.
This edition of ‘Varuna’ is “unprecedented”, the envoy said, highlighting “the dimension” and “ambition” of the exercise.
He said the 3,000 French sailors and an equal number from Indian Navy will participate in the exercise which will involve the participation of 6 French navy ships, its aircraft carrier FNS Charles de Gaulle, two destroyers, FNS Forbin and FNS Provence, the frigate FNS Latouche-Treville, the tanker FNS Marne and a nuclear submarine.
On Indian side too, the exercise will involve the participation of an aircraft carrier, destroyers and frigates.
This year’s exercise will be held in two parts — first part to be conducted off the Goa coast from May 1 to May 10 and the second part scheduled to be held in end-May in/near Djibouti, the French Ambassador said.
“It will be a multi-domain exercise: sea, air and undersea involvement of the newly-modernized aircraft carrier and its battle group,” Ziegler said.
He said France chose the Indo-Pacific region for the first deployment of a newly refitted aircraft carrier.
“As the Charles de Gaulle is now ‘brand new’, it automatically increases the technical level of the bilateral exercise,” the Ambassador said.
“After 15 years, it underwent a midlife refit from 2017 to 2018 and has been equipped with the most modern naval and military equipment, including for submarine and cyber warfare,” he said.
The battle aircraft onboard the carrier are now Rafale only, he said, adding there will be 20 of them on board.
“India is the only Asia-Pacific partner with which we’re organizing such a complex exercise during the March to July mission of the aircraft carrier,” he said.
“More generally, it speaks volumes about the strategic importance we attach to the Indian Ocean region and our partnership with India. Indeed, it shows our shared interests and commitment in promoting maritime security,” the French envoy said.
“Concretely, it helps develop interoperability between the two navies and foster mutual cooperation by learning from each other’s best practices to conduct joint operations,” he added.
Ziegler said, “It illustrates the swift development of our bilateral cooperation in this domain. Relevant agreements are fully operational.
These pacts are ‘Exchange and Reciprocal Protection of Classified or Protected Information’, which enables us to share highly sensitive information on our assessment of the situation in the region, an agreement on the provision of reciprocal logistics support between our Armed forces.