The Indian and French navies on Sunday kicked off a three-day mega wargame in the Arabian Sea in the backdrop of rising concern over China’s growing maritime presence in the Indian Ocean region.
The French Navy has deployed its nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, and its entire carrier strike group in the exercise, reflecting the seriousness of the drill.
The French Embassy said the 19th edition of the Varuna exercise underscores the shared interests and commitment of both nations in promoting maritime security in the Indo-Pacific and bears testimony to the vitality of the bilateral strategic partnership.
“The joint exercise comprises various drills across the spectrum of maritime operations, with the goal of fostering interoperability and mutual learning between the two navies and reinforcing their capability for joint action in a strategic area,” it said in a statement.
The Indian Navy has deployed guided missile stealth destroyer Kolkata, guided missile frigates Tarkash and Talwar, fleet support ship Deepak, a Kalvari class submarine and a sleet of P-8I long range maritime patrol aircraft, officials said.
Besides Charles de Gaulle, the French naval assets at the exercise included multi-mission frigate Provence, air defence destroyer Chevalier Paul, and command and supply ship Var.
The Charles de Gaulle with a displacement of 42,500 tons (four times the weight of the Eiffel tower), carries a crew of 1200, 15.4 per cent of whom are women, and an air wing consisting of 20 Rafale marine jets, two E-2C Hawkeye aircraft and several helicopters.
Its 75-meter deck with catapult launching enables the launch of Rafale marine jets in less than three seconds every 30 seconds.
Indian Navy Spokesperson Commander Vivek Madhwal said both the navies will endeavour to enhance and hone their war-fighting skills to demonstrate their ability as an integrated force to promote peace, security and stability in the maritime domain.
The embassy said Varuna exercise is part of the French carrier strike group”s ”CLEMENCEAU 21” deployment, which the French Navy is conducting from February to June 2021 in the eastern Mediterranean, the Gulf and the Indian Ocean.
“Its goal is to contribute to the stabilisation of these strategic zones and strengthening cooperation with the navies of partner countries, in particular India for the Indian Ocean component,” it said.
As part of this deployment, the carrier strike group is also taking part in anti-ISIS operations,” the embassy said.
Initiated in 1983, Indo-French naval cooperation plays a key role in the two countries” joint vision for a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific, it said.
“It has intensified in recent years with increasingly ambitious joint exercises that have raised the degree of the two navies” interoperability to a new level,” the embassy said.
“In early April, the Indian Navy took part for the first time in the France-led naval exercise ”La Perouse” with the navies of the United States, Australia and Japan,” it added.
The Indian side at the exercise is being led by Rear Admiral Ajay Kochhar, Flag Officer Commanding Western Fleet, while the French side is headed by Rear Admiral Marc Aussedat, Commander Task Force 473.
“The three-day exercise will see high tempo-naval operations at sea, including advanced air defence and anti-submarine exercises, intense fixed and rotary wing flying operations, tactical manoeuvres, surface and anti-air weapon firings and other maritime security operations,” Commander Madhwal said.