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India And France To Conduct High Tempo Submarine Naval Exercise In The Indian Ocean

India and France are set for high tempo bilateral exercise ‘VARUNA-2021’ in the Arabian Sea from 25th to 27th April 2021. How strategic is the three day exercise in the Indian Ocean is evident with flagship Aircraft carrier Charles-de-Gaulle with Rafale-M fighter in action with Indian navy at sea, including advanced air defence and anti-submarine exercises, intense flying operations, tactical manoeuvres, surface and anti-air weapon firings, underway replenishment and other maritime security operations.

Photo Credit : IN


Aircraft Carrier Charles-de-Gaulle with Rafale-M fighter during Varuna 21

The 19th edition of the Indian and French Navy bilateral exercise ‘VARUNA-2021’ is scheduled to be conducted in the Arabian Sea from 25th to 27th April 2021. 

An area of vital strategic influence within Indian Ocean Region(IOR), Arabian Sea lies in northwestern part of the IOR, and forming part of the principal sea route between Europe and India. Further to the west, it is surrounded by by the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, to the north by Iran and Pakistan, to the east by India, and to the south by the remainder of the Indian Ocean. It is the connecting point at sea with the Persian Gulf via the Strait of Hormuz and to further to the west the Gulf of Aden connects it with the Red Sea via the Bab el-Mandeb (Bāb al-Mandab) Strait.

France has brought its flagship aircraft carrier Aircraft Carrier Charles-de-Gaulle closer to the Indian Ocean in glaring show of military comradeship with India.

   Indian Navy’s guided missile stealth destroyer INS Kolkata

From the Indian Navy’s side too, top the naval assets are being deployed, including guided missile stealth destroyer INS Kolkata, guided missile frigates INS Tarkash and INS Talwar, Fleet Support Ship INS Deepak, with Seaking 42B and Chetak integral helicopters, a Kalvari class submarine and P8I Long Range Maritime Patrol Aircraft. 

The French Navy, along with  Aircraft Carrier Charles-de-Gaulle will be represented by with Rafale-M fighter, E2C Hawkeye aircrafts and helicopters Caïman M and Dauphin embarked, Horizon-class Air defense destroyer Chevalier Paul, Aquitaine-class multi-missions frigate FNS Provence with a Caïman M helicopter embkared and Command and supply ship Var.

The Indian side will be led by Rear Admiral Ajay Kochhar, Flag Officer Commanding Western Fleet, while the French side will be led 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, underway replenishment and other maritime security operations. Units of both navies will 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.

INS Kalvari submarine (credit-IN)

According to the spokesperson from Indian Navy, on completion of exercise VARUNA-21, Indian Navy’s guided missile frigate INS Tarkash will continue to exercise with the French Navy’s Carrier Strike Group (CSG) from 28th April to 1st May 2021. During this period, the ship will take part in advanced surface, anti-submarine and air-defence operations with the French CSG. 

Indian and France have demonstrated the strategic alignment mostly on the joint naval exercise and recent Coordinated Petrol (CORPAT) between in Reunion Island which is French naval base in the Indian Ocean. In 2018, India and France have already signed the crucial  Agreement for the Provision of Reciprocal Logistics Support between the Armed Forces that would give reciprocal access to each other’s military facilities. For example, based on the Agreement, Indian warships and military aircraft can embark on the French base of Djibouti in the Horn of Africa or the French territory of Reunion Islands in the Indian Ocean. 

The Agreement is similar to the four other logistics agreements India has signed with partner countries, viz., Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) with the United States (US) in 2016, Implementing Arrangement Concerning Mutual Coordination, Logistics and Services Support with Singapore in 2018,  and, most recently, Agreement to Extend Logistical Support to each other’s navies with the Republic of Korea (ROK) in 2019.

Though the such agreements are similar in nature but it was with France that India has agreed to conduct CORPAT which hitherto was only with its maritime neighbors-- Maldives, Seychelles and Mauritius besides the navies of Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand and Indonesia.

This was evident as how quickly the Agreement worked it way when Indian Navy P-8I Maritime Patrol Aircraft visited Reunion Island to train with the French Air Force and Navy based on the island, known as "FAZSOI". 

Such agreements provide for added operational flexibility of the Indian Navy’s P8I long-range maritime patrol (LRMP) aircraft. With an operational range of 1200 nm (with four hours on station) and speed of 789 kmph, the agreement with France broadens the range of maritime surveillance as it allows the landing and refuelling of these aircraft at reciprocal bases.

Recently during the 'La Perouse' Navy exercise which was led by France, Rear Admiral Jacques Fayard has said that French Navy see Indian Navy as global security provider of Indo-Pacific region. Rear Admiral Fayard who is in charge of the operational control of all French ships deployed from the Suez Canal towards the Malacca strait said: "We see Indian Navy as a global security provider of this strategic region." That marks a clear strategic role that Indian navy is bound to play in the IOR. Stressing that the Indo-Pacific is now a reality, the Rear Admiral further stated that his forces deployed in the Indian Ocean are part of the will of the French government to be part of solutions of all the tensions in this strategic region. "We are balanced, eager to make sure that the international rules are overseen and freedom of navigation is enhanced everywhere on international waters," he said.

Indian navy's P-8I Long Range Maritime Petrol Aircraft 

Indo- French bilateral naval exercise VARUNA-21 will highlight the increased levels of synergy, coordination and inter-operability between the two friendly navies. As per Indian navy, these interactions further underscore the shared values as partner navies, in ensuring freedom of seas and commitment to an open, inclusive Indo-Pacific and a rules-based international order.