By Ateet Sharma
New Delhi, Jan 17: As the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, currently in the Indian Ocean, begins Indo-French naval exercise Varuna, speculation is rife that a formal contract for decking the naval version of Rafale fighter jets on the INS Vikrant, India's brand new carrier could soon be on the cards.
Welcoming on board officers from the Indian Navy's guided missile stealth frigate INS Teg on Monday, the French Carrier Strike Group signalled a major development in the offing for the strengthening of the Franco-Indian strategic partnership.
"Happy to sea you INS Teg. Beginning of our cooperation with Indian Navy. INS Teg is conducting operational drills with the French CSG in the Indian Ocean. Something BIG is coming between our two navies!" tweeted the official handle of French CSG.
Emmanuel Lenain, the Ambassador of France to India, also advised to "stay tuned for more!" as both navies kicked off the bilateral exercise on the Western seaboard on Monday.
Paris has time and again reaffirmed its engagement in the Indo-Pacific and India's centrality in the French strategy for the region.
As reported by IndiaNarrative.com earlier, France is offering Dassault Aviation's Rafale maritime fighter for carrier operations on India's first indigenously designed and built aircraft carrier INS Vikrant.
Last November, French Defence Minister Sebastien Lecornu boarded the largest ship ever built in the maritime history of India to highlight the central role of naval cooperation between the two countries.
"France and India are united in their desire to defend their maritime sovereignty and guarantee freedom of movement at sea in the Indo-Pacific zone," said the French Defence Minister.
While 2022 saw an acceleration of the French and Indian armed forces' endeavours towards greater interoperability through joint air, navy, and army exercises, such as IMEX 22 (March), Varuna (March-April), and Garuda (October-November), 2023 has started with the conduct of the 21st edition of Varuna bilateral naval exercise.
The five-day high tempo-naval operations at sea till January 20 will witness the participation of indigenous guided missile stealth destroyer INS Chennai, guided missile frigate INS Teg, maritime patrol aircraft P-8I and Dornier, integral helicopters and MiG29K fighter aircraft.
The French Navy is represented by the aircraft carrier Charles De Gaulle, frigates FS Forbin and Provence, support vessel FS Marne and maritime patrol aircraft Atlantique.
According to the Indian Navy, the exercise will witness advanced air defence drills, tactical manoeuvres, surface firings, underway replenishment and other maritime operations.
"Units of both navies will endeavour to hone their war-fighting skills in maritime theatre, enhance their inter-operability to undertake multi-discipline operations in the maritime domain and demonstrate their ability as an integrated force to promote peace, security and stability in the region," it said in a statement.
The exercise, it added, not only provides an opportunity to learn from each other's best practices but also facilitates operational-level interaction between the two navies to foster mutual cooperation for good order at sea, underscoring the shared commitment of both nations to security, safety and freedom of the global maritime commons.
(The content is being carried under an arrangement with indianarrative.com)
( 525 Words)