A French aircraft-carrier battle group with Rafale fighter jets on board the Charles de Gaulle reached Goa today for 10-day exercises with the Indian Navy, within a month of Prime Minister Narendra Modi committing to the purchase of the air-force version of the fighter jets during his visit to Paris.
The fighter jets on board the Charles de Gaulle are the navalised version of the Rafale, equipped for short take-offs and arrested recovery from the carrier.
The French vessel - apart from the carrier, the flotilla includes two destroyers, the Chevalier Paul and the Jean de Vienne, replenishment tanker Meuse and a maritime patrol aircraft Atlantique 2 - is in Indian waters for the 14th edition of the "Varuna" series of exercises.
The deployment of the Charles de Gaulle to India does not mean that the Indian Navy is also looking to purchase the Rafale immediately. But in the stated policy of the Indian Navy to achieve synergy in operations with the Indian Air Force, the two armed forces would at some time in the future look to operate similar (not the same) aircraft.
The government is committed to provide all support for modernisation of the armed forces but there is a need to exercise financial prudence and optimise resources, defence minister Manohar Parrikar said in New Delhi today, addressing a unified commanders' conference.
Apart from its complement of the Rafale M, the Charles de Gaulle also has embarked strike aircraft, the Super Etendard, E2C Hawkeye Airborne Early Warning and Control Syste ms, Dauphin and Alouette 3 helicopters.
The Indian ships to be deployed for "Varuna" are the aircraft carrier INS Viraat with its Sea Harrier fighter jets, destroyer INS Mumbai, stealth frigate INS Tarkash, guided missile frigate INS Gomati, fleet replenishment tanker INS Deepak, submarine INS Shankul and FACs (fast attack craft).
The Indian Navy is also deploying maritime reconnaissance aircraft P-8I and Dorniers along with Seaking 42B and Chetak helicopters.
"The scope of Exercise Varuna includes the entire gamut of maritime operations from aircraft carrier operations, anti-submarine warfare, maritime interdiction operations to multi-ship replenishment exercise," said a navy spokesperson. "Regular interaction over the years has allowed both navies to gradually and systematically increase the complexity and professional content of the joint exercises," he added.