Over 100 military officers from France, Russia, South Africa and other countries are currently visiting India to study the regional security scenario and gauge the country's potential as an emerging global power.
"During this visit, we will study the regional security scenario and India's engagement with the rest of the world," French Rear Admiral Svend-Erik Estellon, who leads the 110-strong delegation, said at a select media briefing here.
Estellon is the director of studies at the Paris-based College Interarmies de Defense, the French equivalent of India's Defence Services Staff College at Wellington in Tamil Nadu. In both countries, graduation from the two institutions is essential for an officer who hopes to head the army, the navy or the air force.
This is the first time the college has sent a delegation to India. A visit scheduled for 2003 was cancelled due to the then volatile situation in the sub-continent. India and Pakistan had resumed their peace process later that year following a year-long Indian Army deployment on the Pakistan border following the 2001 attack on the Indian parliament that New Delhi blamed on Islamabad-backed terror groups.
The delegation, which includes 84 officers from France and the remaining from 26 countries like Russia, Vietnam and South Africa, arrived here Sunday and will visit Jaipur, Agra and Mumbai before returning home.
"Every year, we decide on a geopolitical study in consultation with our defence and foreign ministries. This year, the theme is 'India as a regional and world power' and that is what brings us here," Estellon explained.
"The study has three angles: the defence scenario, the economic scenario and the governance scenario," he added.
Toward this end, the delegation has held discussions with the Deputy Chief of Integrated Defence Staff and at the United Services Institution (USI).
The delegation will travel to Jaipur for discussions with Rajasthan government officials on the governance aspect, to Agra to view the Taj Mahal, and to Mumbai to study the economic scenario.
"We have a lot of information about India but very little realistic information on the ground. This visit is meant to broaden our horizons and is indicative of the importance we attach to India," Estellon maintained.
"We are very impressed with what we have learnt so far. It has certainly refined our vision," he added.
The college admits 330 officers of the rank of major and lieutenant colonel and their equivalent in the navy, air force and the gendarme, the French military police. Of the annual intake, one-third is non-French, with 77 countries thus far having participated in the courses.
India and France have a robust military exchange programme with their navies and air forces regularly conducting joint drills.
The Indian Air Force (IAF) conducted its Garuda series of exercises with its French counterpart at Kalaikunda in West Bengal in February. The two navies are to stage the Varuna series of drills later this year.
The IAF counts the frontline French Mirage-2005 combat in its inventory. The French Rafaele and the Mirage-2000-5 are among the contenders for an IAF order for 126 multi-role combat aircraft (MRCA) to replace its ageing fleet of Soviet-era fighters.
India has also contracted for the manufacture of six Scorpene submarines and the construction of the first of these boats has already commenced in this country.