A Mirage 2000 fighter jet. (File photo)
A Mirage 2000 fighter jet. (File photo)

Apart from Rafale jets, Indo-French air exercise to feature Su-30s, Mirage 2000s

The five-day joint exercise, codenamed Desert Knight-21 is being held at the Jodhpur air force station beginning Wednesday
UPDATED ON JAN 19, 2021 03:14 PM IST

The air forces of India and France will kick off a five-day joint exercise in Rajasthan on Wednesday, with a raft of aircraft taking part in the drills, including Rafale fighters jets, Mirage 2000s, Sukhoi-30s, mid-air refuellers and airborne warning and control system (AWACS) platforms, the Indian Air Force said in a statement on Tuesday announcing the line-up of aircraft taking part in the wargames.

The exercise, codenamed Desert Knight-21 is being held at the Jodhpur air force station.

“The exercise marks an important milestone in the series of engagements between the two air forces. As part of Indo-French defence cooperation, the IAF and French Air and Space Force have held six editions of exercises named ‘Garuda’, the latest being in 2019 at Air Force Base Mont-de-Marsan, France,” the IAF said on the eve of the exercise.

Both air forces will be fielding their refuellers for the drills. While the IAF’s IL-78 tankers will be seen in action during the exercise, the French side will deploy its Airbus A-330 multi-role tanker transport (MRTT) aircraft during the exercise, officials said. The French air force has also flown its A-400M military transport aircraft to Jodhpur for the exercise, they added.

The French contingent taking part in the exercise consists of 175 personnel, the IAF said.

“To further the existing cooperation, the two forces have been gainfully utilising available opportunities to conduct ‘hop-exercises’. The French Air and Space Force deployment while ferrying to Australia for Ex Pitchblack in 2018 was hosted by IAF at air force stations Agra and Gwalior for exercise with fighters and MRTT aircraft,” the statement said.

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The French detachment for Ex Desert Knight-21 is deployed in Asia as part of its Skyros Deployment and is transiting through India. The exercise is taking place at a time when India and China are locked in a tense border row in the Ladakh sector.

The IAF said as the two sides would “put into practice operational experience gained across terrains and spectrums and endeavour to exchange ideas and best practices to enhance interoperability”.

“For sure, air crews imbibe information from each other’s operating procedures from military exercises between nations but they are more a demonstration of strategic relations than one of tactical learning,” said Air Vice Marshal Manmohan Bahadur (retd), additional director general, Centre for Air Power Studies.

The air exercise in Jodhpur is a continuation of Indo-French ties that go back many decades, he said. “It would be interesting to see whether any live armament work is also undertaken since the Pokhran firing range is close by,” Bahadur said.

Hindustan Times reported on January 1 that Rafale fighters of the French air force will land in Rajasthan this month to participate in joint exercises with the IAF’s Golden Arrows Squadron that was resurrected last September with the induction of the Rafale fighter jets. The Rafale jets will be taking part in an exercise with a foreign air force for the first time.

The IAF’s solitary Rafale squadron will add more muscle with the arrival of at least three more fighter jets by the month-end. The delivery of the three jets will take the number of Rafales in the IAF’s inventory to 11. India has ordered 36 warplanes from France at a cost of 59,000 crore.

The IAF is operating its Rafale fighter jets in the Ladakh theatre where the military is on its highest state of alert to deal with any misadventure by China. Its current fleet of eight Rafale fighters is fully operational and ready to undertake any mission, officials said.

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