French Navy ships assault helicopter carrier Tonnerre and La Fayette-class frigate Surcouf arrive at Kochi port ahead of France-led La Pérouse joint exercise with Quad members. (ANI)
French Navy ships assault helicopter carrier Tonnerre and La Fayette-class frigate Surcouf arrive at Kochi port ahead of France-led La Pérouse joint exercise with Quad members. (ANI)

French warships arrive in Indian waters for joint exercise with Quad navies

The drills will be followed by two crucial trilateral meetings between the foreign ministers of India and Australia and their counterparts from France and Indonesia, to be held on the margins of the Raisina Dialogue in New Delhi next month
By HT Correspondent | Edited by Zara Khan
PUBLISHED ON MAR 31, 2021 02:29 PM IST

Two French warships are making a port call at Kochi ahead of the La Pérouse joint naval exercise, which will see France leading manoeuvres in the Bay of Bengal that will involve the navies of the four members of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or Quad.

The Tonnerre, an amphibious assault helicopter carrier, and the Surcouf, a La Fayette-class frigate, will be in Kochi till April 1, and then sail to the Bay of Bengal for the joint exercise that will last from April 5 to 7.

This is the first time the French Navy is conducting a joint drill with all four members of the Quad – India, Australia, Japan and the US – in regional waters, and the wargame comes weeks after the maiden Quad Leaders Summit on March 12.

The drills will be followed by two crucial trilateral meetings between the foreign ministers of India and Australia and their counterparts from France and Indonesia, to be held on the margins of the Raisina Dialogue in New Delhi next month.

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The Tonnerre and the Surcouf form the battle group Jeanne d’Arc, which left France in February for a five-month deployment in the Indo-Pacific to demonstrate France’s capacity to deploy assets in strategic areas and to strengthen interoperability with major partners in the region, particularly India, the French embassy said in a statement on Wednesday.

The deployment will also help train a new batch of 148 French naval officer cadets.

French ambassador Emmanuel Lenain, who was in Kochi to welcome the two warships, said: “I am proud of the exceptional level of trust and interoperability that our navies have achieved. It is no surprise that India and the Indo-Pacific are at the heart of the training for the new generation of French Navy officers.”

The La Pérouse exercise will be “a concrete demonstration of multilateralism at sea and our commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific”, Lenain said.

After the joint exercise, the two French warships will continue their deployment across the Indo-Pacific and sail to Japan, before returning to France in mid-July. During their voyage, the warships will sail through the South China Sea twice.

China is locked in maritime disputes with several countries in the South China Sea and the members of the Quad have backed efforts to ensure freedom of navigation and overflight in these waters.

The first edition of the La Pérouse joint exercise, initiated by France in 2019, included warships from Australia, Japan and the US. This year, India is joining the wargame for the first time.

Describing India as France’s “foremost strategic partner in Asia”, the French embassy’s statement said the “large-scale five-country naval exercise...will provide an opportunity for these five like-minded, high-end naval forces to develop closer links, sharpen their skills, and promote maritime cooperation throughout a free and open Indo-Pacific”.

Varuna, the joint naval exercise by France and India, was first conducted in 1983 and it has grown steadily, especially in the past few years. In 2018, during French President Emmanuel Macron’s visit to India, the two sides signed an agreement that enables reciprocal logistics support between their armed forces and provides mutual access to military bases, including naval ports.

In the coming weeks, India and France will hold a large-scale Varuna exercise in the Western Arabian Sea that will involve a French aircraft carrier battle group.

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