A joint air force exercise between India and France ended a few days ago. The exercise, dubbed Garuda VII, took place in Jodhpur, in the western Indian state of Rajasthan. The Indian Air Force’s Jodhpur Station hosted the bilateral exercise. The two countries started the Garuda series in India in 2003; Garuda VII was the seventh iteration. The previous editions took place in 2005, 2006, 2010, 2014 and 2019.
According to a press release from the Indian Defense Ministry, the exercise took place from October 26 to November 12. It included the participation of a contingent of 220 personnel from France with four Rafale fighter jets and one A-330 Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) aircraft. The Indian side included the participation of Su-30 MKI, Rafale, LCA Tejas, Jaguar fighter jets, the Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) and Mi-17 helicopters. The press release stated that the Indian side will additionally include combat facilitation assets such as aerial refueling aircraft, AWACS and AEW&C.
The joint exercise was carried out with the aim of “improving operability and interoperability while sharing best practices”. Before the exercise, the IAF tweeted that: “The two-week exercise will provide a platform for both participating armed forces to improve their operational synergies and share best practices.”
The two chiefs demonstrated the level of composure between the two military men by also flying jets, with Indian Air Force Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari flying a Rafale fighter jet and French Aerospace Chief General Stephane Mille flying a Su-30 MKI fighter jet. The IAF tweeted that the “chiefs of both the #IAF and @Armee_de_lair took to the skies in one of the multi-plane missions flown during #ExerciseGaruda. The unique flight gave the two commanders a perfect overview of the exercise.”
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As France is one of India’s closest strategic partners, these exercises have become another important vehicle to convey the breadth and depth of their bilateral security ties. During his visit to France in May 2022, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted that France is “one of India’s strongest partners” as their partnership spans a number of critical sectors including nuclear, defense and space cooperation.
In a broader sense, too, the two countries are more aligned and share a similar worldview. For example, the joint declaration of Modi’s visit underscored the foundations of their partnership, which are based on mutual trust, respect for the rule of law, their shared conception of a multipolar world order, and their emphasis on multilateralism. The two leaders have also taken every opportunity to highlight their commitment to the fundamental principles of the liberal world order, including democracy, the rule of law and human rights.
The Garuda VII exercise should also be seen in the context of the growing defense cooperation between India and France. The recently completed exercise is a representation of what Modi and French President Emmanuel Macron said in their joint statement in May 2022. The joint statement referred to the various joint exercises of the two countries’ armed forces (Shakti, Varuna, Pegase, Desert Knight and Garuda) and said these are “efforts towards better integration and interoperability wherever possible”.
France’s position in the Indian Ocean as one of Europe’s most heavily invested partners means India is keen to build momentum in India-France maritime cooperation, which the two leaders said will “take a new level.” achieved in trust”. A joint strategic vision document specific to the Indian Ocean underscores the need, noting that India has “7,500 km of coastline, more than 1,380 islands and two million square kilometers of Exclusive Economic Zone”. Similarly, France’s interests flow from the fact that this is a region that is home to 1.6 million of its citizens, in addition to its exclusive economic zone that “extends 9.1 million square kilometers in the Indo-Pacific”.
In fact, the Garuda VII exercise takes place against the background of the 20th edition of the India-France VARUNA exercise conducted in March-April 2022 in the Arabian Sea. These exercises have been conducted since 1993 and have become an important part of deepening the India-France bilateral partnership. Like the other series of exercises, VARUNA was conducted with the aim of “enhancing and improving their operational capabilities in the maritime theater, expanding interoperability to conduct maritime security operations and demonstrating their commitment to promoting peace, security and stability in the region as a demonstrate integrated power.”
In July of this year, in another iteration of their close defense engagement, the Indian and French navies conducted a Maritime Partnership Exercise (MPX) in the North Atlantic. Navy ships from both sides were engaged in resupplying naval operations, followed by a joint air operation involving the “Falcon 50 maritime patrol aircraft, which participated in several simulated missile strikes and air defense exercises.”
Then in August, a contingent of the French Aerospace Forces (FASF), including three Rafale fighter jets, made a strategically important deployment Break at the IAF’s Sulur base in Tamil Nadu en route to a major military exercise, Exercise Pitch Black 2022 in Australia. The IAF’s support was made possible by the Mutual Logistics Assistance Agreement signed by the two countries in 2018 to strengthen military cooperation. These also demonstrate the level of comfort between the two sides which has enabled greater interoperability between the Indian and French navies.
The strong strategic and political foundation and trust between India and France ensure an accelerated defense and security relationship in the years to come. Both New Delhi and Paris are concerned about the deteriorating security environment in the Indo-Pacific and the role China is playing in promoting it. This shared understanding is likely to lead to increased political consultations, security dialogues and military exercises that will strengthen their capacity to collectively address security threats in the Indo-Pacific.