NEW DELHI: India has hosted a French Air and Space Force contingent, including three Rafale fighter jets and support aircraft, for a two-day technical stopover at the IAF airbase at Sulur in Tamil Nadu.
The French contingent is on a long-distance deployment mission named Pégase-22 to New Caledonia in the Pacific Ocean from August 10 to 18. “France is a resident power of the Indo-Pacific, and this ambitious long-distance air power projection demonstrates our commitment to the region and our partners. It is only natural that to carry out this mission, we rely on India, our foremost strategic partner in Asia,” French ambassador Emmanuel Lenain said on Thursday.
The operation demonstrated a high level of mutual trust and interoperability between the French and Indian Air Forces, which has been further boosted by the fact that they both now fly Rafale jets. “It also illustrated the concrete implementation of the reciprocal logistics support agreement signed by France and India in 2018,” a French official said.
Apart from France, India has reciprocal military logistics pact with the US, Australia, Japan, South Korea, and Singapore. The French contingent will also take part in the multi-nation “Pitch Black” air combat exercise in Australia from August 17 to September 10.
India is also dispatching four Sukhoi-30MKI fighter jets, a C-17 Globemaster-III strategic airlifter and an IL-78 mid-air refueling aircraft for the Australian exercise, which will see around 100 aircraft and 2,500 military personnel from 17 nations, as was earlier reported by TOI.
The Pitch Black exercise will see the participation of air forces from India, Australia, the US, UK, Canada, France, Germany, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Netherlands, New Zealand, the Philippines, the Republic of Korea, Singapore, Thailand, and UAE.
French officials said Pégase-22 is a `powerful demonstration’ of France’s capacity for `quick deployment’ in the Indo-Pacific. “The mission is also proof that the security situation in Europe has not diminished the French and European commitment in the Indo-Pacific. In this respect, it also aims to strengthen ties with key strategic partners, such as India, and underline France’s support for security and stability in the region,” an official said.