New Delhi: The Indian Air Force will deploy its Rafale, Sukhoi and Mirage 2000 combat jets besides other key assets in a five-day mega air exercise with French air and space force that begins near Jodhpur on Wednesday.
The Indian Air Force (IAF) said its deployment at the ‘Ex-Desert Knight 21’ will also include IL-78 flight refuelling aircraft as well as airborne warning and control system (AWACS).
“The French side will participate with Rafale, Airbus A-330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT), A-400M Tactical Transport aircraft,” it said, adding around 175 French personnel will be part of the exercise.
The IAF deployment in the exercise will include Mirage 2000, Su-30 MKI, Rafale, IL-78 flight refuelling aircraft and the AWACS.
The drill is taking place at a time the IAF has been keeping all its frontline bases across the country in a high state of operational readiness in view of the Sino-India border row in eastern Ladakh.
“The exercise is unique as it includes fielding of Rafale aircraft by both sides and is indicative of the growing interaction between the two premier air forces,” the IAF said in a statement.
“As the two detachments commence their air exchange from January 20 onwards, they will put into practice operational experience gained across terrains and spectrums and endeavour to exchange ideas and best practices to enhance interoperability” it said.
The French and Indian air forces have been conducting ‘Garuda’ exercises for the last several years as part of efforts to boost operational cooperation. So far, six editions of ‘Garuda’ have taken place with the last one being held in 2019 at Mont-de-Marsan in France.
“As measures to further the existing cooperation, the two forces have been gainfully utilising available opportunities to conduct ‘hop-exercises’… Presently, the French detachment for Ex-Desert Knight-21 is deployed in Asia as part of their ‘Skyros Deployment’ and will ferry in forces to air force station Jodhpur,” the IAF said.
In a boost to its strike capability, the IAF received the first batch of five Rafale jets in July last year, nearly four years after the government inked an agreement with France to procure 36 of the aircraft at a cost of Rs 59,000 crore. A second batch of three Rafale fighter jets joined the IAF in November.
The Rafale jets, manufactured by French aerospace major Dassault Aviation, are India’s first major acquisition of fighter planes in 23 years after the Sukhoi jets were imported from Russia.
The newly inducted fleet has been carrying out sorties in eastern Ladakh.