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General Stephane Mille, Chief of Staff of the French Air and Space Force (AAE), had a busy Monday in New Delhi at a time when Indian and French pilots, flying Rafale and TEJAS fighter jets, began the second phase of the ongoing ‘Garuda-22’ exercise.

The French Air Force chief held discussions on issues of strategic significance and on avenues for further broadening the bilateral defence cooperation with Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Anil Chauhan.

Mille then called on Chief of Air Staff (CAS) Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari as the two chiefs discussed ways and means to enhance bilateral ties and strengthen cooperation in areas of mutual interest.

With India being a major strategic partner for France in the Indo-Pacific, he also held discussions with the Vice Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral SN Ghormade on matters of defence cooperation, bilateral ops engagements and mitigation of security concerns in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).

At the Jodhpur air base, the second phase of the ‘Exercise Garuda’ began in earnest after completion of phase 1 of manoeuvres between the Indian Air Force and the French Air that had kicked off on October 26. From now on until November 14, large-scale missions will be carried out bringing together more than 30 aircraft, including Rafale, Su-30 and also Made-in-India Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas fighter.

The exercise, last edition of which took place in Mont-de-Marsan in 2019, provides a platform to both the participating forces to enhance their operational synergy and exchange best practices. The aim is to develop interoperability between the AAE and the IAF to improve the mutual knowledge of the participants in order to be able to operate together.

With both forces flying Rafale jets now, things have changed drastically since the last time French crews landed in India for Garuda 2014.

The AAE has deployed a contingent of 220 personnel, five Rafales and state-of-the-art Airbus A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) Phenix for the bilateral exercise this time as the edition focuses on ‘Large Force Employment’ with a predominance of fighter aviation.

The IAF, on the other hand, is participating with Su-30MKI, Rafale, TEJAS and Jaguar fighter aircraft, as well as the Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) and Mi-17 helicopters. The IAF contingent also includes Combat Enabling Assets like Flight Refuelling Aircraft, AWACS and Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) system.

“During the second phase, with the presence of our A330 MRTT, we will be able to carry out cross-refuelling. We are fortunate to be able to work with many IAF assets: SU-30, Rafale, TEJAS, Jaguar, AWACS, IL-78, helicopters, etc. Exotic material compared to what we are used to,” said AAE Commander Pierre Cagnac, Director of the exercise.

Besides exchanging experiences, enhancing operational knowledge and strengthening bilateral relations between the two countries, Garuda 22 is also a way for French airmen to cross cultures. Crews engaged must plan, execute and debrief missions in a realistic tactical environment.

“India is a major strategic partner which has acquired the Rafale. We must learn to work together so that we can conduct joint operations if necessary. Especially since our procedures are different, because India is not a member of NATO,” adds Cagnac.

While Mille’s visit to New Delhi gave further depth and strength to the India-France Strategic Partnership, the exercise over the deserts of the western sector continues to increase in intensity.

“It’s a real pleasure to be here more than 6,000 kilometers from home, rediscovering the same fighting spirit with our Indian partners,” Cagnac was quoted as saying by the French Air and Space Force in Jodhpur over the weekend.

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