India and France are laying the groundwork for a new format of military exercises involving their armies, navies and air forces in what will be a major boost for defence cooperation between the two countries.
The joint tri-service drills came up for discussion when defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman met her French counterpart Florence Parly in Paris last week to explore ways to strengthen bilateral military ties, a senior official familiar with the developments said on condition of anonymity.
The first such tri-service exercise may take place next year, the official added. The existing military exercises between India and France are army-to-army, navy-to-navy and air force-to- air force. While the navy-to-navy exercise is held annually, the army-to-army drills are biennial. The two air forces exercise together once in three to four years. India and France announced their intention to enhance the level of joint military exercises during a summit between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and French President Emmanuel Macron in March. Russia is the only country with which India holds a joint tri-service exercise — the first of these was held at Vladivostok last October, when more than 900 soldiers, sailors and air warriors from the Indian military took part in the exercise with over 1,000 personnel from the Russian defence forces.
India and the United States are also in the process of formalising a new tri-service exercise, and discussed it at the inaugural ‘2+2’ dialogue between the two countries last month. The plan to conduct the joint tri-service drill with France is being implemented at a time when the two countries are taking steps to operationalise a logistics support pact, which was signed this March and seeks to extend logistical support on reciprocal access to military facilities.
“The new tri-service drills will help us understand how western forces work in a joint environment,” said Air Vice-Marshal Manmohan Bahadur (retd), additional director general, Centre for Air Power Studies.
Sitharaman’s visit came in the middle of a fresh round of allegations surrounding the Rafale jets deal between India and France that has sparked a bitter political battle between the National Democratic Alliance government and opposition Congress party. Last week, a report in French website Mediapart suggested that Rafale-maker Dassault Aviation was forced to choose Reliance Defence as its Indian offset partner for the deal.
But the French firm reiterated that it had “freely chosen” Anil Ambani’s company and sold 36 fighters to India within the framework of a government-to-government agreement between the two countries.