Rafale fighter jets of Indian and French air forces on Thursday carried out a plethora of complex aerial maneuvers along with other frontline combat jets as part of a five-day mega exercise in Jodhpur to further enhance their operational coordination, officials said. Chief of Defence Staff Gen Bipin Rawat flew a sortie in a Phenix Airbus A330 multi-role tanker transport aircraft of the French Air and Space Force and witnessed the first day’s drill at the ‘Exercise Desert Knight 21’.
Apart from Rafale jets, the Indian Air Force deployed its Sukhoi and Mirage 2000 combat aircraft and other key assets like IL-78 flight refuelling plane as well as airborne warning and control system (AWACS), the officials said. The French side participated with Rafale, Airbus A-330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) and A-400M Tactical Transport aircraft.
The exercise, that began on Wednesday, 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 standoff 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 had said in a statement on Tuesday.
The French and Indian air forces have been conducting Garuda exercises for the last several years as part of efforts to boost operational cooperation. “Four Rafale combat jets, two Atlas A400M military transport aircraft and a Phnix A330 multirole tanker transport aircraft manned by 170-odd French aviators will take part in joint drills with an Indian Air Force deployment,” the French embassy said in a statement on Wednesday.
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.