16 Juni 2010
NEW DELHI: Six Indian Sukhoi-30MKI multi-role fighters, supported by IL-76 heavy-lift aircraft and IL-78 midair refuellers, tore into the skies over France on Monday to kick off the joint combat exercise with the French and Singaporean air forces.
In the fortnight-long ‘Garuda-IV’ exercise, being held at the Istres airbase north of Marseille, France has deployed its Rafael and Mirage-2000 fighters, while Singapore is participating with F-16s.
“The focus is to learn from each other. Air defence operations will be central to our various manoeuvres. These will take place in both AWACS (airborne warning and control systems) and non-AWACS environments,” said IAF contingent commander, Group Captain J Mishra.
“The intensity of the exercise will be gradually increased so that we learn and absorb maximum from it,” he said, adding that the fighters will be carrying out “combat missions, engagement of large forces and protection of high-value aerial assets”, among other things.
IAF special forces, called Garuds, will also be participating in the exercise, by paradropping along with French special forces. The overall objective of the exercise is to further enhance interoperability among the air forces.
The exercise comes at a time when India and France are trying to finetune the around Rs 10,000 crore deal to upgrade the 56 Mirage-2000 fighter jets in IAF’s combat fleet. The first four to six Mirages will be upgraded in France, with the rest 50 or so being upgraded in India by Hindustan Aeronautics under transfer of technology.
India’s defence ties with France are quite broad-based, including as they do the over Rs 20,000 crore project to build six French Scorpene submarines currently underway at Mazagon Docks.
France has also offered its multi-role Rafael fighter for the ongoing competition in the gigantic $10.4 billion project to supply 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft to IAF.