New Delhi: India and France on Wednesday began a five-day mega naval wargame in the Arabian Sea in reflection of growing congruence in their maritime security cooperation.
The Indian Navy said various platforms including ships, submarines, maritime patrol aircraft, fighter aircraft and helicopters of the two navies are participating in the Varuna exercise.
"These units will endeavour to enhance and hone their operational skills in maritime theatre, augment inter-operability to undertake maritime security operations and demonstrate their commitment to promote peace, security and stability in the region as an integrated force," it said in a statement.
It is the 20th edition of the Varuna series of exercises and it has become a vital part of strategic ties between the two countries.
"The exercise has been a principal driver for operational-level interactions between the two navies and has underscored the shared commitment of both nations to security, safety and freedom of the global maritime commons," it said.
French Navy Chief Admiral Pierre Vandier visited India this week during which he held talks with his Indian counterpart Admiral R Hari Kumar focusing on mechanisms to ensure peace and stability in the Indian Ocean amid rising Chinese presence in the region.
The visit by the French Navy Chief came over a month after External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar travelled to Paris.
During the visit, Jaishankar said India looks at France as a "trusted" partner in countering myriad security challenges from the seabed to space and from cyber to oceans.
The maritime cooperation between India and France has witnessed a major expansion in the last few years.
The Indian and French navies in April last year too carried out a mega wargame in the Arabian Sea.
The French Navy deployed its nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, and its entire carrier strike group in that exercise, reflecting growing congruence in naval ties.
France’s military presence in the Indian Ocean is significant, with facilities in the island of La Réunion, Mayotte, and the French Southern and Antarctic Lands. India and France signed a military logistics agreement in 2018, which gives reciprocal access to each other’s military facilities.
With that agreement in hand, India can be expected to widen its strategic outreach in the Indian Ocean. This will enhance India’s overall naval capacity, especially in the western Indian Ocean.
France has emerged as one of India’s closest strategic partners and this relationship is likely to bloom in different formats in the coming years.
While the bilateral engagement will remain a key pillar, involving Paris in many trilateral and minilateral platforms in the Indo-Pacific will strengthen India’s maneuverability as India aligns closely with the U.S. and other Western powers.
France has expressed its keenness to join the India-Australia bilateral exercise, AUSINDEX. Reportedly, talks are on regarding the modalities of such engagement.
The Indian Ocean has some of the most critical International Sea Lanes (ISLs) carrying much of the trade between Asian countries, Europe, and the Middle East. The Strait of Hormuz and the Strait of Malacca are the world's most important strategic chokepoints by volume of oil transit. Of the total trade passing via the Ocean, nearly 80 percent is carried out by the extra-regional countries.
Thus, safety and security of the Ocean, which is challenged by both traditional and non-traditional threats, is critical not only for the regional countries but also for international economic stability.
(with inputs from PTI)