The Indian and French navies have begun their annual bilateral naval drill, codenamed Varuna-18, in the Arabian Sea off the coast of Goa on March 19, the Indian Ministry of Defense announced in a statement.
This is the 16th iteration of the joint naval exercise since 2001 and is designed to enhance interoperability and share best practices among the two navies. This year’s emphasis will be on anti-submarine warfare operations and fleet air defense. In past exercises, the focus lay on countering maritime terrorism and building maritime domain awareness, next to others.
The exercise is divided up into four phases. The first (harbor) phase was held from March 15-19. The second (sea) phase of the drill in the Arabian Sea will conclude on March 24. The third phase will be held in April off the Chennai coast in the Bay of Bengal. The concluding phase will take place near the French La Reunion Island in the southwestern Indian Ocean in May.
“It is noteworthy that the progress of the ‘Varuna’ series of naval exercises has found a mention in the joint statement of the Prime Minister of India and President of France on March 10 this year,” said Rear Admiral MA Hampiholi, Flag Officer Commander, Western Fleet of the Indian Navy.
For France, the exercise is a deliberate effort at regional capacity building.
“Maritime cooperation between India and France will be crucial in order to maintain the safety of international sea lanes for unimpeded commerce and communications in accordance with the international law, for countering maritime terrorism and piracy and building maritime domain awareness, noted Real Admiral Didier Piaton of the French Navy.
Participating ships on the Indian side include the Delhi-class guided-missile INS Mumbai, the Talwar-class guided-missile frigate INS Trikand, P-8I Neptune advanced maritime patrol/anti-submarine warfare aircraft, Dornier Maritime Patrol planes, as well as Mig 29K fighter jets. Varuna-18 will also see the first participation of the Scorpene-class (Kalvari-class) diesel-electric attack submarines (SSK) INS Kalvari, commissioned in December 2017.
The Kalvari is armed with French-made Exocet SM39 anti-ship missile, a sea-skimming, subsonic, solid-fueled anti-ship missile. However, the SSK, during the exercise, will be entirely defenseless against other submarines as the Indian Navy still has not procured a heavy weight torpedo for the Kalvari-class.
In the first phase of the exercise, the French Navy is participating with the anti-submarine warfare frigate Jeanne de Vienne and a Rubis-class nuclear attack submarine. (Varuna-15 saw the participation of the flagship of the French Navy, the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle.) Other French naval assets are expected to join during the last phase of the exercise.