The Indian and French navies began the 17th edition of their annually-held bilateral naval warfare exercise, designated Varuna 19.1/19.2, in the Arabian Sea off the coast of Goa on May 1.
Notably, this year’s iteration of the naval warfare exercise will see the participation of two aircraft carriers — the flagship of the French Navy, the nuclear-powered flattop FNS Charles de Gaulle, as well as the Indian Navy’s Kiev-class aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya — and include air combat drills by Indian and French carrier-based fighter jets.
Varuna 19.1 will be conducted in two phases. According to the Indian Ministry of Defense (MoD), the harbor phase in Goa will see “cross-visits, professional interactions and discussions and sports events.” The sea phase will include “various exercises across the spectrum of maritime operations.” As in previous years, the exercise will include fleet air defense and anti-submarine warfare drills.
The current mainstay of Indian naval aviation, Russian-made MiG-29K Fulcrum fighter jets, are set to face off with the naval version of the Dassault Rafale twin-engine, fourth generation multirole fighter in various air combat exercises that will not only include simulated attacks on ships but also dog fights between the Indian and French aircraft.
“The Varuna exercise aims at developing interoperability between the two navies and fostering mutual cooperation by learning from each other’s best practices to conduct joint operations,” the Indian MoD said in a press statement. “The exercise underscores the shared interests and commitment of both nations in promoting maritime security.”
The participation of the INS Vikramaditya is especially noteworthy as it comes days after an Indian Navy officer died fighting a fire caused by a blast in a steam pipe in the engine room aboard the carrier.
Other naval assets participating on the Indian side include the Delhi-class guided-missile destroyer INS Mumbai, the Teg-class frigate INS Tarkash, the Shishumar-class diesel-electric submarine INS Shankul, and the Deepak-class fleet tanker, INS Deepak.
The French flotilla comprises the lead ship of the Horizon-class of anti-air warfare frigate FNS Forbin, the Aquitaine-class multi-purpose frigate FNS Provence, the anti-submarine frigate Latouche-Tréville, the tanker FNS Marne, and a Rubis-class nuclear attack submarine.
The first part of the exercise is scheduled for 10 days and will conclude on May 10. The second part, Varuna 19.2., will take place at the end of May in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa, where the French military operates a major base.
Last year’s Varuna exercise saw the first participation of the Scorpene-class (Kalvari-class) diesel-electric attack submarines (SSK) INS Kalvari, commissioned in December 2017. The 2018 emphasis lay on anti-submarine warfare operations and fleet air defense. The FNS Charles de Gaulle last participated in the bilateral Indo-French exercise in 2017.