As per defence sources, the Indian Navy is looking for access to the French naval base in Djibouti for the purpose of refuelling and operational turnaround. This comes after operationalisation of the Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA), which was signed between India and France. A defence source stated, “We already have access to the French base on Reunion Island for refuelling. We are in discussion for using their base in Djibouti.” Djibouti is a former French colony that is very strategically located in the Horn of Africa.
India signed the first Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA) with the US in 2016. After that several such agreements have been signed with various countries and presently discussions are going on with at least five more countries for such an agreement.
As far as Indo-French relations are concerned, the two countries have witnessed considerable proximity in the defence sector. In fact, France is the only country whose ships have docked at Mumbai and Karwar under the MLSA. Next month, the MiG-29K fighters of the Indian Navy and the Rafale-M fighters of the French Navy operating off their aircraft carriers will participate in the bilateral exercise, Varuna off Goa coast. The Varuna exercise will be the largest bilateral exercise in terms of scope and complexity. As per a source, “There will be a major focus on carrier operations and Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) training.” The exercise is in line with the expanding maritime collaborative efforts of the Navy.
Both the countries operate an aircraft carrier each. While France is sending its nuclear-powered carrier Charles De Gaulle, India will be pressing the INS Vikramaditya into service. The two countries had deployed their aircraft carriers in 2015 as well. At that time the INS Viraat had been deployed by India.
The exhaustive exercise will focus on the interaction among the MiG-29K and Rafale-M pilots. It will also involve interaction between the two carrier teams regarding foreign object damage assessment in engines. The exercise will also focus upon other areas such as explosive detection and mine hunting. As per a source, France has also asked for India’s assistance in training in protection of offshore assets.
It is also important to mention here that France has joined the Information Fusion Centre-Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR), which was inaugurated by the Indian Navy last year. The two countries are co-operating in Maritime Domain awareness and have also moved towards space-based maritime surveillance.
The Indian Navy is obviously looking ahead towards increasing its influence and presence. It is rightly aiming at drawing full leverage out of the MLSA with France. France seems to be a partner as far as the Indian Navy’s object of enhancing its power is concerned. It is interesting to note that the Rafale-M, the maritime version of the Rafale fighter jet, is the frontrunner as far as India’s procurement of 57 naval aircraft is concerned. The indigenous aircraft carrier INS Vikrant is in the final stages of building and is slated to be ready by 2020. Thus, Indo-French relations are bound to emerge as the key to India’s objective of boosting its naval strength and prowess.