India and France will carry out a five-day mega air exercise near Jodhpur beginning Wednesday that is expected to see Rafale jets of the two countries engaging in complex manoeuvres to enhance operational coordination, official sources said. The exercise –’Ex-Desert Knight 21’– is taking place at a time when the Indian Air Force has been keeping all its frontline bases across the country in a high state of operational readiness in view of the Sino-India border row in eastern Ladakh.
“The aim of the exercise is to provide operational exposure and share best practices towards enhancing combat capability,” said a source. Both the air forces will deploy frontline fighter jets as well as transport, and tanker aircraft in the exercise. The French and Indian air forces have been conducting the Garuda exercises for the last several years as part of efforts to boost operational cooperation.
The sources said the upcoming exercise is in addition to the ‘Garuda’ series and is indicative of the eagerness between the two sides to further enhance mutual cooperation, They said the French forces are currently deployed in Asia as part of their ‘Skyros Deployment’, and will transit through India. In a boost to its strike capability, the IAF received the first batch of five Rafale jets in July last year, nearly four years after the government inked an agreement with France to procure 36 of the aircraft at a cost of Rs 59,000 crore. The second batch of three Rafale fighter jets joined the IAF in November.
The Rafale jets, manufactured by French aerospace major Dassault Aviation, are India’s first major acquisition of fighter planes in 23 years after the Sukhoi jets were imported from Russia. The newly inducted fleet has been carrying out sorties in eastern Ladakh.