By Ateet Sharma
New Delhi, Aug 19: In a first, a French Air Force A330 Phenix aerial refuelling tanker refuelled the Sukhoi SU-30s of the Indian Air Force mid-air ahead of their touchdown at the Royal Australian Air Force's base in Darwin for a three-week multi-national exercise which begins Friday.
This is the first time that France has refuelled Indian jets in flight during their projection, displaying the increasing interoperability between the two air forces.
The French A330 Multi-Role Tanker/Transport (MRTT) is currently deployed in Queensland's Amberley, the Australian Air Force's largest base, for Exercise 'Pitch Black 2022' which will witness the participation of as many as 17 nations, including India, France, Japan, and the United States.
Running till September 8, the exercise will host up to 2500 personnel and up to 100 aircraft from around the globe fostering closer ties between Australia and its allies throughout the Indo-Pacific region.
According to the Australian Air Force, it will feature a range of realistic, simulated threats which can be found in a modern battle-space environment and will utilise one of the largest training airspace areas in the world - the Bradshaw Field Training Area and Delamere Air Weapons Range.
As reported by IndiaNarrative.com last week, the French Air and Space Force carried out a major long-range mission in the Indo-Pacific - code-named Pegase 22 from August 10 to September 18 - which acted as a prelude to the exercise in Australia.
A French Air Force contingent, including three Rafale jets and a support aircraft that was on a long-distance deployment to New Caledonia in the south Pacific, was hosted for a technical stopover at the Air Force Station in Sulur on August 10.
The operation demonstrated a high level of mutual trust and interoperability between the French and Indian Air Forces as the French jets aimed at reaching their 16,600-km deployment destination in less than 72 hours to demonstrate France's capacity for long-distance air power projection.
It also illustrated the concrete implementation of the reciprocal logistics support agreement signed by France and India in 2018.
"France is a resident power of the Indo-Pacific, and this ambitious long-distance air power projection demonstrates our commitment to the region and our partners. It is only natural that to carry out this mission, we rely on India, our foremost strategic partner in Asia. My heartfelt thanks to the Indian Air Force for welcoming the French contingent," Ambassador of France to India Emmanuel Lenain had said while lauding the IAF's role in the successful operation.
Ahead of the multilateral drill, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and French President Emmanuel Macron had discussed the challenges in the Indo-Pacific region during a phone call this Tuesday.
Besides discussing important geopolitical challenges, both leaders also reviewed the ongoing bilateral initiatives including defence cooperation projects and cooperation in civil nuclear energy.
"The two leaders expressed satisfaction at the depth and strength that the India-France Strategic Partnership has acquired in recent years and agreed to continue working closely together to expand the relationship to new areas of cooperation," PM Modi's office had said in a statement after the telephone conversation.