The navies of India and France concluded their second joint patrolling in the South-Western Indian Ocean last week, while an Australian P-8 maritime patrol aircraft is expected in India next month on a reciprocal visit, underscoring India’s continued focus on expanding maritime surveillance and anti-submarine warfare cooperation in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).
Diplomatic sources told The Hindu that during the five days from May 9 to 13, an Indian Navy P-8I aircraft was deployed from the French island of La Reunion to carry out “joint surveillance and patrolling operations” with the French Navy in the South-Western Indian Ocean.
Two French Floréal-class surveillance frigates, the Floréal and the Nivôse, took part in the deployment, with focus on anti-smuggling, a diplomatic source said. “In order to increase the level of interoperability, French sailors were taken onboard the P-8I,” the source said.
Noting that it is the second time that France and India have carried out “joint patrolling” out of La Reunion, the source added, “This type of operation demonstrates how Indo-French naval cooperation serves as net security provider in the region.”
In a statement last week, the Indian Navy said, “During the deployment... the P8I aircraft will engage with French warships operating in the region and undertake coordinated surveillance missions in the area to enhance maritime safety and security in the Southern Indian Ocean, including the Mozambique Channel.”
As reported by The Hindu in March 2020, India and France had conducted their maiden week-long joint patrols from Reunion Island.
Cooperation among Quad countries
In the backdrop of increasing Chinese naval presence in the IOR, maritime domain awareness (MDA) and anti-submarine warfare (ASW) cooperation has emerged as a top priority for India and the Quad countries both in a bilateral and also in the Malabar naval exercise.
Last month, an Indian Navy P-8I from INAS 312 ‘Albatross’ squadron was in Darwin, Australia, where it participated in coordinated operations in “ASW and surface surveillance” to enhance MDA with P-8 aircraft of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). “An Indian Navy P-8I Neptune worked with one of our P-8A Poseidons in mid-April over several days to conduct coordinated maritime surveillance patrols in the waters to our north, in another chapter of the enduring India-Australia security partnership,” the RAAF said on LinkedIn.
The RAAF is expected to pay a reciprocal visit likely in June, defence and diplomatic sources said.
In January this year, an Indian Navy P-8I participated in the multinational ASW Exercise Sea Dragon-22 at Guam in the U.S. that saw the participation of the Quad countries, Canada, and South Korea.
Indian Navy operates 12 Boeing P-8Is in two squadrons located at Arakkonam in Tamil Nadu and INS Hansa, Goa. A proposal for six more aircraft has been deferred for now by the Defence Ministry. “P-8I gives Indian Navy the reach and capability to undertake ASW missions far away and also flexibility which has been demonstrated on several occasions,” a defence source noted.
French focus on Indo-Pacific
France, which has territory in the Indian Ocean, has articulated its focus on the Indo Pacific. French Minister for the Armed Forces Florence Parly during her visit to India in December made a reference for expanding cooperation in the region and said that there were many tensions in the Indian Ocean, especially in the eastern part of Africa and it is a “joint responsibility to make sure that we can contribute to ease up the tensions there.”
Talking of the European Union’s efforts in the Indian Ocean, Ms. Parly had said that they tested something called the ‘maritime coordinated presence’ in the Gulf of Kenya and that they would like to extend this concept of having maritime coordinated to the Indo-Pacific. “As a first example we are thinking of something in Indian part of this area because we see that the Mozambique canal is a very hot place to be protected, it is a place where terrorist organisations are present and could put at risk commercial maritime routes and could also spread out in other areas,” she stated.
The Indian and French navies regularly undertake coordinated operations under the Varuna series of bilateral exercise. In March-end this year, India and France co-led the maiden edition of Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) Maritime Exercise 2022 (IMEX-22) off Goa with the aim of enhancing interoperability in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) operations among member navies.
Under the ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy and broader maritime cooperation, the Indian Navy undertakes joint exclusive economic zone (EEZ) surveillance with Maldives, Seychelles and Mauritius and coordinated patrols (CORPAT) with Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand and Indonesia.