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French Air Force Chief flew Indian Su-30 MKI for the first time during Ex Garuda 22

French General Stéphane Mille flew with his Indian counterpart, Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari, on an Indian Air Force (IAF) Sukhoi Su-30 MKI. Large-scale operations involving more than 30 aircraft were underway at the Jodhpur air base.

Sukhoi Su-30 MKI of the Indian Air Force
Sukhoi Su-30 MKI of the Indian Air Force. © Air and Space Force

General Stéphane Mille, like French Ambassador to India Emmanuel Lenain, examined the efficacy of Franco-French-Indian cooperation when large-scale operations involving more than 30 aircraft were underway as part of the “Garuda 22” exercise at the Jodhpur air base. General Stéphane Mille engaged in a mission alongside his counterpart, Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari, while embarking on an Indian Air Force (IAF) Sukhoi Su-30 MKI. Before that, a brief interaction occurred between the French detachment and the Indian airmen, allowing the participants’ impressions to be gathered.

After a briefing, they were permitted to board the aircraft and participate in the day’s mission. When the Indian Rafales and Tejas flew over, the A330 MRTT Phénix landed on the tarmac after completing its maiden refuelling mission.

Returning from this flight, General Stéphane Mille said, “I enjoyed this flight, and we must fly together with our Indian partners in order to understand each other. I could notice similarities when we communicate with the radio he delivers. I’m very happy to be here and to be able to fly the Sukhoi for the first time. Each edition of the exercise is different, the aim being to learn even more from each other compared to the previous edition.” He further said, “We can see that we are ready to carry out high-level missions. Especially since the third dimension is a necessary and indispensable capability in modern combat.”

French participation in the exercise Garuda 22

On account of the Garuda 22 exercise, the Air and Space Force (AAE) sent 130 Airmen, five Rafales, and one MRTT to Jodhpur Air Base in India from 11 to 14 November.

As per the AAE, “Garuda 22” is a bilateral “improvement” level exercise conducted as part of the Franco-Indian cooperation plan. This edition, organised by the IAF, is of the Large Force Employment variety, with fighter aviation predominating and an A330 MRTT Phénix participating in the second phase of the event. India appears to be France’s most important strategic partner in the Indo-Pacific region. The purpose of developing interoperability between the AAE and the IAF is to increase the participants’ mutual understanding so that they can function jointly. Crews must plan, execute, and debrief operations in a tactically realistic setting. Additionally, “Garuda 22” allows French and Indian Airmen to bridge cultural boundaries and share their experiences.

“The last edition of this exercise took place in 2019 in Mont-de-Marsan, and we are coming here to India for the first time since 2014,” said Commander Pierre Cognac, director of the exercise. “India is a major strategic partner which has acquired the Rafale. We must learn to work together so that we can conduct joint operations if necessary. Especially since our procedures are different because India is not a member of NATO,” he said.

General Stéphane Mille in Jodhpur in India. © Air and Space Force

“At the end of the third day of the flight, the pilots of the 30th fighter wing were able to carry out discovery missions of the platform and visual combat to test their responsiveness. Now, entering the fourth day of the flight, things are getting more and more serious. We can now start larger missions with up to 30 aircraft in the air,” explained the commander during the exercise.

“During the second phase of the activity, with the presence of our A330 MRTT, we will be able to carry out cross-refuelling. We are fortunate to be able to work with many IAF assets: SU-30, Rafale, LCA Tejas, Jaguar, Awacs, IL78, helicopters, etc. Exotic material compared to what we are used to,” he added.

“At the Jodhpur air base, pilots can take off and carry out their missions” in an extended work area with the possibility of implementing supersonic flight, offering a very interesting level of realism “, adds Commander Pierre Cognac. The exchanges with the various Indian counterparts allow a reciprocal cultural enrichment. “We have excellent relations, and they really appreciate the technical and tactical skills of the French drivers. They believe that France is a reliable partner, and they want us to think the same of them, says the director of the exercise. The welcome on our arrival was exceptional. It’s a real pleasure to be here more than 6,000 kilometres from home, rediscovering the same fighting spirit with our Indian partners,” he said in a final comment.

Exercise Garuda 2022

The Indian Air Force (IAF) and the French Air and Space Force (FASF) engaged in the Garuda VII bilateral exercise at Air Force Station Jodhpur from 26 October to 12 November 2022. Su-30 MKI, Rafale, LCA Tejas, and Jaguar fighter aircraft, as well as the Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) and Mi-17 helicopters, are deployed by the IAF. The IAF contingent was composed of Combat Enabling Assets such as Flight Refueling Aircraft, AWACS, and AEW&C.

This is the seventh time the bilateral exercise has been conducted. The first, third, and fifth editions were held in India at Air Force Stations Gwalior, Kalaikunda, and Jodhpur in 2003, 2006, and 2014, respectively. France hosted the second, fourth, and sixth tournaments in 2005, 2010, and 2019, respectively.

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