French warships arrive in Kochi ahead of joint naval exercise with Quad member countries in the Bay of Bengal from April 5 to 7

Published : March 30, 2021 20:20 IST

The French amphibious assault helicopter carrier, Tonnerre, approaches to dock at Cochin port, in Kochi on March 30. Photo: ARUN SANKAR/AFP

The French Navy’s amphibious assault helicopter carrier Tonnerre and the La Royale’s escort frigate Surcouf arrived on the morning of March 30 at the Kochi port in Kerala ahead of a joint naval exercise that the French navy is taking part in along with the navies of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) member countries —Australia, India, Japan, and the United States.

Called ‘La Perouse’, after the well-known French navigator Jean-François de Galaup, comte de Lapérouse (1741–88), the naval exercise will be led by the French Navy and is scheduled to be held in the Bay of Bengal from April 5 to 7. The 2021 edition of ‘La Perouse’, will witness for the first time all four Quad members taking part in it. The first ‘La Perouse’ exercise took place in 2019. This is the first time that the Indian Navy will be taking part in the France-led war game.

Welcomed into port by the famous Indian Navy Band, with senior officers of the Indian Navy present, the two French naval vessels will make the port call at Kochi for three days until April 1. On a five-month-long deployment throughout the Indo-Pacific region, which started in February, Tonnerre and Surcouf will head for Japan after ‘La Perouse’. The Tonnerre carries more than 600 officers and cadets, including 150 freshly inducted young cadets who will be participating in the exercise as the final phase of their training.

France has been engaging with Quad member countries in various formats. In January, the India-France-Australia trilateral senior officials’ meeting took place, while last September the first Foreign Secretary-level trilateral dialogue was between the same three countries.

April will witness the Indo-France bilateral ‘Varuna’ naval exercises, which will see the participation of a La Royale aircraft carrier. The last edition of the ‘Varuna’ war games, the 17th overall, took place off the Goa coast in May 2019.

In February 2020, the French and Indian navies, for the first time, conducted joint patrols from the Indian Ocean island of Reunion Island. The week-long surveillance patrol was conducted in the Southern Indian Ocean off Mauritius using an Indian Navy’s Boeing P-8I maritime patrol aircraft. French personnel were also present aboard the P-8I. The joint patrol indicated India’s readiness to engage with friendly foreign partners in expanding its footprint in the Indian Ocean, focusing on the stretch between the East African coastline and the Malacca straits.

India along with the U.S., Japan and Australia conducted the latest edition of the annual ‘Malabar’ naval exercises in the Bay of Bengal in November 2020. Navies of all four countries carried out anti-submarine warfare operations and naval manoeuvres at sea.

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