Located in the southwest of France, Base Aérienne 118 Mont de Marsan recently hosted the sixth edition of the joint Indo-French Garuda exercise. France has a long tradition of military cooperation with foreign countries, and especially with India.
Held between July 1 and 12, the exercise involved the participation of seven Indian aircraft, comprising four Sukhoi Su-30MKI multi-role fighters from the “Hunting Hawks” squadron, an Ilyushin Il-78 tanker, and two Boeing C-17 freighters. The French Air Force operated several Rafale, Mirage 2000 (2000-5 air defense and 2000D ground attack) combat aircraft, and one E-3F airborne early warning aircraft. Other types involved were a Boeing C-135FR tanker, a C-130, a Airbus CN235 military transport, and several Alpha jet advanced trainers.
This exercise provided the perfect opportunity for the IAF and the Armée de l’Air to improve their interoperability during air-to-air and air-to-ground missions and to compare their respective procedures and tactics. The bilateral ties between the two air forces have been strong since the 1950s, when India bought Dassault Ouragan jet fighters.
During this year’s Garuda exercise French pilots had the opportunity to fly in the Sukhoi Su-30MKI, while some Indian pilots flew a mission in the back seat of a Rafale. The Su-30 is the most advanced combat aircraft currently in service with the Indian Air Force, pending the arrival of the first batch of Indian Rafales, expected this year.
Garuda VI was thus a glimpse of the future shape of the Indian Air Force, which will mix versatile aircraft fitted with state-of-the-art weapons systems—such as the Su-30 MKI and Rafale—along with older platforms such as the upgraded Jaguar, Mirage 2000, and MiG-29s.
India does not hide its desire to retire its older aircraft types—the venerable MiG-21 and MiG-27—as soon as possible and to replace them with more modern aircraft of domestic, Western, and Russian origin.