India and France, For the first time, have conducted joint patrols from the Reunion Island, signalling New Delhi’s intent 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 has so far carried out Coordinated Patrols (CORPAT) only with maritime neighbours and had rejected a similar offer by the US. “The Indian Navy conducted a joint patrol with with the French Navy last month from the Reunion Island. The patrol was conducted by a P-8I aircraft with French Navy personnel onboard,” two defence sources independently confirmed to The Hindu.
“We have robust engagement with the French”, one of them said. The surveillance was done in Southern Indian Ocean off Mauritius. “The P-8I was there for a week,” he stated.
There was greater understanding between India and France on each others concerns, especially in the maritime domain, the source said. “They also have capacity constraints there and we can share responsibilities. The patrols will be periodical. There is no set pattern,” the source added
As reported by The Hindu last November, visiting French Navy Chief Admiral Christophe Prazuck had stated that they were “looking forward to organising joint patrols with the Indian Navy” in 2020 and working on the precise objectives. Speaking at an event, he said the region of the patrols could be North Western Indian Ocean or Southern Indian Ocean “around the islands that are part of France.”
“France is a safe country for us, there will be no concerns in conducting joint patrols with them,” a third official stated on why France was the first country selected to conduct joint patrols. France is also the first country to deploy a Liaison Officer at the Indian Navy’s Information Fusion Centre (IFC-IOR) as part of efforts to improve Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA).
Major strategic partner
France has steadily emerged as a major strategic partner for India with big ticket defence deals and increased military to military engagement. The Indian navy is currently inducting French Scorpene conventional submarines, being built in India under technology transfer, and the Indian Air Force will soon get the first batch of its 36 Rafale fighter jets.
Currently, under the ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy and broader maritime cooperation, the Indian Navy undertakes joint EEZ surveillance with Maldives, Seychelles and Mauritius and CORPATs with Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand and Indonesia.
In early 2016, then U.S. Pacific Commander (now Indo-Pacific Command) Adm Harry Harris proposed the prospect of Indian and US navies conducting joint patrols, which was also advocated by other visiting senior U.S. military officers. However, this was rejected by India, and in 2018, then Navy Chief Adm Sunil Lanba stated that while India was looking at cooperative frameworks in the region to deal with common threats, efforts such as coordinated patrols and joint patrols would be done only with maritime neighbours.
The joint patrols, along with other activities, are part of the Navy’s increasing engagement in the Indian Ocean Region through capacity-building and joint activities for improving MDA and interoperability.