NEW DELHI: Amidst the political slugfest over the Rafale deal, three of the French combat jets accompanied by one Atlas A-400M military transport aircraft, one C-135 refuelling aircraft, one Airbus A310 cargo aircraft and about a 100 French aviators are in India on a three-day mission September 1-4 as part of Mission Pegase (Pegasus).
This follows the recently concluded Pitch Black exercise in Australia, where the French and Indian Air Force conducted joint drills as part of the multilateral drill, in which over 140 aircraft from nine countries took part.
Operation Pegase, led by Air Corps General Patrick Charaix, aims to reinforce France's presence in South and Southeast Asia, and deepen its relations with its main partner countries. The French detachment reached India after stops in Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and Singapore, and will involve joint flights and exchanges between the two air forces at India Air Force Stations of Gwalior and Agra.
During this trip, some Indian pilots are expected to fly the Rafale, the first lot of which are expected to be inducted into the IAF early next year. "This mission in India is yet another illustration of the depth of the Indo-French strategic partnership, which is celebrating its twentieth anniversary this year, and the great trust that prevails in the relations between our respective armed forces," said a French embassy release.
Earlier, the French defence ministry said that "This deployment provides the opportunity to reaffirm the commitment of France to security and stability in the Asia-Pacific, in conformity with the conclusions of the Strategic Review ("Revue Stratégique"). It will emphasize the attachment of France to international law and to freedom of navigation and supply. It will demonstrate the ability of the Air Force to respond rapidly and to ensure a presence in this part of the world, with due attention to the political and economic considerations at stake and to questions of national sovereignty."