New Delhi [India], March 31 (ANI): In the context of the long-standing naval cooperation between France and India, two French Navy ships, the Tonnerre and the Surcouf, made a port call in Kochi from March 30 to April 1, the French embassy said on Wednesday.
Following the port call, the two warships will sail to the Bay of Bengal to take part in the France-led joint naval exercise, La Perouse, which will bring together the navies from India, Australia, Japan and the United States from April 5-7.
The French embassy said in a release that the Tonnerre, an amphibious assault helicopter carrier, is a versatile ship that can deploy assets for amphibious and air assault, conduct troop transport, as well as command a maritime task force and hospital ship. The Surcouf, a La Fayette-class frigate, is designed for high stealth and reduced acoustic signature, and can act as escort to capital ships like the Tonnerre.
The Tonnerre and the Surcouf, together, form the battlegroup Jeanne d'Arc which set sail from France in February 2021 for a five-months long deployment in the Indo-Pacific region with the aim of providing training for the new cohort of 148 on-board French naval officer cadets, demonstrating France's capacity to deploy assets in strategic areas, and strengthening interoperability with major partners in the Indo-Pacific, particularly India, France's foremost strategic partner in Asia, stated the release.
Welcoming the two ships in Kochi, the Ambassador of France to India, Emmanuel Lenain, said, "I am proud of the exceptional level of trust and interoperability that our Navies have achieved. It is no surprise that India and the Indo-Pacific are at the heart of the training for the new generation of French Navy officers. I look forward to the La Perouse joint exercise, during which these two French Navy ships will be joined by ships from India, Australia, Japan and the USA for a concrete demonstration of multilateralism at sea and our commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific".
The first edition of the La Perouse joint exercise, initiated by France in 2019, included ships from Australia, Japan and the US. This year, for the first time, India is also joining this initiative for a large-scale five-country naval exercise that will provide an opportunity for these five like-minded, high-end naval forces to develop closer links, sharpen their skills, and promote maritime cooperation throughout a free and open Indo-Pacific.
After this joint exercise, the Tonnerre and the Surcouf will continue their deployment through the Indo-Pacific region, all the way to Japan, before sailing back to France to reach their home port on July 14, France's National Day. During their voyage, the ships will sail through the South China Sea twice.
Maritime cooperation between France and India goes back decades, with the first joint Varuna naval exercise taking place in 1983, and has been growing steadily, especially in the last few years. In 2018, during the State Visit of the President of the French Republic to India, H.E. Mr Emmanuel Macron, France and India concluded an agreement that enables reciprocal logistics support between French and Indian armed forces, and provides mutual access to military bases including naval ports. In the coming weeks, in addition to the La Perouse exercise, France and India will hold a large-scale Varuna bilateral exercise in the Western Arabian Sea which will involve the French aircraft carrier battle group. (ANI)