The Indian and French Rafales will be in action together for the first time during bilateral Desert Knight-21 air exercises starting Wednesday.

In a statement today, the Indian Defence Ministry said, “The exercise is unique as it includes fielding of Rafale aircraft by both sides and is indicative of the growing interaction between the two premier Air Forces.”

The war games will be held at Air Force Station Jodhpur from 20 to 24 January.

French side will participate with Rafale, Airbus A-330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT), A-400M Tactical Transport aircraft and approximately 175 personnel. The Indian Air Force (IAF) aircraft participating in the exercise will include Mirage 2000, Su-30 MKI, Rafale, IL-78 Flight Refuelling Aircraft, AWACS and AEW&C aircraft.

As part of Indo-French defence cooperation, Indian Air Force and French Air and Space Force have held six editions of Air Exercises named ‘Garuda’, the latest being in 2019 at Air Force Base Mont-de-Marsan, France. As measures to further the existing cooperation, the two forces have been gainfully utilising available opportunities to conduct ‘hop-exercises.’

The French Air and Space Force (Armée de l’Air et de l’Espace) deployment while ferrying to Australia for Ex Pitchblack in 2018 was hosted by IAF at Air Force Stations Agra and Gwalior for exercise with fighters and MRTT aircraft.

Presently, the French detachment for Ex Desert Knight-21 is deployed in Asia as part of their ‘Skyros Deployment’ and will ferry in forces to Air Force Station Jodhpur.

Eight Rafales have been delivered to the IAF out of a total of 36 that will form two squadrons. By 2023, both squadrons each comprising 18 jets, will be ready.

IAF Rafales will make their debut at the Republic Day parade on January 26. The omni-role jet will undertake the ‘Vertical Charlie” maneuver.

“The flypast will culminate with a single Rafale aircraft carrying out a ‘Vertical Charlie’ formation,” IAF spokesperson Wing Commander Indranil Nandi said at a press conference in Delhi on Monday.

The ‘Vertical Charlie’ formation is when an aircraft flies at low altitude, pulls up vertically and conducts rolls before stabilising at higher altitude.