Panaji, April 2: A string of simulated intensified war exercises, involving the Indian Air Force (IAF) for the first time, took off today as part of the eighth edition of Indo-French bilateral naval exercises code named 'Varuna-06' off Goa coast in the Arabian Sea.
''These exercises are unique. For the first time, the aircraft carriers of both the navies, INS Virat (India) and nuclear-powered Charles de Gaulle of France, would engage in interoperability,'' said Rear Admiral Anup Singh, Flag Officer Commanding Westren Fleet.
The IAF was asked to fly a 'strike mission' at sea in order to gain maximum benefit towards jointmanship between the two forces, also for the first time.
The French airforce however, would, not participate in the ongoing exercises, as it had already done such exercises along with India on INS virat the French naval base at in Djibuti off the Gulf of Eden last year. It could do such exercises from a land base.
''These joint military exercises involve a lot of costs. But it benefits in terms of rich experience the Indian defence forces gain,'' Mr Singh quipped in response to a question about the expenditure involved in such annual exercises.
Five ships of the Western Naval Fleet are participating in these exercises under the command of Rear Admiral Anup Singh with his French counterpart Rear Admiral Xavier Magne in-charge of the French Task Force 473.
The last two days of the exercises will witness a 'war at sea' wherein the two forces would carry out various tactical manoeuvres simulating wartime conditions, he added.
Led by INS Virat-borne Sea Harrier fighters, Sea King and Chetak helicopters, the Indian Navy is represented by the guided missile destroyer INS Mumbai, and the guided missile frigates INS Gomati and INS Betwa. While the former has a Sea King on board, the latter two vessels are carrying the anti-submarine variant of the Chetak helicopters.
This apart, the fleet replenishment tanker INS Aditya and the stealth SSK submarine INS Shankul with maritime aircraft Dornier and TU-142, operating from ashore, also form part of the Indian team.
The French, led by Charles de Gaulle with her integral Rafale and Super Etendard aircraft, comprise the guided missile destroyers Montcalm and Cassard, the replenishment tanker Somme, the nuclear submarine Saphir and maritime patrol aircraft Atlantique.
The French Task Force has also a Royal Navy frigate Lancaster as part of the French multi-national element.
''The major focus in the ongoing exercises is ''dissimilar Air Combat Training (DACT) between the Sea Harriers, Rafales and the Super Etendards. Numerous air combat sorties are planned to help the Indian and French pilots to work up jointly and integrate with each other in air defence and counter air operations,'' Rear Admiral Singh said.
Other exercises include anti-submarine manoeuvres involving ships, helicopters and shore-based patrol aircraft, interdiction operations, visit board search and seizure (VBSS) procedures and tactical manoeuvres.
The last two days of the exercises will witness a ''war at sea'' wherein the two forces would carry out various tactical manoeuvres simulating wartime conditions, he said.
''The confidence and expertise gained during these exercises since the year 2001 would allow swift ingtegration with each other in case of any requirement at sea.'' Commandant of the INS Virat Captain S P S Cheema said.
The Indian Ocean Region, he said, has many strategic sealines of communication, which are vital to emerging economies of countries of the region. With enhanced interoperability achieved through such joint exercises, they could address issues of piracy, disaster relief, search and rescue in the region, they added.
In the last year's exercises held at Djibouti, both the Indian and French armies were involved. This year, the IAF is participating in the exercises on board the aircraft carriers to hone and enrich their combat skills.