India and France are fielding Rafale fighter jets for the first time together during the five-day joint air exercise Desert Knight 21, which began at the Jodhpur Air Force station on Wednesday. The exercise marks an important milestone between the two forces, the IAF has said.

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Apart from Rafale, Airbus A-330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT), A-400M Tactical Transport aircraft, and approximately 175 personnel are participating in the exercise from France. The French Air Force’s A-400M military transport aircraft had reached India on Tuesday.

India has fielded Mirage 2000, Sukhoi-30 MKI, IL-78 Flight Refuelling Aircraft, mid-air refuellers, and airborne warning and control system (AWACS) platforms. The Indian Air Force said in a statement that fielding of Rafale aircraft by both sides is indicative of the growing interaction between the two premier air forces.

The war-games are taking place at a time when India is locked in a border stand-off with China in Eastern Ladakh. The IAF has kept all its frontline bases across the country in a high state of operational readiness.

France has lent its support to India amid the tensions with China. In the wake of the Galwan Valley clash of June 2020 in which 20 Indian soldiers were killed, Paris had expressed “deep solidarity” with New Delhi. French defense minister Florence Parly had conveyed “steadfast and friendly support” to her Indian counterpart Rajnath Singh.

In spite of the pandemic-induced lockdown, France had ensured the timely delivery of the first batch of five Rafale fighter jets in 2020. Parly had herself attended the induction of the fighter jets into IAF’s Golden Arrows squadron in September 2020.

The Indian Air Force has said: “As part of Indo-French defense cooperation, the IAF and French Air and Space Force have held six editions of exercises named ‘Garuda’, the latest being in 2019 at Air Force Base Mont-de-Marsan.”

Manufactured by Dassault Aviation, the Rafale fighter jets were acquired in a government-to-government deal, including 36 aircraft for Rs 59,000 crore. The second batch of three Rafale had joined the Indian Air Force in November 2020.

The fighter jets have been deployed in Ladakh amid the border stand-off.

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