French Rafale jets and Indian Su-30MKI jointly participate in Garuda VI exercise

On Tuesday, June 25, the Indian Air Force (IAF) announced that four Sukhoi-30MKI (Su-30MKI) fighters departed from India to France in order to participate in the Garuda VI exercise with aircraft of the French Air Force, including the Dassault Rafale.

French Rafale jets and Indian Su 30MKI jointly participate in Garuda VI exercise A Rafale of the French Air Force and a Su-30MKI of the Indian Air Force during Garuda V in 2014 (Picture Source: French MoD)

This is the sixth edition of the Garuda series of exercises that the Indian and French Air Forces hold together. While the Indian Air Force and Navy have held exercises with the Rafale in the past, the sixth edition of Garuda is significant as the first batch of 36 Rafale jets for the IAF is scheduled to arrive in September 2019.

In a brief video about the exercise, Air Commodore M. Ranade revealed that four Su-30MKI fighters, two C-17 transport aircraft and one Il-78 aerial refuelling tanker would depart from the Air Force Station at Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh. Ranade noted the aim of the exercise was to “learn lessons of best practices that each air force has to offer”.

While the Il-78 would refuel the fighters on their long journey to France, the C-17s will carry equipment, spares and personnel for the maintenance of the Su-30MKI fighters during the exercise. Garuda VI is scheduled to begin from July 1 and continue till July 14. The Garuda series of exercises have been held alternatively in India and France since 2003.

The first edition of Garuda was held in Gwalior in 2003 and second in Istres Air Force Base in France in 2005. The second edition of Garuda was the first exercise the Indian Air Force participated in in Europe. The third (2007) and fifth editions of Garuda (2014) were held in Kalaikunda and Jodhpur airbases, respectively. In the fourth edition of Garuda, held at Istres in 2010, Indian and French aircraft refuelled from each other's tankers, highlighting increased operating synergy.

The Su-30MKI, designed in Russia, is numerically the most important aircraft in the Indian Air Force. Nearly 250 Su-30MKI fighters are serving in the Indian Air Force.

The Rafale is a newer design than the Su-30MKI and features more advanced electronics, weapons and design features to reduce its detection by radar. Ironically, one of the requirements submitted by the French Air Force in the early 1980s to Dassault when designing the Rafale was the need to defeat in aerial combat the Soviet Union's MiG-29 and Su-27 fighters. The Su-27 was the basis of the design of the Su-30MKI.