Quad Exercise with French Navy

The latest edition of 'La Perouse' indicates that the Quad is emerging as the fulcrum of like-minded nations in the Indo-Pacific

April 20, 2021 By Lt. General P.C. Katoch (Retd) Photo(s): By defense.gouv.fr, U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps
The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army

 

FROM APRIL 5 TO 7, THE FRENCH TONNERRE AMPHIBIOUS HELICOPTER CARRIER (PHA) AND THE LA FAYETTE TYPE FRIGATE (FLF) SURCOUF CONDUCTED EXERCISE LA PEROUS IN THE BAY OF BENGAL, ALONGSIDE AMERICAN, AUSTRALIAN, INDIAN AND JAPANESE NAVAL SHIPS

On April 5, 2021, India and the three other Quad member nations (the US, Australia and Japan) joined the three-day French naval exercises 'La Perouse' in the Bay of Bengal in the eastern Indian Ocean. The drills during the multi-lateral naval exercise entailed advanced naval operations including surface warfare, anti-air warfare and air defence exercises. Indian Navy’s Shivalik-class stealth frigate INS ‘Satpura’ along with its integral helicopter and anti-submarine warfare stealth corvette INS ‘Kiltan’ participated in the exercise along with P-8I long range maritime patrol aircraft. Indian Navy spokesperson Commander Vivek Madhwal said, “The exercise will showcase high levels of synergy, coordination and interoperability between the friendly navies. Participation by the Indian Navy in the exercise demonstrates the shared values with friendly navies ensuring freedom of seas and commitment to an open, inclusive Indo-Pacific and a rules-based international order.”

Though France had shown no intent to join the Quad but its views on the Indo-Pacific are synonymous with that of the Quad

Participation of France, the US, Australia, and Japanese navies in Exercise ‘La Pérouse’ 2021 also included French Navy’s amphibious assault ship ‘Tonnerre’ and the frigate ‘Surcouf; US Navy’s amphibious transport dock ship ‘Somerset’; Royal Australian Navy’s frigate ‘Anzac’ and the tanker ‘Sirius’, and; the destroyer ‘Akebono’ of the Japan Maritime Self Defence Ship (JMSDF). India’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) issued a statement before the exercise began that read, “Exercise La Pérouse will witness complex and advanced naval operations including surface warfare, anti-air warfare and air defence exercises, weapon firing exercises, cross deck flying operations, tactical maneuvers and seamanship evolutions such as replenishment at sea.”

The amphibious transport dock ship USS Somerset (LPD 25) conducts formation maneuvers with the Indian navy IN Kiltan (P 30), in the foreground, and the French navy FS Surcouf (F 711) during La Perouse 2021.

The 2020 edition of La Pérouse exercise in the Bay of Bengal was a multilateral naval exercise bringing together French, Australian, Japanese and US navies. French Navy had deployed its sole nuclear-powered aircraft carrier ‘Charles de Gaulle’ while Japan fielded its helicopter carrier JS Izumo. India did not participate in La Pérouse exercise last year. However, India has been expanding cooperation with navies of the US, Japan, Australia and France over the last few years. This includes bilateral exercises with France. The latest Indo-French bilateral air exercise was held at Jodhpur during January 2021. Since the release of an Indo-Pacific strategy in 2019, France has sought to play a much more robust role in the Indo-Pacific security, with French President Emmanuel Macron front and centering Australian and Indian roles in the regional security architecture.

HMAS Sirius sails in company with frigates INS Kiltan of the Indian Navy and FS Surcouf of the French Navy, in the Bay of Bengal during Exercise La Perouse.

With India’s participation in the exercise La Pérouse this year, the event is being called a Quad Plus exercise, which indeed it is in reflection of the growing maritime cooperation among like-minded nations aimed at a free and open Indo-Pacific region amid China's growing efforts to expand its influence in the region. Though France had shown no intent to join the Quad but its views on the Indo-Pacific are synonymous with that of the Quad. Over the last year, both UK and Germany have also indicated that they propose to send their naval units to the IOR periodically for joint exercises, given the salience now accorded to the Indo-Pacific as a region. Asked for his reaction to Quad alliance countries joining the French naval exercises 'La Perouse' amidst reports that the drills are aimed to contain and check China, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian on April 6, 2021 cautiously reiterated Beijing's stand that such a cooperation should be conducive to peace in the region.

If an opportunity arose, the Quad navies have the capability and capacity to come together almost in a ‘plug and play’ manner

The April 2021 France-led Quad plus exercise 'La Perouse' followed the March 12, 2021 First Quad Leaders Summit of Quad nations (USA, India, Japan, and Australia) that had resolved to uphold the principle of a rule-based international order in the Indo-Pacific. The significance of this year’s 'La Perouse' exercise, therefore, must be viewed in its politico-diplomatic significance. This is reflected in the press release issued by the Indian government that reads, “Participation by the Indian Navy in the exercise demonstrates the shared values with friendly navies ensuring freedom of seas and commitment to an open, inclusive Indo-Pacific and a rules-based international order.”

The amphibious transport dock ship USS Somerset (LPD 25), front, maneuvers alongside the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force ship JS Akebono (DD 108) in the Bay of Bengal during La Perouse 2021.

The latest edition of 'La Perouse' indicates that the Quad is emerging as the fulcrum of like-minded nations in the Indo-Pacific. There is wide range of speculation on the future of the Quad with some saying that it can hardly match up to the aggressive antics of China in absence of a joint strategy by the Quad and inhibitions of individual Quad members how to deal with China. Others feel that policy makers of Quad nations have moved swiftly in the maritime domain to signal their combined professional capability and political resolve to uphold a principle - the sanctity of international law. Most significantly, Indian Navy Chief Admiral Karambir Singh on April 14, 2021 at the Raisina Dialogue said that if an opportunity arose the Quad navies have the capability and capacity to come together almost in a ‘plug and play’ manner, which indicates seamless integration. This should set the tone for future military cooperation amongst the Quad and Quad Plus nations to tackle the menace of growing Chinese assertiveness.