Starting from January 20, 2021, an air group of the French Air Force will visit several countries, namely India, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and finally Greece. It will be composed of four Dassault Rafale fighters, two Airbus A400M transport aircraft, and one A330 MRTT (Phénix) tanker.
The campaign, called ‘Skyros’, aims to “demonstrate the operational capabilities of the French air forces, complete the training of crews and strengthen France’s links with the countries visited,” according to the French General Staff. “The various stopovers will also be an opportunity to carry out joint high-level operational preparation activities, thus strengthening interoperability with local armies.” Over 175 French personnel are expected to participate.
Their first stop in India will be the occasion to conduct bilateral training with its Indian counterpart. The exercise Desert Knight 21 will involve India’s own Rafales, as well as Mirage 2000 and Su-30 MKI fighters, and an IL-78 tanker. It will take place at Jodhpur Air Force Station between January 20 and 24, 2021.
The “Rafale tour”?
The Indian Air Force (IAF) formally inducted the Dassault Rafale fighter jet in the 17 Squadron ‘Golden Arrows’ at Air Force Station Ambala on September 10, 2020. An order for 36 aircraft was placed by India in 2016. With 12 Dassault fighter jets to be delivered per year, the order should be complete by May 2022.
The aircraft will be part of India’s Republic Day celebration on January 26, 2021. “The flypast will culminate with a single Rafale aircraft carrying out a ‘vertical charlie’ formation,” said an IAF spokesperson.
Amid the 34th edition of the annual Franco-Indian strategic dialogue, the French government is reportedly preparing another arms contract with Indian authorities, which would include a second batch of 36 Rafales, as well as six A330 MRTT tankers and over a hundred AS565 Panther helicopters. To sweeten the deal, France may offer to assemble the helicopters in India under license, as well as 70% of the ordered Rafales, according to the Hindustan Times.
The other countries where the French Air Force should stop are all linked to the fourth-generation fighter jet of Dassault: while Egypt and India already operate the Rafale, Greece is in the process of acquiring 18 of them. As for the United Arab Emirates, it has been eying the aircraft for at least a decade. In December 2020, La Tribune reported rekindled rumors of an upcoming Rafale order from the UAE.