Today, only two foreign navies maintain a permanent presence in the Indian Ocean i.e. the United States Navy and the French Navy. Bharat Verma interviewed Rear Admiral Jacques Launay, Joint Commander French Forces in Indian Ocean (ALINDIEN). His response provides insights into the rationale of the ALINDIEN force’s permanent presence in the Indian Ocean.
What is the French Navy’s overall strategic objective in the Indian Ocean Region?
Réunion Island, Mayotte and scattered islands, as well as Antartic territories are part of France and represent a significant Economic Exclusive Zone. France is (therefore) a bordering country of the Indian Ocean. The French Forces in the region ensure safety and sovereignty of the French territories and maritime areas.
France’s permanent military presence is in accordance with bilateral agreements that bind France and friendly countries such as the Republic of Djibouti.
I would like to emphasise that as a member of the coalition: “Enduring Freedom” under the UN Resolutions 1373 and 1540. French forces are involved in an important and permanent mission in this region.
Our assets are deployed ashore where our special forces operate in Afghanistan, as well as at sea where we have been contributing for the last 5 years to the maritime aspect of this mission within Task Force 150.
Finally, French forces contribute to the safety of the SLOCs – (Sea Lines of Communication.)
In the context of this objective, what are the specific tasks assigned to ALINDIEN with regard to: the Red Sea; the Horn of Africa; the crisis in Somalia, Iraq and Iran; and the protection of the oil tankers carrying oil from the Persian Gulf?
In his area of responsibility, ALINDIEN is the direct representative of the Chief of Defence Staff. To fulfill his missions, he is embarked on a command and supply ship which is permanently deployed in the Indian Ocean. His missions are to:
“¦there are no specific measures taken by French assets inside the Persian Gulf. Should a crisis emerge, protection of oil tankers could be implemented.
- Promote peace and stability with the political and military authorities in the visited countries and conduct exercises with the national armed forces
- Perform operational tasks in the framework of International Laws and United Nations resolutions. As such, the armed forces under ALINDIEN’s command and control might have to fight against terrorism, evacuate French or foreign nationals, conduct humanitarian operations, or protect sea lines of communication.
In the Red Sea, the Horn of Africa and in Somalia, we are contributing to the maritime awareness of this area in order to be ready for any kind of action decided by the French government.
French assets have been involved in Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) since the very beginning in September 2001 – one Lafayette class frigate and one Aviso class corvette have been permanently patrolling in this area. These platforms are under the coalition tactical command of CTF 150.
In this strategic area, one French Maritime Patrol Aircraft, Atlantique 2 type, based in Djibouti, also operates under the tactical control of CTF 57. This aircraft can, if necessary, operate off Somalia. It contributes significantly to our knowledge of this area.
At this stage, there are no specific measures taken by French assets inside the Persian Gulf. Should a crisis emerge, protection of oil tankers could be implemented. We are permanently assessing the situation and maintaining contact with our national merchant ships in the framework of “naval control of shipping” which binds the French Navy and French ship-owners on a voluntary basis.
What is the role of ALINDIEN with regard to safeguarding of tankers from terrorist attacks in the Strait of Malacca?
“¦Djibouti offers an ideal logistic support location for any kind of French assets deployed in the Indian Ocean.
The Strait of Malacca is of strategic importance to many countries including France. The three bordering countries around the Strait of Malacca have worked together efficiently to deal with the terrorist and piracy threats.
Naturally, ALINDIEN maintains a close relationship with the armed forces of these countries and works with them in different ways (training, exercises, and maritime information exchange) to help to secure the Strait.
What is ALINDIEN’s assessment of the utilisation by the Chinese Navy of the new port of Gwadar built with Chinese assistance?
I do not comment on other countries relationships.
How useful have Djibouti, La Reunion and the Comoros actually been for ALINDIEN’s operational tasks?
The La Reunion or Mayotte is of importance because they are French departments and the inhabitants of these islands are French citizens (over one million). These islands are part of our presence in the Indian Ocean. The Indian Navy is most welcome to visit these islands.
The defence and cooperation agreement with the Republic of Djibouti is essential for France and its actions in the Indian Ocean. Thanks to the excellent relationship between Djibouti and France which has been strengthened by a bilateral defence agreement, Djibouti offers an ideal logistic support location for any kind of French assets deployed in the Indian Ocean.
ALINDIEN and the two other French flag officers in the area – an army General in La Reunion and an air force General in Djibouti – share a common view with regard to (operational) situation.
Thanks to our joint organisation, we work closely together and keep a high level of exchanges on a daily basis and we all refer to the Chief of Defence Staff.
What does ALINDIEN foresee of the Indian Navy’s role in the Northern Indian Ocean?
The Indian Navy is a major navy. It is natural for the Indian Navy to sail everywhere as a consequence of the political position of India. The Indian Navy’s awareness about the (operational) situation in the entire Indian Ocean is legitimate. We are keen on working with the Indian Navy due to its high level of readiness. Our common exercises, our various staff talks and exchanges enhance our common understanding of the maritime environment.
The annual Indo-French naval exercises are designed to increase inter-operability. To what extent has there been successful sharing of information for network-centric operations? What else remains to be achieved in future exercises?
In 2006, during Exercise VARUNA, a system named SAFRAN net, based on e-mail and website, was used to improve connectivity and efficiency of information exchange between the Indian and French Navies. The transmission of orders, exercise presentations, general and tactical documentation was highly facilitated. This system has now to be perpetuated in order to facilitate exchange between Headquarters and units in the following domains:
- Maritime security information,
- Sharing of information on current activities and mid-term planning
- Maritime situation assessments in the Indian Ocean.
To reach this objective, SAFRAN net used during VARUNA 2006 should be the basic tool for the Indian and French Navies. This system, based on Internet technology, which offers services as e-mail, web browsing and chat, would be used permanently by ALINDIEN Staff and Fleet Commands (Western, Eastern and Andaman). It will be set up onboard Indian and French ships involved in the bilateral exercises. We will use it for the next VARUNA exercise in 2007 that we are currently planning together to take place in the Gulf of Aden. Future exercises might be the occasion to promote amphibious activities as well as enhancement of common procedures.