India and France will soon launch a joint naval patrolling in the region to protect their strategic interests, including to check large scale illegal fishing, a top commander of the French Navy said on Monday.
Vice admiral Didier Maleterre, who is Joint Commander of the French forces deployed in the Indian Ocean region, also said that the two navies will ink an agreement early next year providing for sharing of classified information for better operational cooperation in the region.
The French commander, during a media interaction, also expressed concern over China expanding its maritime influence in the region, including through strategic bases like Hambantota port in Sri Lanka, Gwadar port in Pakistan and a key military facility in in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa.
"We are now preparing to carry out joint patrol in Southern Indian Ocean. India is planning to deploy P8I aircraft," he said.
Maleterre said following the attacks on two tankers in south of the Strait of Hormuz around five months back, India decided to deploy one of its frigates in the area to protect the sea lines of communication. Similarly, the French government also decided to permanently deploy one frigate in the area.
The Strait of Hormuz in the Indian Ocean Region is a key area through which almost a fifth of the world's oil supply is shipped.
On the proposed Indo-French pact to facilitate sharing of classified information, he said it would be a rare occasion to have such an arrangement by France with a non-Nato country.
The French commander also mentioned that China has a bigger strategic objective behind its Belt and Road Initiative, suggesting Beijing was trying to hide its invasion in the region through the ambitious project.
"China has a plan to have base as you know in Hambantota in Sri Lanka, in Pakistan and in Djibouti," he said.
Referring to China's presence in the Indian Ocean Region, he said Beijing has been deploying more and more assets including destroyers, nuclear submarines and conventional submarines to check piracy.
"But submarines are not best tool to fight piracy. So there is another ambition behind it and we know that," he said.
Maleterre said both Indian and French navies are going to have high-level operations featuring carrier battle group, submarines and amphibious ships.
"We are considering special operations perhaps including in cyber and maritime domain," he said.
Maleterre said both India and France share same political objectives for the Indian Ocean Region and that the high-level engagement between the two navies will further expand in the coming years.
The commander who is also chief of the French Joint Forces stationed in the United Arab Emirates said Indian and French navies are also considering carrying out joint patrols in North Western part of the Indian Ocean including the Gulf of Aden.
Maleterre said India will deploy P8I maritime surveillance aircraft as part of the joint patrol in Southern Indian Ocean and the primary aim of the mission will be to deal with illegal fishing.
There have been concerns by countries in the Indian Ocean region over China's illegal and unregulated fishing in the region.
"It is a region where we can work with India because we want that the international rules-based order is respected. There is a very clear strategic and political objective of France in the region," he said.
He said seven Rafale fighter jets of French military are carrying out operations from its base in Abu Dhabi against ISIS in Syria and Iraq.