India and the UAE are expected to take bilateral ties to the next level with the two countries, along with France, discussing conducting trilateral military exercises

PM Narendra Modi has led India's effort to deepen ties with UAE and other Gulf countries after he came to power in 2014. At a meeting of the consultative committee of the external affairs ministry on January 16, foreign minister S Jaishankar had underscored India’s deepening relationship with Gulf countries. He had told the Congress MPs that it was due to the intense efforts of Prime Minister Narendra Modi that India’s relationship with Gulf countries had gone way beyond diaspora and energy as in the past.

The state of the relationship will be on display later this month when the United Arab Emirates Air Force will handle the mid-air refuelling of India’s three Rafale fighter jets flying into the Indian Air Force station at Ambala from France, people familiar with the matter said.

The UAE air force’s Airbus multi-role transport tanker will twice refuel the three Indian fighter jets on their non-stop eight-hour flight from Bordeaux-Merignac base in France to join the Golden Arrows Squadron in Ambala.

When five Rafale fighters flew non-stop to India from France on July 29, 2020, the aircraft was refuelled four times by a French MRTT.

The UAE air force’s gesture is the first-of-its-kind and reflects how the two countries are rapidly cementing their security ties, a person familiar with the matter said. The next level would be trilateral military exercises involving France, UAE and India.

Officials said National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, one of the key architects of relations with UAE and Saudi Arabia, and Diplomatic Advisor to the French President, Emmanuel Bonne, had discussed the trilateral military exercises during the strategic dialogue held during Bonne’s India visit on January 6.

India and UAE have forged a very close relationship since 2014 with PM Modi leading the initiative. This is in sharp contrast to the state of bilateral ties in 1999 when UAE hadn’t allowed the Indian Ambassador to enter the airbase where Indian Airlines’ hijacked plane, IC-814, had refuelled before flying to Taliban-controlled Kandahar airport. Today, New Delhi and Abu Dhabi not only have multi-faceted security ties but also exchange vital information about the respective regions. It is due to such close ties, that UAE has deported over 100 Indian criminals taking shelter in the Emirates since 2014, a senior diplomat said.

The UAE Air Force will also provide mid-air refuelling to the next batch of seven Rafale fighters coming to India in the second half of April. As of now, four French Air Force’s Rafale fighters along with an Airbus MRTT are exercising with the Indian Air Force in the skies over Pokhran. The French fighters will later participate in annual exercises with the Australian Air Force. India is also considering Airbus MRTT as one of the options to boost IAF’s power projection and endurance in Asia.