KUALA LUMPUR – As France’s Jeanne D’Arc deployment nears its conclusion, the French are looking to continue high-end operations in the Indo-Pacific region, according to two French officials in command of the deployment.
Speaking to USNI News in separate interviews, Rear Adm. Jean-Mathieu Rey, Joint Commander French Armed Forces in the Asia-Pacific (ALPACI) and Captain Arnaud Tranchant, commanding officer of the LHD FS Tonnerre (L9104), said the Jeanne D’Arc task group’s activities in the Indo-Pacific alongside its partners were executed successfully and that such cooperation activities are important to the region, particularly with exercises like the ARC21 exercise held in Japan from May 11th to 16th.
The Jeanne D’Arc Task group, consisting of the Tonnerre and the frigate FS Surcouf (F711) together with embarked French ground forces and helicopters, carried out the exercise together with forces from Australia, Japan and the United States. The drills included both naval and amphibious warfare activities. The task group’s deployment to the region is a combined operational and training deployment with naval cadet officers also embarked on the ships as part of their training.
“The ARC21 exercise was an ambitious exercise because of its multinational perspective and because of the particular technical skills that amphibious warfare requires. On this perspective, the exercise is a huge success as every planned activity has been smoothly conducted. Our main objective was to enhance interoperability with partners in a complex and challenging environment and it has been fully achieved,” Rey said. Tranchant stated that participation in the exercise was a precious opportunity to train French naval officers to operate in a demanding multinational context.
Tranchant also detailed some of the activities of the exercise, which included transportation of French Army troops on a JGSDF CH-47 Chinook helicopter and cross docking and cross decking exercises with a Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) LCAC and Japan Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF) CH-47 Chinook, respectively, on the Tonnerre. He added that the exercise demonstrated that French forces could operate with their partners in the region.
“The main lesson learned is that we remain easily interoperable with our partners in the region. Over the course of only a few days, we unfolded several exercises that require a high level of tactical cooperation, which is very promising for the future,” Tranchant said.
Both commanders also stated that the main challenge for the exercise was in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuring the health of participants in the exercise was of primary concern.
“Amphibious maneuvers imply usually many contacts between crews and troops of the different nations. Thanks to excellent anticipation of those constraints, we have been able, collectively, to set up in advance and to apply during the exercise a robust and realist sanitarian protocol, which allow[ed] ARC21 to take place with an excellent level of health control” said Rey.
In regards to the overall deployment, Tranchant said that the past three months have been rich and intense in terms of operational activity and number of exercises conducted.
“Both Jeanne d’Arc ships namely LHD Tonnerre and Frigate Surcouf have carried out combined exercises such as WAKRI or multinational ones like La Pérouse, or the latest PASSEX conducted with the Singaporean Navy, or even both at the same time if we refer to the ARC21 exercise. In between these exercises, we have transited through theaters of operation in particular when we were cruising… while training our future naval officers”, he added.
WAKRI is a large-scale joint exercise organized by the French forces stationed in Djibouti that took place from March 10-12, while La Pérouse is an exercise held from April 5-7 in the Bay of Bengal involving the task group and ships from Australia, India, Japan and the United States. The PASSEX with the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) was conducted on May 27th with the RSN frigate RSS Steadfast (70). FS Tonnerre subsequently made a port call to Singapore from May 28-30, while FS Surcouf made a port call to Langkawi island in Malaysia and conducted an exercise with the Royal Malaysian Navy corvette KD Lekir (FSG26) on June 1.
Tranchant also stated that the main operational challenge for the task group was the sustained pace of the operations.
“As we need to deploy ourselves continuously while maintaining control of the airspace and maritime environment around the Task Group,” the key to successfully meeting that challenge, said Tranchant, has been the right use of the task group’s airborne capabilities in particular and the sharing of tactical intelligence with partners.
The task group was replenished at sea four times by American, Japanese and Australian replenishment ships throughout its deployment in Asia-Pacific area, especially with the United States Task Force 73 support and their French and Japanese liaison officers in Singapore.
Rey stated that he expects exercises like ARC 2021 to be carried out in the future, though it was too early to state what these exercises would be.
“They could be relative to amphibious operations like ARC21 or to any other domains but at the moment it is too soon to detail it precisely,” he said. However, he noted that no individual nation today is able to efficiently face the strategic challenges of the Indo-Pacific area.
“Cooperation between partners is mandatory and such exercises are essential to enhance this cooperation at every levels,” said.