Defence will likely continue as the cornerstone of the India-France Strategic Partnership, which has been further cemented through the recent meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and French President Emmanuel Macron
|The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army|
The recent visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to France, as part of his three-nation European tour, and meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron on May 6, 2022, has given a boost to India-France bilateral relations. In the one-to-one delegation level talks, the two leaders discussed at length, bilateral as well as global issues and agreed on an ambitious agenda for the next phase of the India-France Strategic Partnership. This included the entire range of bilateral issues, including cooperation in defence, space, blue-economy and civil nuclear.
Highlights of the meeting including the joint statement issued thereafter are as under:
India and France had signed an Inter-governmental Agreement (IGA) at New Delhi for the purchase of 36 Rafale fighter aircraft (30 fighter aircraft and 6 trainers) by India in flyaway condition on September 23, 2016. The Rafale fighters are the pride of the Indian Air Forces (IAF) given their capabilities of carrying out a variety of missions including ground and sea attacks, air defence and air superiority, reconnaissance, and nuclear strike deterrence.
France and India to set up bilateral strategic dialogue on space issues; upgrade bilateral cyber dialogue, cyber-security and digital technology, and; counter-terrorism cooperation
The Rafale deal may be considered a historic step in Indo-French defence relations, if not the most historic step considering that six Scorpene submarine have also been built in India with French transfer of technology assistance. By February 2022, the IAF had reportedly received 35 out of the 36 Rafale fighters under the deal.
The Scorpene-class submarines are one of the most advanced conventional submarines in the world, equipped with superior stealth features like low radiated noise levels, advanced acoustic silencing techniques, and the ability to attack with precision-guided weapons on board. Under the ‘P-75 Scorpene Project, the state-owned Mazagon Dockyard Limited (MDL) has built six Scorpene submarines by the Transfer of Technology (ToT) from France under the ‘Make in India’ initiative’, under a contract signed with France’s DCNS (Naval Group) in October 2006.
The first Scorpene submarine, INS ‘Kalvari’ was commissioned in the Indian Navy during December 2017, the second, INS ‘Khanderi’, commissioned in September 2019, the third, INS ‘Karanj’ commissioned in March 2021 and the fourth, INS ‘Vela’ was commissioned in November 2021. The fifth Scorpene submarine ‘Vagir; is under the Sea trials phase, whilst the sixth and last Submarine will also undergo Sea trials after launching.
The Indo-French Strategic Cooperation will continue to expand given the changing dynamics of the geostrategic environment
The Indian Military has been holding joint exercises with the French Military. In recent years, the IAF participated in the bilateral Indo-French Exercise ‘Garuda’ in July 2019. The Indian Army participated in the joint military Exercise ‘Shakti’ during November 2021 in France. The Indian Navy participated in the 20th edition of the Indo-French bilateral naval exercise ‘Varuna-2022’ during April 2022. India and France have been holding a ministerial level defence dialogue since 2018, which is held annually.
The Indo-French Strategic Cooperation will continue to expand given the changing dynamics of the geostrategic environment in backdrop of the Ukraine conflict, which the US is bent upon prolonging in order to retain its global domination. However, defence will likely continue as the cornerstone of the India-France Strategic Partnership, which has been further cemented through the recent meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and French President Emmanuel Macron.
In the above context, it would be prudent for India to upgrade the ministerial level India-France defence dialogue to a 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue (meeting of foreign and defence ministers), on lines of the 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue India already has with Australia, Japan, Russia and the US.
It would be prudent for India to upgrade the ministerial level India-France defence dialogue to a 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue (meeting of foreign and defence ministers)
At the same time, expanding India-France Strategic Partnership should not cause us to openly discuss glitches in the partnership. For example, the French DCNS (Naval Group) which helped MDL in production of six Scorpene-class submarines under a deal signed in October 2006, has now pulled out from the proposal to manufacture six diesel-electric submarines with air-independent propulsion in Project-751 (P-751) under the Strategic Partnership (SP) model, with the Request for Proposal (RFP) issued by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in July 2021 and the initial estimated cost being 43,000 crore. The French DCNS (Naval Group) joining up with either MDL or Larsen and Tubro (L&T) or both would be good for furthering India-France Strategic Partnership.
The second issue is about offsets in the 59,000 crore Rafale deal – which was an IGA deal, not private between Indian and French/EU firms. A report by the Comptroller and Auditor General in the Parliament had brought out thatRafale maker Dassault Aviation and weapons-supplier MBDA did not confirm transfer of technology (ToT) to the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), which was part of the offset contract. The French government and the EU need to address this.