Paris: In less than two days, the official visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to France on 13-14 July, New Delhi and Paris have drawn up an ambitious roadmap for the next quarter century of India-France strategic partnership that should define their role in the Indo-Pacific and set new benchmarks through a collaborative approach in defence and space sectors among several other takeaways.
A longish joint statement on the outcomes entitled, ‘Horizon 2047: 25th Anniversary of the India-France Strategic Partnership, Towards A Century of India-France Relations,’ aptly lays out the road ahead. There were breakthrough announcements in defence, space and science and technology besides reiterating the basic approach that India and France adopted in encouraging multilateralism.
“India and France are long-standing strategic partners in the Indo-Pacific. Since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries in 1947 and the upgrading of the partnership to the strategic level in 1998, our two countries have consistently acted together, building on a high level of mutual trust, shared commitment to the principles enshrined in the United Nations Charter and common values rooted in international law,” the joint statement states in its opening paragraph.
As PM Modi sat down for dinner with President Macron around 9 pm Paris Time on Friday, there would certainly have been satisfied faces on both sides in the conclusion of truly pathbreaking outcomes. On top of the list should be the announcement that Safran Military Engines and the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) will jointly develop a military jet engine in India for the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) is genuinely significant.
That India will jointly own the IP for a military jet engine which neither the Russians nor the Americans have given all these years (GE 414 is ToT only for manufacturing, remember), will be a game changer. While this may take up to 10 years and billions of dollars in research and development, once achieved, India will become one of the few countries to possess the expertise.
Safran will also co-develop with HAL an engine for the IMRH. The statement confirmed it. “In the future, India and France will extend their ground-breaking defence cooperation in advanced aeronautical technologies by supporting the joint development of a combat aircraft engine. They also support industrial cooperation for motorisation of heavy-lift helicopters under the Indian Multi-Role Helicopter (IMRH) programme with Safran Helicopter Engine, France. To enable progress on the IMRH programme, a Shareholders’ Agreement between Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), India and Safran Helicopter Engine, France, has been concluded for engine development. These ventures are in line with the spirit of trust that prevails between India and France in the sharing and joint development of critical components and technology building blocks, based on the successful Indo-French experience in technology transfer.”
It must also be noted that the statement explicitly stated: “In view of the uptick in defence industrial collaborations between the two countries, India is setting up a Technical Office of the DRDO at its Embassy in Paris.”
A major absence in the outcome document was the highly anticipated decision to acquire 26 Rafale Marine aircraft for INS Vikrant. There was no mention of the Indian government’s intent to procure the naval version of Rafale fighter jets, although the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) had cleared the Indian Navy’s proposal on the day the Prime Minister landed in Paris. Perhaps both governments realised they needed to have a detailed discussion on the matter and therefore did not rush into announcing the intent. It is interesting to note that a couple of hours after the outcome documents were made public by both governments, Dassault Aviation, manufacturers of the Rafales, put out a cryptic statement announcing a win in the Indian Navy competition. The note said: “The Indian Government announced the selection of the Navy Rafale to equip the Indian Navy with a latest-generation fighter.
“Following an international competition launched by the Indian authorities, this decision comes after a successful trial campaign held in India, during which the Navy Rafale demonstrated that it fully met the Indian Navy’s operational requirements and was perfectly suited to the specificities of its aircraft carrier.”
The timing of the note is interesting. Dassault Aviation waited to see if the official statements refer to the Navy contract. On noticing the absence, Dassault put out the above-mentioned statement referring to the decision of the DAC.
There is no doubt that the acquisition of Rafale Ms will eventually happen but after the fine print is hammered out between the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and Dassault Aviation. Clearly, the government wanted to avoid giving any ammunition to critics who would try to pick holes in the preliminary announcement itself.
Finally, on the defence front, the outcome document refers to the intent to carry forward the cooperation between France and India on jointly manufacturing submarines for the Indian navy. “India and France are ready to explore more ambitious projects to develop the Indian submarine fleet and its performance,” the statement simply said without going into details.
It has been interpreted as India’s decision to order three more follow-on Scorpene class submarines to be jointly built by Mazagaon Docks and the Naval Group. Six subs were ordered in the first decade of this century (the last one is yet to be commissioned). Again, the details that will be worked out in the coming months are the expectation of the Indian Navy and the Naval Group.
Overall, in the defence sector, India and France are building on years of trusted relationship by going where other nations have hesitated to tread.
Nitin A Gokhale