Indo-French relationship is on high trajectory. The recent visit of French President and planned cooperation in myriad areas including defence will revitalise the synergy between two nations.

The recent visit of French President to India witnessed cooperation in myriad areas,  from maritime cooperation, counter terrorism, and to the building of the solar alliance, highlight the emerging globalization between the two countries. In defence domain, India and France is strengthening their ties based on four main pillars of cooperation - High-level visits between representatives of each country, Joint training and exercises, Research and development programs and Arms procurement by India. Both the sides have signed various joint statements and the defence related agreement includes:-

  • Joint Strategic on India-France Cooperation in the Indian Ocean Region.
  • Agreement between the Government of the Republic of India and the Government of the Republic of France for the provision of reciprocal logistics support between their Armed Forces.
  • Both sides affirmed their intention to enhance the level of joint military exercises and maintain the operational quality-level of these exercises in the future.
  • Expand and deepen the ongoing defence manufacturing partnerships by welcoming various joint ventures between Indian and French companies and reaffirmed their commitment to facilitate the establishment of new ones.
  • The leaders noted ongoing discussions between DRDO and SAFRAN on combat aircraft engine and encouraged necessary measures and forward looking approaches to facilitate early conclusion.
  • They also called upon all countries to work towards rooting out terrorist safe havens.

Indian Defence Imports

India imports majorly from Russia, Israel, USA and France.  Russia has always been the top supplier, taking a big portion of imports to India. However, in the recent past the trend is little out-of-way as imports from France in the year 2017 has quadrupled from $133 million to $ 446 million (As per SIPRI date). The US and France are the only two countries which has seen import escalation from 2016 to 2017. Whereas, Russia is still the biggest exporter to India.

Recent deals

The delivery of 36 Rafael ordered in 2016 is on schedule and France is pitching for additional 36 such aircrafts proposal to the Indian Air Force, with a very significant share of 'Make in India'. France is also been trying to close out a deal to co-develop and improve India's indigenous jet fighter engine, the Kaveri, a project where the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) was ineffective and delays lead to a fresh order of F404 engines from GE, US. French Safran is offering its M88 turbofan engine that also powers the Rafale fighter, which is on order for India.

Dassault Aviation and its Tier-1 Vendors such as Safran and Thales motivates the French SMEs to set up manufacturing JV with Indian companies, to help them join the global supply chain, The initiative would help bolster the industrial ecosystem in India, that benefit both French and Indian partners. Additionally, a joint venture Dassault Reliance Aerospace manufacturing facility opens up in Nagpur, India.

Offerings in Pipeline

  • France has offered more submarines under Navy's submarine project. In 2005, Thales group -DCNS have signed a deal with India's Mazagon Dock Limited (MDL), named as 'Project 75' to assemble six submarines as per a technology transfer agreement. Reportedly, the first submarine has already commissioned. The first four submarines will be conventional, while the last two are to be equipped with the Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) system. A second Scorpene submarine, INS Khanderi, is also undergoing trials and is likely to be inducted shortly.
  • In Very Short Range Air Defence System (VSHORADS) deal, worth about $5.8 billion the French Mistral system built by MBDA is in race against the Swedish RBS 70NG built by Saab and Russia's Igla-S. Technically, a final selection should be out in near future.
  • The Army, $2 billion quest for 1500 towed artillery guns is currently in field trials stage. Nexter TRAJAN 155mm/52 cal artillery gun system developed in collaboration with India's L&T, is in race with offering from Israel's Elbit in partnership with India's Kalyani Group.
  • French's Thales has offered its recently developed lightweight, compact active array radar for equipping the India's HAL Tejas Light Combat Aircraft. The radar has successfully completed an initial flight test campaign designed to measure its performance level.
  • French made Mistral air to air missile (ATAM) has been offered to armed helicopter Rudra. Additionally, the missiles would also be used to equip India's Advance Light Helicopter and Light Combat Helicopter fleet for which live firing trials was scheduled.
  • Thales in cooperation with Indian manufacturer is ready to produce Spy “Ranger” UAV, similar to those possessed by the French Army. Thales is said to be in talks with an Indian entity as industrial partner for local requirement of approx 200 different variants of mini UAV systems.
  • France defence major Naval Group with its Indian Partner Reliance Defence is bidding for Navy's requirement for six High Speed Landing Craft (HSLC). The HSLC will have strong bulletproof and armour plating with machine guns on both sides, providing protection to the personnel it is transporting. They will also have cameras for all-round viewing.
  • French company Dassault is offered its Rafale-M fighter for Indian Navy's requirement of 57 Multi-Role Carrier Borne Fighters (MRCBF).
  • India intends to buy 30 retired Jaguar Strike Fighter Jets from the French Air Force reserve. The Indian Air Force plans to use the 30 Jaguar Jets for spares to maintain its current Jaguar fleet. The IAF has undertaken a task of upgrading its current fleet of Jaguar Strike Jets to 'DARIN III' standard. The program involves upgrading the jets with modern avionics, AESA Radar, Digital Cockpit.
  • India is eyeing to procure 14 number 'EC 725 Super Cougar' chopper for the Indian Coast Guard, worth around Rs 2,000 crore ($300 million, which included a Rs 600 crore offset package). However, the fate of the project is in peril due 'validity of commercial bids' issue which got expired ten times earlier.

Joint Venture

  • A joint venture between Safran Helicopter Engines and HAL, named as Helicopter Engines MRO Pvt Ltd (HE-MRO), will be operational soon. It will provide maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) services for Safran TM333 2B2 and HAL Shakti engines installed on HAL-built helicopters operated by India's armed forces. HAL and Safran had projected an initial investment of Rs 50 crores to get the facility operational.
  • Reliance Defence has teamed up with French defence major Naval Group, to bid for Navy's requirement for six High Speed Landing Craft (HSLC).
  • India's Larsen & Toubro (L&T) to form a joint venture with French company MBDA to set-up its aerospace and defence facility at an investment of around Rs.500 crore. The facility will work on developing missile system, supply anti-tank guided missiles for coastal batteries and high-speed target drones.
  • To fulfill the offset obligation for Rafael fighter jets, Indian manufacturer Reliance Defence along with French aircraft manufacturer Dassault Aviation has laid a foundation stone for its new facility in India. The aerospace park will manufacture aircraft components for the Indian and global market.
  • Mahindra Aerostructures, announced a partnership with French firm Segnere SAS to collaborate on airframe manufacturing.

Though, France has made a significant step in signing several transfers of technology deals with India, but it needs to deepen these ties by engaging in more joint productions in future. The Indo-French strategic dialogue is no more limited to defence, rather, many French SMEs are collaborating with Indian SMEs to manufacture parts for Aircraft under 36 Rafael deal. On one side it will help to fulfill the offset obligation, on the other it will be a big fillip to the defence industry in India that will revitalise the synergy between the two nations.

Article published in Magazine issue “Mar-Apr 2018 “

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