Our Defence Ties Have Never Been Stronger, Says French Ambassador To India Alexandre Ziegler
BW Businessworld chats with French ambassador to India Alexandre Ziegler on the growing ambit of the defence partnership between the two countries
In 2016 India inked an agreement with France to acquire 36 Rafale multi-role combat aircraft to boost the depleting squadron strength of the Indian Air Force. A collaboration had already begun by then with the French Naval Group for six Scorpene-class submarines. Manish Kumar Jha of BW Businessworld chats with French ambassador to India Alexandre Ziegler on the growing ambit of the defence partnership between the two countries. Excerpts:
Do you see any substantial change in the business of defence in India since 2014?
Defence ties between India and France are strong and very old, dating back to India’s Independence. More than in any other sector, they must be based on a very solid relationship of trust carand an identical concept of strategic independence.
We have already done a lot together, not only on industrial cooperation, but also on operational aspects. Together with India, we are currently developing a strong operational cooperation in the field of maritime security in the Indian Ocean, which will also uphold our technological and industrial partnerships.
Our partnership is a long-term partnership. When you engage in a programme like the Rafale, for example, you commit to the next fifty years. This is to say how much our defence relationship has always been, is and will be transpartisan. This is what characterised our strategic partnership, since its inception in 1998. The main armament contracts signed in recent years between our two countries (Scorpene in 2005, renovation of Mirage 2000 in 2011 and 2012, Rafale in 2016) have been concluded with different governments both in India and France.
But it is true that our defence ties have never been stronger than today and the State visit of the President of the French Republic to India in March has given it a new impetus. I would especially mention the Indo-French collaboration in the Indian Ocean, around which we are developing a very ambitious partnership of security and defence.
There is also a growing emphasis on Make in India and technology transfer, not just offsets, but through the consolidation of long-term industrial partnerships between our defence companies and their Indian partners.
French shipbuilding conglomerate Naval Group has a partnership as part of a transfer of technology (ToT) arrangement with Mazagon Docks Shipbuilders Limited (MDL) for the $3.75-billion ‘Project 75’ (P-75 l). What is the progress so far?
The P-75 Scorpene programme has given us extensive experience in working with Indian industry to produce modern and high performance submarines. The delivery of the first Scorpene-class submarine, Kalvari to the Indian Navy late in 2017, is greatly illustrative of this exemplary strategic and industrial partnership. The second Scorpene, the Khanderi, is completing its trials at sea and the third was launched early in the year. The programme is proceeding satisfactorily and in total six Scorpenes should equip the Indian Navy by 2022.
We obviously wish to continue and deepen this partnership in the field of submarines. The French group, Naval Group, responded favourably to the request for information on the Project 75 India project issued in mid-2017, proposing a new design, even more efficient than the Scorpene, with the best available technologies and weapons package, perfectly suited to the high ambitions of the Indian Navy.
What comes next in the sphere of Indo- French collaboration?
It is up to India to decide whether or not to pursue its acquisitions, and with which partner. In the field of combat aircraft, Dassault Aviation responded favourably to the Navy’s request for information to supply 57 multi-role fighters onboard with the Rafale M, which equips the French aircraft carrier, Charles de Gaulle. Dassault Aviation is also studying the information request recently issued by the Air Force for 110 multi-role combat aircraft.
France is currently participating in several other major competitions, including missiles (MBDA Mistral missiles for the VSHORADS competition), artillery (Nexter Group’s Trajan system for the TGS competition), or helicopters (responses from Airbus Helicopters to the NUH and NMRH requests), in partnership with the Indian public and private companies.
How could the defence ecosystem in India be made more proactive?
We have a sustained dialogue with the Indian authorities on all matters concerning the development of our cooperation around the defence industries. Sixty years ago, with General de Gaulle, France decided to opt for strategic sovereignty. Over the years it helped establish a strong and autonomous defence industry which must also be maintained by significant investments year after year. India has also made the choice of developing a strong, self-sustaining defence industry.
Is there any update on the Rafale G to G programme?
The signing in September 2016 of the Inter-governmental Agreement on the acquisition of 36 Rafale aircraft by India has been a major breakthrough that paves the way for unprecedented industrial and technological cooperation between our two countries for the next 50 years. We are working to implement it as soon as possible, to the satisfaction of both parties. Contractually, the first Rafale will be delivered to India in September 2019. The state-to-state framework of this contract guarantees India the full involvement of France in its implementation, in the level of performance expected by the Indian Air Force and in keeping with the delivery schedule.