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India, France Discuss Key Defence Deals; Technical Groups To Meet In Early-2023

Fourth Annual Defence Dialogue held in New Delhi between Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and his French counterpart Sebastien Lecornu

Photo Credit : Ministry of Defence, India

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Defence Minister Rajnath Singh welcoming French Minister for the Armed Forces Sebastien Lecornu for the Fourth India-France Annual Defence Dialogue in New Delhi

Technical groups from India and France will meet in early 2023 to take forward key proposals for Defence industrial and technological partnerships in line with India’s ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat’ policy. 

This was among the decisions at the Fourth India-France Annual Defence Dialogue held in New Delhi on November 28. It was co-chaired by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and the visiting French Minister of the Armed Forces Sebastien Lecornu. 

While the statement released by India’s Ministry of Defence was silent on specifics, it was clear that Defence Industrial cooperation and convergence in the Indo-Pacific were high on the agenda of the Dialogue, with India hailing France as one its “most trusted strategic partners”. 

“During the dialogue, one of the key areas of discussion was defence industrial cooperation with a focus on ‘Make in India’. Future collaborations and potential co-production opportunities were discussed. The Ministers agreed that the technical groups from both the countries should meet early next year and take the key cooperation issues forward,” the Ministry of Defence stated. 

Several big ticket Defence deals are on the table. At the Third edition of the India-France Annual Defence Dialogue held in December 2021, partnership on the development of a jet engine was broached. 

“A big French company will manufacture an engine in India, thus far not made in the country, in collaboration with an Indian firm,” Defence Minister Rajnath Singh had said last year, a day after the Dialogue with his French counterpart. 

The French jet engine maker Safran is in contention along with General Electric of the US and Rolls Royce of the UK to co-develop with an Indian consortium a 110 kN engine to power AMCA, India’s futuristic Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft. 

While there’s no statement from either side, there’s been a buzz in strategic circles on the possibility of cooperation in building nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs) for the Indian Navy. The French Naval group has developed the Barracuda class of SSNs to replace the Rubis class submarines. The lead boat of the Barracuda class, FS Suffren, entered operational service in the French Navy in June 2022. Chatter in strategic circles suggests that the Barracuda is a subject of interest. 

Buoyed with the contract for 36 Rafale fighters to the Indian Air Force in 2016, France’s Dassault is also a key contender for the upcoming Indian tender for Multi Role Fighter Aircraft (MRFA), as also for an Indian Navy order for 26 deck-borne fighters.

The Scorpene submarine building programme being implemented by Mazagon Dock Limited with transfer of technology from the French Naval Group is nearing completion.  

The two sides discussed building on convergence of interests in the Indo-Pacific. “The Armed Forces Minister’s visit to India reaffirms France’s engagement in the Indo-Pacific and India’s centrality in the French strategy for the region. It comes in a year that has seen an acceleration of the French and Indian armed forces’ endeavours towards even greater interoperability through joint air, navy, and army exercises, such as IMEX 22 (March), Varuna (March-April), and the recently-concluded Garuda (October-November),” a French statement elaborated.

France is the current chair of Indian Ocean Commission (IOC) and Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) and both countries cooperate closely in these fora.  

The French side made repeated references to “convergence of responses to our common challenges in the Indo-Pacific” and the “central role of naval cooperation in the French strategy” for the region.

Lecornu visited India’s first indigenous aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant at Kochi on November 27. He took the opportunity to “highlight the importance of Indo-French naval cooperation for security and stability in the Indo-Pacific,” the French statement read. "France and India are united in their resolve to defend their maritime sovereignty and guarantee freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific region," Lecornu stated during his visit to the carrier.  

Lecornu's visit to INS Vikrant is also not without commercial significance. The French Rafale fighter is in contention for the Indian Navy's multi-billion dollar procurement of 26 deck-borne fighter aircraft which will also be used on INS Vikrant. 

Minister Lecornu also met with External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval. 

The meeting with Jaishankar was meant to discuss “global issues of common concern, including the situation in Europe and in the Indo-Pacific”, and to convey “France’s full support for India’s Presidency of the G20, which is beginning on 1 December”, the French statement elaborated. 

The agenda for the meeting with Doval regional security and the close Indo-French cooperation in combating terrorism.

Minister Lecornu also visit the National War Memorial in New Delhi to pay tribute to India’s soldiers who have laid down their lives in the line of duty.

“France is one of India's most trusted strategic partners and both countries look forward to celebrating 25 years of their strategic partnership in 2023,” the Ministry of Defence added.