A raft of big-ticket defense deals, including the procurement of 26 Rafale Marine combat jets and three Scorpene-class submarines, are on the cards during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s two-day visit to France beginning Thursday.
A road map for defense-industrial cooperation and joint development of an engine for fighter jets with French aircraft equipment maker Safran are expected to see the light of day during the visit.
Modi will hold talks with President Emmanuel Macron on issues relating to defense and space.
In an interview with French newspaper Les Echos, Modi said, “India-France partnership aims to advance a free, open, inclusive, secure and stable Indo-Pacific region, working together and with others in the region who share our vision.”
Addressing the media before the visit, Indian foreign secretary Vinay Kwatra spoke about the growing defense ties between both the countries in the context of joint exercises and collaboration in logistics and maritime security in the Indian Ocean and the Indo-Pacific.
Kwatra said talks between Modi and Macron would include a range of topics from co-production and co-development of military hardware that would aim to further India’s self-reliance goals.
Indian defense minister Rajnath Singh was on Thursday expected to clear the deals that would be announced during the visit.
Cooperation in nuclear technology, counter-terrorism, cybersecurity, space and climate change were also expected to figure in conversations between Modi and Macron.
“India seeks to foster long-term strategic cooperation in defense technology. There’s potential for France, particularly through engine manufacturer Safran, to contribute to the Defence Research and Development Organization’s (DRDO) fighter program,” a senior official from the ministry of defense told Press Insider on condition of anonymity.
India’s aviation engine development and manufacturing has long faced challenges, causing Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) delays in producing fighter aircraft. This collaboration could present a global comeback opportunity for HAL, the official suggested.
“With only 30 active squadrons out of the necessary 42, the Indian Air Force’s production pace can’t keep up with requirements. Public sector aerospace and defense company, HAL, currently produces LCA Mark 1 and Mark 2 of the Tejas variant,” the official said, adding, “the defense ministry is keen to enhance manufacturing capabilities, particularly for Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) engines. HAL needs to streamline production and reduce costs to stay globally competitive and facilitate exports.”
The prospective defense deals may be part of India’s broader strategy to reduce dependency on Russia, considering that 36% of its defense imports came from France in 2020.
Commenting on the need to diversify defense imports while also developing indigenous manufacturing capabilities, Major Gen. (retd) Shashikant Pitre told Press Insider: “The time has come for India to reduce its reliance on Russia after the latter’s growing proximity with China. For modernization of the forces, India needs to tap as many resources as possible before it becomes self-sufficient.
If the deal goes through, this will be India’s second-largest fighter jet acquisition from French aerospace firm Dassault Aviation in recent times. In 2016, India signed a deal with France to procure 36 Rafale jets for the Indian Air Force.
French Ambassador Emmanuel Lenain had said before Modi’s visit that France is keen on providing India with the best technology to modernize its armed forces.
“More than procuring defense equipment, India needs to develop its own capabilities to co-develop and co-produce defense equipment,” Pitre said.
The Economic Times reported that India has already constructed six Scorpene submarines at Mazgaon and Dock and is considering buying three Scorpene class submarines from the Naval Group in France, which are urgently required to replace the aging fleet of Russian-origin submarines that are on the verge of retirement.
Modi is the guest of honor at this year’s Bastille Day Parade on Friday. A 269-member tri-services contingent is expected to participate in the parade, with three Indian Rafale fighter jets also joining the flypast, along with French jets.
Modi will later attend a grand state banquet at the iconic Louvre Museum and a private dinner hosted by Macron at his residence.
On his way back from France, the prime minister will stop over at Abu Dhabi, where he is expected to meet United Arab Emirates President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Both leaders are expected to discuss cooperation in fintech, energy, defense and food security, Kwatra said.