New Delhi: With Prime Minister Narendra Modi asserting that defence ties are the basic pillar of India’s bilateral relationship with France, the two countries agreed on the construction of three additional submarines and the co-development of fighter jet engines. However, both sides remained silent on the sale of additional 26 Rafale-M fighter jet planes.
On the second and last day of his visit, Modi witnessed the parade to mark Bastille Day as the guest of honour. A 241-member tri-service Indian armed forces contingent marched down the Champs-Elysées, while Indian Air Force’s Rafale jets took the sky in the flypast. Modi is the second prime minister to be the guest of honour at France’s Bastille Day parade.
Ahead of the official delegation-level talks, the two leaders made press statements on the agenda of their discussions. Later, French President Emmanuel Macron hosted his Indian guest for an official banquet at the Louvre and jointly chaired a meeting with CEOs of both nations.
The Indian PM said that defence ties have always “been a basic pillar of bilateral relations” between the two countries. “This is a symbol of mutual trust between the two countries,” he said.
A day earlier, the Indian government’s Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) had given initial approval to purchase additional 26 Rafale fighter planes for the Navy and three Scorpene-class submarines. The cost of the Rafale fighter jets alone was expected to be around $5 to $6 billion.
However, the bilateral roadmap ‘Horizon 2047’ for ties for the next 25 years, or the separate joint communique, had no mention of the additional Rafale jets. The foreign secretary Vinay Kwatra also did not make a direct reply to a media question about the absence of the proposed sale that was approved by DAC in the diplomatic documents. The two leaders, however, welcomed the “timely delivery” of the 36 Rafale jets whose agreement had been signed in 2015.
While none of the diplomatic documents or public statements on Friday mentioned a deal for the additional Rafale jets, the French firm Dassault Aviation issued a press release several hours later on Friday that 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,” said Dassault Aviation. There has been no further clarification from either the French or Indian governments on whether this deal has progressed.
The roadmap also welcomed the MoU between Mazagon Dockyard Limited and Naval Group for . India has already constructed six Scorpene submarines earlier. As per reports, the cost of this project was estimated to be around $4.5 billion.
Surprisingly, the line about “the construction of three additional submarines under the P75 programme” was removed from the roadmap much later after the release, quietly.
“India and France are ready to explore more ambitious projects to develop the Indian submarine fleet and its performance,” added the press release.
Further, the ‘Horizon 2047’ document noted that defence cooperation will be extended to the joint development of a combat aircraft engine, with a roadmap to be prepared before the end of 2023.
It also announced that Hindustan Aeronautics Limited and France’s Safran Helicopter Engine have concluded a shareholder’s agreement for engine development as part of cooperation for the motorisation of heavy-lift helicopters under the Indian Multi-Role Helicopter [IMRH] programme.
Safran will also finalise a roadmap with DRDO before the end of 2023 for defence cooperation in the joint development of a combat aircraft engine.
The other notable defence deals were for the transfer of technology of forging and casting for the Shakti engine and MoU for collaboration of surface ships.
With the two countries also working on a roadmap for defence industrial cooperation and to service the other deals, DRDO will set up a Technical office at the Indian embassy in Paris.
“Be it submarines or naval ships, we want work together to meet the needs of not only our own, but also of third friendly countries,” the Indian leader said.
India has become the top buyer of French weaponry in the last five years, as per a think-tank report that tracks global trends in international arms transfer. For India, France is the second-highest supplier of weapons after Russia, New Delhi’s traditional source for defence equipment.
Raising the issue of terrorism, the Indian PM said that India and France have always been on the same page. “We believe that concerted action is needed to end cross-border terrorism. Both countries have agreed to increase cooperation in this direction,” he said.
The Indian leader also said that talks are going on with France to discuss cooperation on small and modular nuclear reactors.
In his press statement, the French President referred to the Ukraine war but did not mention the differences in position with India – rather that they share the same aims to bring peace and financial security.
“I think we share a common concern about the risk of fragmentation of the international community, particularly in the context of the war led by Russia in Ukraine. We have the same objective of seeking lasting peace and responding to the effects of this war of aggression on the most vulnerable countries, particularly in terms of food security and financing capacity,” said.
Modi observed that countries of the Global South have been particularly impacted negatively by the COVID-19 pandemic and the Ukraine war.
“It’s a topic of concern It is necessary for all countries to make united efforts to solve these problems. We believe that all disputes should be resolved through dialogue and diplomacy. India stands ready to contribute to the restoration of lasting peace,” the prime minister said.
Later, foreign secretary Kwatra said when Ukraine was discussed between the two leaders, “I would say that there was a clear understanding and appreciation of each other’s position on the conflict”.
The bilateral roadmap gave details of how the cooperation would be in operational terms, countering online radicalisation and combating the financing of terrorism, particularly through the No Money for Terror (NMFT) initiative and the Christchurch Call to Action to Eliminate Terrorist and Violent Extremism Content Online.
India’s National Security Guard (NSG) of India and the Groupe d’intervention de la Gendarmerie nationale (GIGN) of France signed a Letter of Intent on behalf of India and France for cooperation in the field of Counterterrorism. “An important area of cooperation on internal security is the effective use of technology by internal security agencies of both countries”.
The Indian PM also announced the launch of India’s Unified Payment Interface in France and the opening of a new Indian consulate in the French city of Marseille. A separate joint commitment to eliminate single-use plastic pollution was also released. Among the outcomes was also an understanding between Indian oil and Total to establish a long-term LNG sale and purchase agreement.
The French President said that the two countries were moving ahead on the basis of “historic trust”. “Together, we can find solutions for global crises,” he said.
He also said that the French government was aiming to “establish a favourable visa policy” for Indian students pursuing higher education in France. “By 2030, we aim to send 30,000 French students to India,” he added.
The Indian PM also said that a roadmap was being drawn up to strengthen ties over 25 years.
“We are celebrating the 25th anniversary of our Strategic Partnership. On the strong foundation of the last 25 years, we are preparing a roadmap for the coming 25 years. We are setting bold and ambitious goals for this,” he stated.
Agreeing with his guest about both countries being “natural partners”, Macron asserted that they held similar views on strategic interests. “Together we defend the same vision of the Indo-Pacific, a space that must remain open and free from any form of hegemony, the same one that I had spoken about in the spring of 2018, during the State visit to India.”
A separate bilateral roadmap on Indo-Pacific was released which announced that two sides were working on finalising the India-France Indo-Pacific Triangular Development Cooperation Fund.
It also said that they will increase naval visits and also develop cooperation including in the French overseas territories of La Reunion, New Caledonia and French Polynesia “and in coordination with other countries in the region and beyond”.
On a question of whether China came up during talks, Kwatra demurred, but noted that “it is very natural when the two leaders meet to speak about their challenges”.
President Macron has tried to articulate that Europe should have a different approach to ties with China compared to the United States. But his remarks, especially on Taiwan, after a trip to Beijing led to dismay in Washington.
Incidentally, while Modi was meeting with Macron, Indian external affairs minister S. Jaishankar was talking with China’s top diplomat Wang Yi in Jakarta, which was part of their regular interactions at multilateral summits despite the ongoing border tensions.
Note: This article was originally published at 11:12 pm on July 14, 2023 and republished at 8:50 am on July 15, 2023.