India and France on Thursday discussed military contracts and civil nuclear safety during an interaction between External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna and his visiting counterpart, Alain Juppe.

France, which has been awarded a multi-billion contract for setting up nuclear power plants in western India, agreed to step up cooperation between the civil nuclear regulatory boards of the two countries.

Nuclear safety has been high on the Indian agenda after the Fukushima radiation leak and a fire in a French nuclear waste dump. Doubts were also expressed about the reliability of the patented technology France intends to use in setting up the plants.

On the defence side, the two sides discussed the joint development of a short-range missile that will be deployed as a last resort for defending vital installations from air attacks. They also touched on the induction of French technology for the Kaveri engine, which was being indigenously developed but facing several hurdles.

The interaction came at a time when the two armies are engaged in ‘Shakti' exercises — for the first time. The terrestrial war games add to the regularly held joint naval exercises under the ‘Varuna' and ‘Garuda' series by the two air forces.

India and France also welcomed the move to modernise the IAF Mirage 2000 aircraft. The Rs.11,000-crore deal to upgrade was signed recently with Dassault Aviation and Thales.

The IAF has 51 Mirage 2000s in its inventory, procured in the 1980s, and upgrade plans include a multimode doppler radar, modern glass cockpit, fully integrated electronic warfare suite and beyond visual range capabilities.

In addition, the Defence Research Development Organisation (DRDO) is negotiating with French engine manufacturer Snecma to co-develop high-end technology for the Kabini, which forms the core part of Kaveri engine, being developed for the Light Combat Aircraft ‘Tejas'. The negotiation is at an advanced stage and the DRDO hopes to work with the French so that the engine provides required thrust without affecting the size and weight.

Both Ministers noted the ongoing efforts to finalise joint defence research and development both for Kaveri and Short-Range Surface-to-Air Missile (SR-SAM). The DRDO is seeking to co-develop technology in order to cater to the requirement of the armed forces and build upon the experience gained from the Trishul missile developed earlier.

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