India-France defence ties take a bigger leap

France raises issue of journalist on notice, MEA says “compliance with rules” is key

January 26, 2024 10:37 pm | Updated January 30, 2024 05:13 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with the French President Emmanual Macron during the 75th Republic Day celebrations, in New Delhi on January 26, 2024.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with the French President Emmanual Macron during the 75th Republic Day celebrations, in New Delhi on January 26, 2024. | Photo Credit: ANI

India and France have announced a “defence industrial roadmap” for cooperation on defence production, for future collaboration on “co-design and co-development” of military hardware, as well as key agreements on space cooperation, officials said. The roadmap was part of a number of agreements between the two countries that were sealed during talks between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and French President Emmanuel Macron in Jaipur on January 25, that will also bring some parity with the India-U.S. defence production plan finalised last year.  

However, differences over some of the language on the roadmap held up a “joint statement” between them for several hours on January 26 before it was released.Mr. Macron was in Delhi as part of a short 30-hour visit to India, and was accompanied by a delegation of 40 officials, including his new Minister for Foreign Affairs Stéphane Séjourné, and Ministers of Defence and Culture. 

The two sides also signed a new agreement for a defence-space partnership that will see them collaborate on “space situational awareness”, and an MoU on coordinating on satellite launches, along with other agreements on partnerships in energy, digital health, agriculture, and education.

Airbus-TATA chopper deal

While the two countries did not announce any progress on negotiations for the big-ticket government-to-government deals on fighter-jets, engines and submarine that were announced during Mr. Modi’s visit to Paris last July, officials said that at least one joint venture for the local manufacture of civilian helicopters was agreed between Airbus and TATA during the visit. Two mega multi-billion dollar defence deals in the pipeline between the two countries — the 26 Rafale-M fighter jets for the Indian Navy’s aircraft carriers, and three additional Scorpene-class conventional submarines — are currently in the cost negotiation phase, sources said. As reported by The Hindu earlier, the deals could be ready for conclusion by year-end.

“The focus and priority of the [industrial defence] roadmap is to actually identify opportunities for partnership in the defence industrial sector that prioritises co-designing, co-development, co-production and also build the defence supply chains between the two countries so that they can fulfil the defence needs of not only India and France but also be a useful contributor in the security partnership with other countries who might be need similar products,” said Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra. Giving details of the roadmap, he identified domains of collaboration ranging from aircraft to land and maritime warfare, especially underwater domain awareness, to space, robotic technology, cyber-defence, and artificial intelligence-led vehicles.

Press visa restrictions

Mr. Kwatra added that the French government had also raised the issue of a French journalist who could be deported after she was handed a notice by the government, but insisted that this was a matter of “compliance of the rules”. On Friday, at least 30 foreign correspondents based in India issued a letter of protest over the case, saying that they were all “grappling with increased visa restrictions in recent years”, and appealing to the government to help “facilitate the vital work of a free press in line with India’s democratic traditions”. 

The two sides did not report any breakthrough on the civil nuclear cooperation agreement to build reactors at Jaitapur that was first signed in 2009, and saw a techno-commercial offer made by French company EDF in 2020. When asked by The Hindu about the reasons for the delay, Mr. Kwatra said that “technical and engineering elements”, putting a financing mechanism into place, and ensuring localisation of supplies were still being discussed between EDF and the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL). 

Strategic partnership

The defence industrial roadmap with France that “prioritises co-designing, co-development, co-production” mirrors India’s joint efforts with the U.S. for co-design and co-development of military systems. However, with France, the depth of the strategic partnership is reflected in the co-design efforts and France’s willingness to transfer jet engine technology that only a handful of countries possess. 

India-France ties are believed to have been strengthened by Mr. Macron’s acceptance of Mr. Modi’s Republic Day invitation, made only about a month in advance after U.S. President Joe Biden expressed his inability to come to India for Republic Day and the Quad Summit. This was Mr. Macron’s third visit to India, the seventh time he has met Mr. Modi since January 2023, and the sixth time a French President has been invited to Republic Day, the maximum number for any country.

“[The meetings are] a clear reflection of the importance attached by both the leaders to this partnership, as also the intensity of high-level supervision and direction to the relationship,” Mr. Kwatra added.

In honour of the visitor, the heart of the national capital was decorated with hundreds of life-size posters showing Mr. Modi and Mr. Macron posing together.

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