France is ready to answer any additional needs or requests that could be made by India for additional Rafale fighter jets , including for its indigenous aircraft carrier, French Minister for armed forces Florence Parly said on Friday. On the Indo-Pacific, she observed that they wanted to preserve it as an open and inclusive area and free from any “coercion” and based on compliance with international law and multilateralism.
“We know that aircraft carrier will soon be delivered and aircraft are needed. So we are open and ready to provide any other Rafale if this is India’s decision,” Ms. Parly stated at the Ananta Aspen Centre on the possibility of purchase of more Rafales by India .
Her comments come as indigenous aircraft carrier Vikrant , which is undergoing sea trials, is set to be commissioned next year and in the backdrop of the Navy’s tender to procure carrier based fighter jets.
Ms. Parly is in Delhi for the third bilateral defence dialogue with Defence Minister Rajnath Singh. A wide range of bilateral, regional, defence and defence industrial cooperation issues were discussed in the annual meeting and the Ministers reviewed the existing military-to-military cooperation, which has increased in spite of pandemic challenges, a Defence Ministry statement said after the talks. “Defence industrial cooperation was discussed with focus on future collaborations and co-production between the two countries,” it added.
The two Ministers expressed commitment to working together to “enhance cooperation in bilateral, regional and multilateral forums,” the statement noted.
Ms. Parly also met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval.
This is the first interaction between the two Defence Ministers since Australia, U.K and U.S. announced the AUKUS tripartite arrangement.
She said: “Indo-Pacific is a very wide area and the political focus is more on the eastern part of this large area due to the tensions in relations with China. But Indo-Pacific is also made of the Indian Ocean. And there is no doubt that India is the centre of this area. France is an Indo-Pacific nation…”
She noted, “There are also many tensions in the Indian Ocean especially in the eastern part of Africa. It is our joint responsibility that we can contribute to ease up the tensions.”
She pointed out that China was a partner to fight climate change and also in trade and commerce. “We see that China is getting more and more aggressive in the region, and it is even more specific when it comes to the China Sea. France and India share the same views on something which is key, on the international maritime law.”
Access to global commons
Ms. Parly also laid emphasis on preserving access to global commons such as cyber, space, maritime and air domains. “We can see that these are areas of strategic competition and we must ensure that they do not become the new far west.”
France is set to take over the Presidency of the European Union (EU) Council in January 2022.
Ms. Parly said they have great ambition for the EU, including in the field of defence. They planned to adopt a “Strategic Compass”, the first defence ‘White Paper’ of the EU. “The Indo-Pacific region will also be on our agenda.”
The contract for 36 Rafale fighter jets for the Indian Air Force (IAF) is on schedule and on the verge of being completed. Ms. Parly was earlier in India in September 2020 for the induction ceremony of the first five Rafales into the IAF. “Since then, a total of 33 Rafale jets have been delivered to India, all perfectly on schedule despite the disruptions of the pandemic,” a French Embassy statement said.
The Minister reiterated France’s commitment to strengthening India’s defence industrial base and its willingness to offer the best of its technology with a high “Make In India” component, a French official said.
The Navy had floated a tender for 57 twin-engine carrier-based jets, the responses for which are being evaluated. Boeing F-18 Super Hornet and Dassault’S Rafale are competing in this. However, the Navy is expected to reduce the number to 24, given a new indigenous Twin Engine Deck Based Fighter programme taken up by the Defence Research and Development Organisation.
On the major global challenges, Ms. Parly listed terrorism and respect of international maritime law in addition to preserving access to global commons. Both France and India were struck by terror attacks and this fight was not over and would continue for many years to come and the threat of attacks on the two nations had not disappeared.
“I am thinking in particular of the situation in Afghanistan, which is a matter of concern for both France and India. Moreover, this threat needs to be addressed in a comprehensive manner, from the Levant to Africa,” she concluded.