‘We are studying India’s plan for buying 110 fighter jets’

Alexandre Ziegler  

France has been one of India’s closest strategic partners, and among the biggest military suppliers to Indian military throughout its modern history. French Ambassador to India Alexandre Ziegler responded to questions from The Hindu against the backdrop of DefExpo 2018 under way in Chennai.

DefExpo 2018’s tagline is ‘India: The Emerging Defence Manufacturing Hub’. How are the French government and companies hoping to be active participants in Indian efforts?

For a long time now, the French industry has been much more than just a supplier of India. Make in India has been a reality for France with regard to armaments since many years. Thus, the Indian missile manufacturer, BDL, has manufactured more than 10,000 anti-tank Milan missiles under licence. Another example is HAL, which has produced and is still producing under licence the light helicopters, Cheetah and Chetak, which are derived from French choppers. And I consider the construction of six Scorpène submarines in India under the P-75 contract to be the most emblematic of the French tradition of Make in India. At DefExpo, I have also noticed the privileged positioning of some of these Indo-French companies.

Historically, France has been known to be a provider of important and sensitive technologies to India, and has always played a key role in supporting India’s strategic ambitions. Has France lost out, or India ignored it, in the new strategic paradigm and in recent years?

You’re quite right to stress this — France is India’s oldest strategic partner and a historic one for defence equipment. Our relations in this matter date back to India’s Independence. Dassault Aviation, for instance, is a historic supplier of the Indian Air Force with the Ouragan — rechristened as Toofani in India. Then came the Mystère IV, the Mirage 2000 in the 1980s, and the latest is the Rafale. This partnership has been constantly strengthening. As for armaments, three major contracts have been signed over the past decade.

The expo comes against the backdrop of the government issuing the RFI for 110 fighter jets, in which the Rafale is going to be a key contender. Will it make better financial and technical sense for India to go in for increasing the present order for Rafale than years of processing a new global tender?

We have taken due note of this RFI and are in the process of analysing it in detail. It is up to the Indian authorities to decide on their acquisition strategy and what is preferable for India. Whatever be their decision, the Indian government knows that France will always be there to meet to its needs.

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