India and France have decided to deepen their Indo-Pacific security, defense, and space ties, with deals ranging from military-industrial cooperation to boost the former’s exports, jointly building a helicopter engine, constructing additional conventional submarines, and joint satellite launches in the foreseeable future.
These agreements were reached during French President Emmanuel Macron’s state visit to India to be the chief guest at the Republic Day parade. He also met one-on-one with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, after which the two sides signed several agreements in strategic sectors.
The main focus of Macron’s visit, coming as it does for the second time in six months after he visited New Delhi for the G20 summit hosted under India’s presidency in September 2023, was to ramp up the gains the two nations have achieved in the last few years in critical sectors.
Macron and Modi recognized the defense and security partnership as the principal pillar of the two nations’ ties and as a source of strengthening their respective country’s sovereignty and strategic autonomy and advancing peace in the Indo-Pacific region.
Indo-Pacific Security Focus To Counter China’s Expansionism
In a joint statement released after their bilateral meetings, the two leaders reiterated their commitment to further deepen the long-standing partnership between the two countries based on their shared vision for the Indo-Pacific region. The leaders emphasized the region’s significance for their respective sovereign and strategic interests.
They also acknowledged “the crucial role of their partnership in the region for advancing a free, open, inclusive, secure, and peaceful Indo-Pacific and beyond,” an euphemism for countering the aggressive, expansionist plans of Communist China.
India and France signed a Comprehensive Roadmap in July 2023 to boost their engagement in the Indo-Pacific region against China, which is a pain for Indo-Pacific nations with its territorial claims. China has inflicted military conflicts not only with India but also with other nations, such as the Philippines, with which it has behaved aggressively in recent times over claims to the Second Thomas Shoal.
India’s ties with France extend from intelligence and information exchange to military exercises and defense equipment purchases across all domains from the seabed to space.
In their latest meeting after the two nations’ Maritime Cooperation Dialogue held in October 2023, Modi and Macron recognized the increasing complexity and interoperability of India-France joint defense exercises across air, sea, and land. They agreed to consider a distinct joint tri-services exercise. They also discussed actively increasing capacities, particularly in the maritime domain, by joining hands with other like-minded countries.
Defense-Industrial Cooperation To Boost India’s Arms Exports
The two leaders also committed to further deepening the integration between the two countries’ respective defense industrial sectors and “to work together to identify opportunities for co-design, co-development, and co-production with the objective of not only fulfilling the defense needs of the Indian armed forces but also of providing a viable and reliable source of arms supplies to other friendly countries.”
The aim is to boost India’s defense industrial capabilities and capacities to meet its target of US$25 billion in military production and US$5 billion in arms exports by 2025. The defense industrial collaboration, especially from the design stage, not only creates quality jobs for the youth and advances Modi’s vision of a ‘Self-Reliant India’ but also supports broader progress in scientific, technological, digital, and material sciences fields to realize the vision of ‘Developed India’ for 2047.
Towards this end, India and France adopted the ambitious Defence Industrial Roadmap during the present meeting between Modi and Macron. The details of this roadmap are yet to be released. There are indications that this could cover areas such as cooperation in developing a combat jet aero-engine between France’s Safran and India’s Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO), setting up Maintenance-Repair-Overhaul facilities for the civil LEAP aero-engines and Rafale combat jet aero-engines.
Airbus, Tata Tie-Up For Civilian Helicopters
The two leaders also announced Airbus’s decision to partner with Tata Advanced System to begin the assembly of single-engine H125 civilian helicopters in India. The two companies will become the first private sector companies to produce helicopters in India, in line with the Indian government’s strategy of self-reliance.
Airbus has decided to give growing orders for aircraft parts in India for its European assembly plants. The Final Assembly Line for H125s will be ready in 24 months after the two companies decide on the location, and the India-made helicopters will roll out from 2026.
Interestingly, Airbus and Tata are already in partnership to build the C295 military cargo aircraft in India, with 40 of the 56 aircraft on order from the Indian Air Force to be made at a Final Assembly Line (FAL) in Vadodara in Gujarat, Modi’s home province.
“The first 16 C295s of the 56 aircraft on order will be assembled at the San Pablo Sur site in Seville, Spain, with the second aircraft due to be delivered in May 2024 and the next 14 rolled out at a rate of one per month until August 2025,” Airbus had stated in September 2023 when the first of the C295s were delivered to India.
The production of these aircraft components has already started in the Main Constituent Assembly (MCA) facility in Hyderabad, India. These parts will be shipped to the Vadovara FAL, which is expected to be operational by November 2024. The first ‘Make in India’ C295 will roll out of the Vadodara FAL in September 2026, a milestone for the Indian aerospace industry; the final aircraft is expected to be delivered to the IAF by August 2031.
Scorpene Submarine Localization Plan
The two sides also announced a comprehensive helicopter partnership with a Joint Venture for an Indian Multi-Role Helicopter engine between Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) and Safran, apart from localization of the Scorpene submarines being constructed in India, including indigenization.
In July 2023, when Modi was in France, the two nations announced the construction of three additional Scorpene submarines by the Mumbai-based Mazagon Dock and Shipbuilders Limited (MDL). Still, they removed it from the joint statement then.
This year’s joint statement mentions only Scorpene localization by India. Still, it doesn’t refer to the three additional Scorpenes submarines to be built, over and above the six that MDL is already building with help from France’s Naval Group.
India and France are already discussing an arrangement or a Memorandum of Understanding between each nation’s defense research agencies — DRDO and Directorate General of Armament (DGA), respectively — for cooperation. The two leaders expressed their intent to conclude this agreement in an early timeframe but did not specify when.
Joint Satellite Launches Soon
India and France are already cooperating in the Space sector, with each other’s satellites being launched by their respective space agencies. This Space sector relationship has lasted for six decades, and the two nations established the Strategic Space Dialogue in June 2023 to take their cooperation a notch higher by providing strategic guidance and direction across all aspects of space cooperation.
India and France committed this time to further expanding space cooperation for “the benefit of their countries, humanity, and the planet, including through co-development, manufacture and launch of satellites and payloads, research in new launch vehicle technologies and reusable launch vehicles and connecting the startups and users in both countries.”
During this meeting, India’s NewSpace and France’s Arianespace decided to build a long-term partnership on satellite launch missions and signed the Letter of Intent on Defence Space Cooperation.
- NC Bipindra is a 30-year veteran in journalism specializing in strategic affairs, geopolitics, aerospace, defense, and diplomacy. He has written extensively for the Times of India, New Indian Express, Press Trust of India, and Bloomberg News. He can be reached at ncbipindra (at) gmail.com
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