By Sangeeta Saxena

New Delhi. 17 December 2021. Some friends are for keeps and some friendships for eternity. And India’s relationship with France is a perfect example of such friends and military ties between the two friends is an example of such friendship. The year began with Indian NSA Ajit Doval, and  Emmanuel Bonne, Diplomatic Advisor to the French President meeting in New Delhi to hold the annual strategic dialogue. And the year is ending with Florence Parly, Minister for the Armed Forces of France all set to meet her Indian counterpart Rajnath Singh in New Delhi to  hold the Annual Defence Dialogue.

These in-depth talks will cover all aspects of the wide-ranging Indo-French defence cooperation, including operational defence cooperation, particularly maritime security in the Indo-Pacific; industrial and technological partnership in line with Make in India; and counter-terrorism cooperation.

She will also meet Ajit Doval, National Security Adviser to the Prime Minister, in particular for discussions on regional security issues. It may be recalled that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had received the French President Emmanuel Macron in 2018 in India when Macron had stated, “We want India as our first strategic partner here, and we want to be India’s first strategic partner in Europe, and even the western world.”

The visit has its precursor in the 17th High Committee on Defence Cooperation (HCDC)meeting last month between Alice Guitton, Director General for International Relations and Strategy of the Ministry of Armed Forces and Indian Defence Secretary Dr. Ajay Kumar of the Ministry of Defence. The dialogue dwelled on bilateral priorities like information sharing, high-end maritime cooperation, defence equipment and industrial collaboration. Safety in the Indian Ocean Region and sustenance of a free and open Indo-Pacific, were major topics brainstormed..

If we go a little deep into history we will recall that France was one of the few nations who did not condemn India’s nuclear tests in 1998 and has supported India’s bid to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council as well as G-8. France is one of the largest suppliers of nuclear fuel to India, and signed a “Framework Agreement for Civil Nuclear Co-operation” in January 2008. After India’s waiver from the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), both nations signed an agreement that would pave the way for the sale of French-made nuclear reactors to India on 30 September 2008.

In the framework of the structured talks under the Indo-French Defence Cooperation Agreement,  meetings on industrial collaboration and service exchanges are held regularly. Indian and French Navies will be able to use each other’s naval bases, under an agreement signed in 2018. Indian warships will be able to use French bases in Indian and southern Pacific oceans. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had stated that “We consider France one of our most reliable defense allies.”

France is a major supplier of military equipment to India. Procurement of Dassault Mirage 2000 fighter aircraft and a squadron of Naval Grroup Scorpène-class submarines (called Kalvari-class submarines) are examples of strategic defence acquisitions. The armed-services of both nations conduct joint-exercises on an annual basis. France and India also maintain a discreet “strategic dialogue” that covers joint cooperation against terrorism. The strategic autonomy of the French Force de frappe resonates well within Indian strategic circles.

France has been a long-standing and reliable supplier of fighter planes and light utility helicopters to the Indian armed services with aircraft such as Breguet Alizé, Dassault Ouragan, Dassault Mystère IV, Sepecat Jaguar, Aerospatiale SA 315B Lama, Aérospatiale Alouette III and Dassault Mirage 2000. France also supplies Turbomeca TM 333 and jointly developed the HAL/Turbomeca Shakti helicopter engines for HAL Dhruv. DRDO 3D Multi-Function Control Radar (MFCR) was developed as part of the Indian anti-ballistic missile programme in cooperation with THALES of France. The Scorpène submarines of the Kalvari class, are armed with MBDA made SM.39 Exocet anti-ship missiles, under a technology transfer agreement. Indian Air Force has acquired Dassault Rafale medium multi-role combat aircraft through G2G procurement for 36 aircraft in flyaway condition to equip 3 squadrons of the Indian Air Force.

This visit highlights France’s engagement in the Indo-Pacific and the centrality of India in the French strategy. It comes in the wake of several major bilateral air, navy, and army exercises this year: Desert Knight 21 in January, Varuna in April, Shakti in November. Minister Parly will stress France and India’s joint commitment to answering the challenges of the Indo-Pacific by bringing together friendly powers to defend the rule of law, offering a positive agenda to the countries of the region, and rejecting all forms of hegemony.

In this respect, the Minister will detail the recently unveiled EU Strategy for Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific that brings a multiplier effect to this comprehensive approach for the region. Upon taking the presidency of the Council of the European Union on 1st January 2022, France will make the Indo-Pacific and India a key priority. Give it a thought. Does AUKUS affect France’s engagement in the Indo-Pacific? The Ambassador to India has reiterated many times that the region will continue to be priority as there are several French territories, 2 million citizens and 7 000 troops in the Indo-Pacific. And keeping in mind the growing Chinese presence in the region, India becomes an important ally.

France India relationship has never had interruptions and despite the pandemic the delivery of the Rafale went on schedule . Minister Parly is all set to reinforce 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. And here comes in the rumour which has been started by a certain section of the media-Baraccuda will be offered by the French Defence Minister for the Indian Navy’s nuclear submarine need. The Barracuda class (or Suffren class) is a nuclear attack submarine, designed by the French shipbuilder Naval Group for the French Navy.

It will be pre-mature to comment before the joint statement made by the two Defence Ministers at the end of the visit and hence journalistically incorrect to presume that P75(I) will see the end of its journey. The wait is over and the watch is on.