Indo-French Defence Cooperation: Growing Relationship

India and France established a strategic partnership in January 1998. During the visit of President Jacques Chirac in February 2006, the two countries took this relationship to a higher plane by signing landmark agreements on civil nuclear energy cooperation, defence cooperation, terrorism and space cooperation. For the past few years, French military sales to India have been averaging Euros 300 million to 2 billion a year.

The defence cooperation agreement seeks to promote cooperation between the two countries in the defence and military fields, defence industry, production, research and development and procurement of defence material. The partnership includes a defence and strategic dialogue, professional exchanges, joint exercises, visits and training, joint R&D, joint production of weapons systems and equipment, cooperation in the field of defence material and transfer of technology, exchange of views on security threats and global terrorism, and exchange of experiences in peace-keeping operations.

The India-France High Committee on Defence Cooperation is the apex body responsible for defining, organising and coordinating all bilateral cooperation activities. The High Committee is headed by the Defence Secretary on the Indian side and by the Ministerial representative of the French Defence Minister on the French side. France is the third country after Russia and United States with which India has signed such a defence cooperation agreement. 

Along with Russia, France is a major source of weapons supply to India and French conglomerates are competing for multi-billion dollar defence deals for the sale of helicopters, fighter-bombers, radars and other advanced systems. These include Dassault Aviation, Snecma, Thales and others that already have a huge presence in India. French Radar giant Thales is bidding for civil and military projects to augment radar coverage to overcome landing and take off problems at Indian airports. India has also signed a multi-billion dollar deal with French companies for the purchase of six Scorpene submarines. The submarines will be built at the state-owned Mazagon dockyard in Mumbai, with technical assistance and equipment from French companies DCN and Thales. The submarines are to be delivered between 2012 and 2017. At the same time, India also placed an order for 36 MBDA SM-39 Exocet anti-ship missiles to arm the submarines.
India’s multi-billion dollar project for the purchase-cum-licensed manufacture of 126 Multi-role Combat Aircraft (MCRA), the country’s future fighter-bombers that will replace ageing MiG aircraft, will be India’s largest ever defence deal and has attracted the attention of all the major arms manufacturers the world over. The French defence aircraft major Dassault has withdrawn its Mirage-2000-V fighter, already in service with the IAF, for competing for this lucrative deal since its assembly lines for these aircraft will close down by the time the actual contract is signed in two to three years. However, the company has stated that Dassault would pitch for its multi-role fighter Rafale, now being inducted into the French Air Force and Navy, for the deal. The French aircraft will have to compete with the American (F-16 and F/A-18), Swedish (JAS-39 Gripen) and Russian (MiG-29M2) fighters that are also in the race. 
The Joint Declaration on Cooperation on Civil Nuclear Energy, though it is contingent on the successful conclusion of India’s civil Nuclear Energy cooperation agreement with the US, is an important step forward in the realisation of that objective and in taking forward the longstanding Indo-French cooperation in the civil nuclear energy sector. Unlike the US that has not put up a single new nuclear reactor in over two decades, France has state-of-the-art nuclear reactor technology and is expected to be a major supplier to meet India’s huge needs for nuclear power in future. The Indian Prime Minister and the French President expressed satisfaction at India joining the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) nuclear fusion project as a full partner. India and France also agreed that the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, as well as their means of delivery, constitutes a threat to international peace and security and expressed their shared concerns in the field of non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery including the possible linkages with terrorism. 
Both countries also agree on the importance of the Strategic Partnership between India and the European Union and have been working together to further enhance ties through the mechanism of the Joint India-European Union Action Plan. France supports India’s candidature for permanent membership of the Security Council. India and France share common views on major international issues including reform of the United Nations system to make it more representative and effective in meeting both traditional and non-traditional global challenges. 
In another major area of cooperation, India and France strongly condemn terrorism in all its forms and manifestations and agree that it constitutes one of the most serious threats to international peace and security. Both the sides accept that there is a growing need to coordinate and intensify bilateral, regional and global cooperation to combat terrorism in a sustained and comprehensive manner. Linkages with illicit trafficking in drugs, small arms and narcotics and weapons of mass destruction (WMD) have enhanced the destructive potential and lethal reach of terrorism. Both countries are committed to working together to fight terrorism and to make concerted efforts towards early conclusion of the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism under the aegis of the United Nations. 
Both the sides are also cooperating in the fields of space and science and technology, educational, academic and cultural exchanges, tourism and other areas of mutual interest, where there is significant potential yet to be tapped. The wide range of bilateral interaction between India and France will provide significant impetus to realising the full potential of the comprehensive strategic partnership between the two countries that are both among the major powers in the emerging new world order. The strategic partnership will be further cemented during President Sarkozy’s visit in January 2008.