India and France have decided to intensify defence cooperation with Paris offering to shift 100 per cent assembly line for Panther medium utility helicopters as well as 70 per cent of the assembly line for Rafale fighters under “Make in India” rubric with full transfer of technology, people familiar with the matter said on Saturday.
The offers were made in the course of conversations between Indian leaders and Emmanuel Bonne, Diplomatic Advisor to French President Emmanuel Macron who was in the country for the 34th India-France strategic dialogue this week.
Officials said there was a real possibility that India, which has a contract for 36 omni-role fighters, could buy more Rafale jets in light of the French offer to bring 70 per cent of the assembly line including local vendor development. This would reduce the cost of subsequent acquisition of the fighter jets.
The French offer to make the Panther choppers in India also works well with the government which has been looking to buy medium helicopters for the Indian Navy. The Airbus’ AS565 MBe is an all-weather, multi-role medium helicopter designed for operation from ship decks, offshore locations and land-based sites.
According to South Block sources, the India-France strategic dialogue this week has led to forward movement over 9,900 MW Jaitapur nuclear power plant over reactor pricing issues with state-run Electricite de France (EDF) and Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL). The strategic dialogue was headed by National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and Emmanuel Bonne, Diplomatic Advisor to French President Emmanuel Macron.
According to senior officials, India has decided to consider the French offer of six Airbus 330 multi-role transport tankers on lease while making it clear that French defence technologies shared with Indian military should not be given to its adversaries. To this, the French have informed India that their relationship particularly in the defence sector has reached a new low with Pakistan after Prime Minister Imran Khan attacked President Macron personally over a terrorist incident.
It is understood that France will no longer either supply or upgrade French weapon platforms or ammunition with Pakistan. This includes repairs of Mirage III/V fighters as well as Augusta submarines. The same thumb rule will apply to Turkey too, whose authoritarian leader R Erdogan had gone out of his way to launch vitriolic attacks on President Macron.
While India and France discussed China and its role in the Indo-Pacific and Indian Ocean, Paris has invited Indian Navy to participate in European Maritime Awareness in the Straits of Hormuz (EMSOH) as well as use facilities at the French base in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa. On China, the two sides have decided to build maritime capabilities to ensure that international maritime law is followed in both Indo-Pacific and Indian Ocean through joint surveillance and sharing of intelligence. France’s Chief Military Advisor also accompanied envoy Bonne. France has also offered India to join in trilateral naval exercises with UAE, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Australia.
Although Doval and Bonne had restricted conversation on India-France strategic issues, Paris has offered help in development of engine for twin engine LCA or AMCA with the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) as well as making Rafale fighter engines (M-88) under the “Make in India” initiative.
At a political level, the French envoy made it clear that it would support India in the UN Security Council and ensure that Beijing’s move to put India in a dock either on cooked up charges of terrorism or Kashmir are stymied. This assurance Bonne made before Prime Minister Narendra Modi as India joins the UNSC for two years.