India, France unveil defence industrial roadmap; Tata, Airbus conclude helicopter deal
The nations signed 9 agreements, covering areas such as defence-space partnership, satellite launches boosting engagement in the healthcare sector and scientific research
India and France on Friday, 26 January, unveiled an ambitious defence industrial roadmap to co-develop critical military hardware, firmed up a space situational awareness programme even as the Tata Group and Airbus announced to jointly build H125 helicopters following talks between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and French President Emmanuel Macron.
Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra, announcing the outcomes of Thursday's Modi-Macron talks in Jaipur, said a scheme for the exchange of professionals in the age bracket of 18 to 35 years and activation of Schengen visas with a five-year validity for Indian postgraduate alumni of French institutions were among other key decisions.
The two sides inked a total of nine agreements that would provide for cooperation in a large number of areas including defence-space partnership, satellite launches boosting engagement in the healthcare sector and scientific research.
The pacts included the defence industrial roadmap and the Tata-Airbus deal. The two sides also announced the operationalisation of India's Unified Payment Interface (UPI) at the Eiffel Tower.
The French president began his two-day visit to India from Jaipur and was the chief guest at the Republic Day celebrations in Delhi on Friday. President Droupadi Murmu escorted Macron in a ceremonial horse-drawn carriage from the nearby Rashtrapati Bhavan to the viewing stand, where Prime Minister Modi greeted him with a small gift: a miniature replica of the recently inaugurated Ram Mandir in Ayodhya.
"A great honor for France. Thank you, India," Macron wrote online, sharing a video clip of part of the parade.
Later in the evening, President Macron was also seen visiting the Dargah Nizamuddin Aulia in Delhi, though this seemed to be of private touristic interest rather than on his state itinerary, since he was not accompanied by either the Prime Minister or the President.
What to know about India and France bilateral ties
France has been one of India's closest partners in Europe for decades. Even when many Western nations imposed sanctions on New Delhi for conducting nuclear tests in 1998, the French did not condemn India.
India and France also have strong defence ties. The Indian government gave an initial approval last year to buy 26 Rafale jets and jointly produce three Scorpene class submarines worth around 800 billion rupees ($9.62 billion or €8.84 billion).
"The idea is to build defence supply chains that can meet India and France's defence needs," India's foreign secretary Vinay Kwatra told reporters on 26 January.
France is also keen to enhance cooperation in the space and atomic energy sectors. On this, Kwatra said both countries were exploring joint satellite launches.
Macron accepted the invitation to be a chief guest at the Republic Day parade — India welcomes a different foreign dignitary each year — after US president Joe Biden was cited as being unavailable.
Readers will remember that Modi was the guest of honour at the French Bastille Day celebrations last year.
A 30-member French band and 90-member marching group joined the parade. A French transport aircraft and two fighter jets from the French air force joined 54 Indian air force aircraft in a flyover too.
Which deals are going ahead now?
At a media briefing, Kwatra said both sides deliberated on various aspects to advance civil-nuclear energy cooperation and that there was a "very positive, forward-leaning" ongoing conversation on small modular reactors (SMRs).
Modi and Macron also expressed "grave concern" at the possibility of further expansion of the conflict in West Asia, including in the Red Sea, which already has a significant "economic impact", a joint statement released late in the night said.
"They recalled the utmost importance of upholding freedom of navigation in the Red Sea and of respecting the international law of the sea. They had detailed conversation aimed at coordinating their efforts in that region in this regard," it said.
In the talks, Macron reiterated France's intention to create conditions to attract up to 30,000 Indian students annually to French institutions of higher learning.
The joint statement said both the leaders welcomed the decision of Airbus and the Tata Advanced System to begin the assembly of civilian helicopters in India as they will become the first private sector companies to produce helicopters in the country.
Under the deal, Airbus Helicopters will be partnering with the Tata Group to establish a Final Assembly Line (FAL) for H125 helicopters in India. The FAL will produce the helicopters from its civil range for India and export to some of the neighbouring countries.
Modi and Macron also expressed commitment to deepening the integration between defence industrial sectors of the two nations and to work together to identify opportunities for co-design, co-development, co-production with the objective of not only fulfilling the defence needs of the India, but also to provide a reliable source of defence supplies to other friendly countries, the statement said.
The two leaders welcomed the adoption of the ambitious defence industrial roadmap, it said.
"They welcomed the progress in the establishment of the MRO for LEAP engines in India by Safran and the plans to add MRO for Rafale engines, a comprehensive helicopter partnership with a joint venture for IMRH (Indian Multi Role Helicopter) engine between Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd and Safran, and the Scorpene submarines constructed in India, including indigenisation," the joint statement said.
There was no announcement on India's proposed procurement of 26 naval variants of Rafale jets and three Scorpene submarines from France as it is understood that price negotiations for the multi-billion dollar deals are still underway.
The pact on defence space partnership would facilitate joint work on a space situational awareness program, being billed as very significant for developing military satellites and sharing of crucial information on space traffic and debris.
Kwatra said the defence roadmap will provide for technology collaboration in the spheres of air, space, underwater domain awareness, land warfare, robotics, cyber defence, artificial intelligence as also autonomous vehicles and platforms.
The focus would be on defence manufacturing in a manner that can harness the compatibilities and competencies of the two economies in the defence sector, he said. It has been agreed that the year 2026 will be celebrated as India-France year of innovation, Kwatra said.
The pact between NewSpace India Limited (NSIL) and French space agency Arianespace, the two sides will aim to co-develop, manufacture and launch satellites and payloads, besides carrying out research in new launch vehicle technologies.
Modi and Macron also touched upon ongoing cooperation between the two nations in the Indian Ocean Region as well as the Indo-Pacific.
On India-France civil-nuclear cooperation, Kwatra said there are several elements to it including localisation, financial viability, cost-effectiveness and the two sides are continuing the discussions.
The foreign secretary described the area of small modular reactors (SMRs) as a relatively new domain space in terms of discussion between the two countries.
"Technology needs to come together, viability needs to come together and its positioning in the overall energy mix needs to come together. There was a very positive, forward-leaning ongoing conversation between the two countries (on it)," he said.
According to the joint statement, both Modi and Macron strongly condemned the terrorist attack on Israel on October 7 and expressed solidarity with the people of Israel.
"Condemning the huge loss of civilian lives in the ongoing conflict, they emphasised the need to respect international humanitarian law and to create conditions, including through a humanitarian ceasefire, for aid to flow to the affected population in the Gaza region," it said.
Both leaders also called for an immediate and unconditional release of all hostages.
They also reaffirmed that a political process leading to a two-state solution for the Israeli and Palestinian people is required for lasting peace and stability in the region.
The two leaders also reaffirmed their unequivocal condemnation of terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, including cross border terrorism, and shared their resolve to stand together in the common fight against the global menace.
Modi and Macron further agreed that no country should provide safe haven to those who finance, plan, support, or commit terrorist acts.
"The leaders also called for concerted action against all terrorist, including through designations or individuals affiliated with groups that are listed by the UN Security Council 1267 Sanctions Committee," the statement said.
"The two sides emphasised the importance of upholding international standards on anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism, consistent with Financial Action Task Force recommendations," it added.
Kwatra said the French side has always been forthcoming in supporting India's candidacy for the membership of the International Energy Agency.
He also said that following up on a decision taken during Modi's visit to Paris in July last year, the Indian consulate in the southern French city Marseille and the French bureau in Hyderabad are now fully ready to be operational.
Kwatra said India and France also decided to set up a solar academy in Senegal under the Star Sea programme of the International Solar Alliance that was launched in 2015.
With PTI and DW inputs
Published: 27 Jan 2024, 9:23 AM