India and France are on the road to greater defence ties as French Foreign Affairs Minister Alain Juppe visited India and held delegation-level talks with his Indian counterpart S.M.Krishna in New Delhi recently. While France discussed the issue of civil nuclear safety having been awarded a multi-billion nuclear power plant contract, both sides also discussed various military contracts as well as co-development of new defence products. France is also hoping to clinch the $ 10.4 billion MMRCA project whose winner will be announced next month.
While France has assured greater cooperation from its nuclear regulatory board as well as the reliability of its technology to smoothen the nuclear power plant project, both nations also discussed the status of ongoing as well as proposed defence projects between India and France. One of the important discussions revolved around the joint development of a short-range missile. The purpose of deployment of this short-range missile will be to guard the vital installations from aerial threat. The efforts to finalise the joint defence research and development for short-range surface-to-air missile (SR-SAM) is underway. The state-run Defence Research Development Organisation (DRDO) is seeking to co-develop technology in order to cater to the requirement of the Indian armed forces. DRDO has been involved in the Trishul point defense missile system as well as its successor, the Maitri short-range surface to air missile (SR-SAM) projects in the past and will apply its know-how on this latest project for SR-SAM with France.
French Foreign Affairs Minister also discussed the issue of the induction of French technology for the Kaveri engine. The Kaveri aircraft engine is being indigenously developed by India but has not yet lived up to the expectation of the Indian Air Force (IAF). The Kaveri engine was to be used on the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas but the IAF has deemed it unsatisfactory. France has offered to offer technology to make Kaveri engine worthy of the future fighter planes India plans to develop. In addition, DRDO is negotiating with French engine manufacturer Snecma to co-develop high-end technology for the Kabini, which forms the core part of Kaveri engine being developed for the LCA Tejas. DRDO is in the last lap of negotiations with France. The goal is for the Kaveri engine provides the required thrust without affecting the size and weight.
As for the other crucial Indo-French defence deals, France has recently bagged the contract to modernise 51 IAF Mirage 2000 aircraft. The $ 2.4 billion deal to upgrade was signed recently with Dassault Aviation and Thales. The upgradation of the 51 Mirage-2000 aircraft will include a multimode Doppler radar, modern glass cockpit, fully integrated electronic warfare suite and beyond visual range capabilities. The overhaul of the fleet will add 20-25 years to the life of the Mirage aircraft which were introduced to the IAF in the mid-1980s. France is also expecting to win the $ 10.4 billion MMRCA contract in which the Eurofighter typhoon is the only other contender left. The MMRCA deal is expected to be finalized next month.
India and France have also held their first ever joint army exercises in India called ‘Shakti 2011’ this month. The joint drill with the Army is a debut event and the two countries already hold air and naval exercises called ‘Garuda’ and ‘Varuna’ respectively. The joint army drill will further enhance defence cooperation and military-to-military relations between the two nations.