News We’re studying India’s plan for buying fighter jets: French envoy

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SOURCE: THE HINDU

France has been one of India’s closest strategic partners, and among the biggest military suppliers to Indian military throughout its modern history. French Ambassador to India Alexandre Ziegler responded to questions from The Hindu against the backdrop of DefExpo 2018 under way in Chennai.

DefExpo 2018’s tagline is ‘India: The Emerging Defence Manufacturing Hub’. How are the French government and companies hoping to be active participants in Indian efforts?

For a long time now, the French industry has been much more than just a supplier of India. Make in India has been a reality for France with regard to armaments since many years. Thus, the Indian missile manufacturer, BDL, has manufactured more than 10,000 anti-tank Milan missiles under licence. Another example is HAL, which has produced and is still producing under licence the light helicopters, Cheetah and Chetak, which are derived from French choppers. And I consider the construction of six Scorpène submarines in India under the P-75 contract to be the most emblematic of the French tradition of Make in India. Numerous joint ventures have been launched over the past few years. At DefExpo, I have also noticed the privileged positioning of some of these Indo-French companies.

Historically, France has been known to be a provider of important and sensitive technologies to India, and has always played a key role in supporting India’s strategic ambitions. Has France lost out, or India ignored it, in the new strategic paradigm and in recent years?

You’re quite right to stress this — France is India’s oldest strategic partner and a historic one for defence equipment. Our relations in this matter date back to India’s Independence. Dassault Aviation, for instance, is a historic supplier of the Indian Air Force with the Ouragan — rechristened as Toofani in India. Then came the Mystère IV, the Mirage 2000 in the 1980s, and the latest is the Rafale. I could go on citing many such examples. This partnership has been constantly strengthening. Today, it is the strongest and closest we have in the region, as reflected in the state visit of President Emmanuel Macron last month.

As for armaments, three major contracts have been signed over the past decade, with the contract for building six Scorpène submarines in India, the contract for upgrading the 51 Mirage 2000s in India’s fleet, including new weapons, and, of course, the inter-governmental agreement for the supply of 36 Rafale and their weapons, signed in September 2016.

The expo comes against the backdrop of the government issuing the RFI for 110 fighter jets, in which the Rafale is going to be a key contender. Will it make better financial and technical sense for India to go in for increasing the present order for Rafale than years of processing a new global tender?

We have taken due note of this RFI and are in the process of analysing it in detail. It is up to the Indian authorities, and them alone, to decide on their acquisition strategy and what is preferable for India. Whatever be their decision, the Indian government knows that France will always be there to meet to its needs — as it has always done.

Corruption has always remained a key issue of concern in Indian defence contracts, and you must have seen that the Indian Opposition has made several allegations regarding the Rafale deal, too. Could you comment on it?

It is certainly not my place to comment on a domestic political controversy. All I can say is that this negotiation has been conducted in a very transparent manner and is in full compliance with India’s very strict regulations on defence procurement. Our chief concern, now, is supplying the aircraft ordered within the deadline along with the entire weapons package required. It’s our strategic commitment to the Indian government, and we will adhere to it.