As the fighting in Ukraine drags on, France is preparing to deepen its military ties with India. France wishes to address “the perceived reality” that Russia lacks credibility as an arms supplier to India. Before the official arrival of French President Emmanuel Macron, the French Minister of Defense, Sébastien Lecornu, will travel to New Delhi on November 27, 2022, to strengthen the diplomatic ties between France and India. It is essential to remember that France’s position as India’s second-largest arms supplier, behind Russia, is helpful. Also, France and India have been participating in joint drills together since 1993.
According to the official French account, Lecornu’s trip is not related to armaments, but he will not hesitate to pitch France as an alternative to Russia as a reliable weapons supplier.
“We are not going there to sell military equipment; our objective is to mark the importance of the relationship,” said an adviser to the French Ministry of Defense to a French news outlet Mevo.
“We can show them that there are European alternatives to Russian weapons,” he added.
Concerns about the quality of Russian weapons
It can’t be denied that France is trying to gain an advantage by using Russia’s internal problems. The capacity to meet export production targets while Russia is hampered by western sanctions and the quality of weapons are both causes for concern.
Seventy to eighty-five per cent of the weapons used by India’s armed forces are of Russian origin, despite efforts by successive Indian governments to minimise this dependency.
Since the beginning of the crisis in Ukraine, Moscow has floated the idea of increasing India and Russia’s existing military ties and collaboration. This was confirmed by Denis Alipov, the Russian ambassador to New Delhi, during an interview with TASS that took place in September.
“Our cooperation in this sector is developing confidently in accordance with the new requirements. We see many opportunities there to expand joint production and advanced technologies in the engineering field,” said the Russian diplomat. He said that the parties had already begun to discuss it in detail at the 2019 Vladivostok Forum by signing an intergovernmental agreement on the joint production of spare parts and components and the maintenance of military-made equipment, with the possibility of offering these services to the markets of third-countries. He was referring to the agreement on the joint production of spare parts and components and the maintenance of military-made equipment.
How did France and India get here?
If Germany dominates the economic dimension of Europe’s relationship with India, France is the driving force behind the security and geostrategic dimensions. The Franco-Indian collaboration has rested on two pillars, military and nuclear, for the past four decades, as indicated by arms sales and cooperation in the civilian nuclear field. This unique relationship shows a particular approach to international affairs, as France and India have traditionally fought to preserve their strategic autonomy.
France was the first European nation to establish an Indo-Pacific strategy, in part because of its position in the Indian Ocean. Its collaboration with India led to the 2018 signing of a “joint Franco-Indian declaration on the partnership between France and India” and an agreement providing mutual access to the military bases of both nations. France and India have been conducting combined naval drills in the Indian Ocean since 1983, and the 2021 edition of the joint exercise Varuna marked a turning point due to the deployment of the carrier Charles de Gaulle planes for the first time.
This intensification of Franco-Indian cooperation reflects the voiced concerns towards China. France has endeavoured to utilise its influence in Europe to ensure that India is viewed as a security-focused strategic partner, but not all European Union member states share this perspective.
After Australia’s “stab in the back” in the submarine crisis, France views New Delhi as a much more reliable and consistent strategic ally. After acquiring 36 Rafale aircraft from France, the world’s largest arms purchaser should expand its shopping list.
France as an alternative to Russia
In contrast to Russia’s military-industrial complex, France’s technological competence is extensive, but its industrial basis is inadequate. France struggles to produce its military equipment, like the rest of the Western European wealthy nations. It often builds in small quantities and over extended periods. Since Russia invaded Ukraine, its defence industry has struggled to increase military production and meet global demand and wartime needs. Macron warned in June that France required “a wartime economy” with increased investment and streamlined, faster production chains.
France will be tested on whether it can realistically increase its manufacturing capability to satisfy the vast demands of a military superpower like India. Only Safran Group has been able to increase its involvement in India for helicopter engines, but it is still in the process of investing in India and playing the long game.
During an investigation of the Rafale offset criteria, the Indian government watchdog Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) identified technology transfer as an area in which France has been viewed as an unreliable partner. France is living in a fictional world if it believes it can serve as a production base for Indian weapons, as Russia once did.
France likewise perceives Indian decision-making processes to be cumbersome and time-consuming, similar to its own bureaucratic procedures and sluggish military manufacturing.
France may find it difficult to persuade the Indian Armed Forces to embrace its weaponry since they are fundamentally distinct from Indian requirements, which are typically comparable to those of the Russians. For instance, France produces heavier tanks, while the Indian Army demands lighter tanks.
India is very dependent on Russia as it even leases out nuclear submarines and helps with strategic projects. The successive Indian governments are unwilling to alienate Russia and compel it to seek stronger ties with India’s rival, China.