The French government is exerting significant effort to displace Russia as India’s primary supplier of military hardware. In addition, on paper, France indicates that it is prepared to assist in cooperation and collaborative development with India and share sensitive technologies. Conversely, Russia shows little interest in doing so but is warming up to the idea. In the past, both countries have shared some technologies with India; however, these technologies did not include any sensitive or cutting-edge ones.
In the road map titled “Towards the Centenary of Franco-Indian Relations,” published by Élysée after the visit of the Indian Prime Minister, the emphasis is placed on developing the sovereign military capabilities of both nations. France and India plan to undertake more future defence projects together. They intend to collaborate on researching, developing, and manufacturing cutting-edge defence technology, focusing on aeronautics and shipbuilding. The statement briefly references support for the cooperative development of an air combat system but does not disclose any other information.
India is pursuing two combat aircraft projects, the Twin Engine Decek Based Fighter (TEDBF) for its naval aviation and the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA), a 5th generation aircraft capable of being at the centre of a “system of systems” incorporating connected effectors and drones, such as “loyal wingman.”
It is believed by some observers that India does not have a sufficiently solid defence industrial and technology base (BITD), which causes them to question the country’s capacity to carry out the programmes in question successfully. In Europe, this effort is carried out by a partnership of companies with the necessary expertise and research capabilities for an undertaking of such an enormous scale. Some believe India should consider participating in further initiatives, such as the sixth generation Global Combat Air Programme (GCAP) or the Future Combat Air System (FCAS/SCAF), in conjunction with other countries. In April 2022, London offered India to share “the best of British know-how” in aeronautics.
The road map released by the Élysée most likely references the SCAF when it mentions the potential creation of universal “technical bricks.” It could also be a clue about the development of the Rafale F5, which is expected to be operational by 2030.
In the field of aeronautics, the text references Safran Helicopter Engines’ participation in the “India Multi Role Helicopter” programme [and its navy variant DBMRH (Deck Based Multi-Role Helicopter)], which focuses on an aircraft that can carry 10 to 12 tonnes of weight. The collaboration between Hindustan Aeronautics Limited and Safran Helicopter Engines for the development of engines is founded on mutual trust between the two companies. It also builds on the successful technology transfer experience that France and India have had. There are references to Safran’s decision to hand over the technology necessary for HindustanAeronautics Limited to forge and cast components for the Shakti engine.
The initial version of the joint statement stated that India and France would continue their groundbreaking defence cooperation in advanced aeronautical technologies by supporting the joint development of a combat aircraft engine. This was to be accomplished by the Defence Research Development Organisation (DRDO) and French engine manufacturer Safran preparing a roadmap for this project before the end of the year. In contrast, the updated statement on July 15 does not mention the road map anywhere.
According to a joint statement that India and France released, India will establish a technical office of the DRDO at its embassy in Paris.
Concerning the construction of ships, the document does not directly reference India’s planned purchase of three further Scorpene submarines. On the other hand, it refers to the fruitful completion of the initial programme, known as P75 “Kalvari,” which represents India’s industrial skills (“Make in India”) and the cooperation between the two countries in the field of naval expertise. France and India are prepared to explore more ambitious initiatives together to increase the size of India’s submarine fleet and improve its capabilities. This could include the three Scorpene submarines fitted with an AIP system created by the Indian armaments agency DRDO. This system enables longer periods spent navigating submerged. It is also possible that it may incorporate cooperation in nuclear assault submarines (SSN). This notion gained traction with the establishment of the AUKUS alliance (Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) in September 2021.
Finally, the roadmap highlights a memorandum of understanding between Naval Group and Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers Ltd (GRSE), one of the primary suppliers to the Indian Navy, intending to collaborate in the field of surface ships to meet the needs of both Indian and international naval forces.
It is common for the country selling the goods to make big claims while also trying to improve the image of the country leader buying the goods to justify it to his electorate. It is unclear whether these vague allusions will only exist on paper or be transformed into actual ground realities.