Since the establishment of a strategic partnership between India and France in 1998, defence, nuclear and space technology have been central to the bilateral. Sameer Patil, associate national security fellow at Gateway House, comments on the steadfast defence ties between the two countries, including the Rafale deal and counter-terrorism cooperation.
“India’s decision to buy 36 Rafale jets from France in ready-to-fly condition is important for the Indian Air Force (IAF) to regain its depleting squadron strength. In order to plug the IAF’s operational gaps, the Rafale deal is a necessary trade-off with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Make in India’ campaign. This deal is a government-to-government transaction, unlike the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) commercial bidding process launched a decade ago under which Dassault Aviation’s Rafale aircraft had emerged as the lowest bidder.
The IAF pushed strongly for the ready-to-fly Rafale purchase directly from France – if it had been produced domestically by India’s state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), it would have delayed the induction of the aircraft, directly affecting the numerical strength of the IAF fighter aircraft. The IAF has had a favourable experience with French fighters since the 1950s, including in the Kargil conflict of 1999 when it had successfully engaged high-altitude targets using the Dassault Mirage aircraft – a turning point in the battle. This deal will further bolster the other aspects of the strategic relationship between the two countries such as counter-terrorism and exchanges within the armed forces.
Counter-terrorism is an area of strong bilateral co-operation between India and France. The attack on Charlie Hebdo in France was a stark reminder that the fight against terrorism needs to be a collective global effort. India’s experience of integrating Muslims into mainstream society can serve as a relevant counter-terrorism model for France, which is struggling to integrate its own Muslim immigrant population.
Prime Minister Modi will be visiting the Airbus headquarters in Toulouse on 11 April 2015. Airbus has benefitted immensely from the booming Indian civil aviation market. It has investments in major IAF deals including aerial tankers and two A330s which have been cleared for purchase for India’s airborne warning and control system (AWACS). It is also currently the sole bidder, along with its Indian partner Tata, in the replacement programme for the IAF’s Avro transport aircraft fleet.”