PM Modi’s France visit expected to lead to submarine and fighter jet deals

Dr Divya Rani

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be the Guest of Honour for the national day celebrations of France this year. Bastille Day, observed on July 14 every year, is France’s National Day. The day is marked by a special military parade at the Champs Elysees in Paris.

On May 5, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) made an announcement stating that French President Emmanuel Macron extended an invitation to Prime Minister Modi. This visit holds the promise of enhancing the India-France Strategic Partnership by establishing ambitious objectives in areas such as strategic collaboration, cultural exchange, scientific advancements, academic pursuits, and economic cooperation. India and France share a common vision of peace and security, especially in Europe and the Indo-Pacific, upholding the objectives and principles of the United Nations Charter. The forthcoming visit is likely to see the launch of some common initiatives responding to the key challenges of the time, such as biodiversity loss, climate change, and the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It provides an opportunity for India and France to reaffirm their commitment to multilateralism, including in the context of India’s G20 Presidency.

India and France are celebrating the 25th anniversary of their Strategic Partnership this year. An Indian armed forces contingent will participate in the Bastille Day Parade alongside their French counterparts to mark this important milestone.

India has so far signed more than 35 strategic partnerships. But, the strategic partnership India signed with France in January 1998 was India’s first ever. A few months later, India conducted the Pokhran II nuclear tests. India carried out its nuclear tests within a few months. Not only did France refrain from imposing sanctions, but President Chirac himself sought to provide India with a respectable entry into the global nuclear framework.

The Prime Ministerial visit may be useful for India in the context of the Ukraine war, where Indian and European perceptions differ. The strengthening of the strategic partnership with France may reassure other EU nations that despite occasional tactical differences, a friendly relationship with India continues to be a useful investment. France’s lead within the European Union is likely to be more decisive than ever before. Since Brexit, France remains the only country in the European Union which is both a nuclear state and a Permanent Member of the Security Council of the United Nations.

France hosts the fourth-largest Indian diaspora in Europe, following the United Kingdom, Italy, and Germany. Despite the prevailing difficulties, France has earnestly endeavoured to attract Indian students and professionals. The two nations have established a bilateral agreement focused on migration and mobility cooperation, with the objective of facilitating circular migration that enables individuals to enhance their skills abroad and subsequently return to contribute to their home country.

Nonetheless, it’s critical to focus on enhancing the scale of mutual trade and investment. The two-way commerce has been hovering around USD 10-12 billion during the last few years. India’s trade with countries like Bangladesh, Thailand, and Vietnam exceeds in size when compared to its trade with France. It is incumbent upon India to explore ways and means to amplify its trade volume with France, a formidable European economy valued at USD 3 trillion.

The forthcoming visit is poised to be a significant milestone for the Indian Navy, with substantial agreements on the horizon. There is a palpable sense of anticipation among national and international defence and security sectors, speculating the possible fruition of long-standing government-to-government (G2G) defence contracts. This potential breakthrough represents a promising leap forward in bilateral relations and a testament to persistent negotiations.

The negotiations included the procurement of 26 Dassault Rafale-Maritime (M) fighters and at least three add-on Scorpene-class diesel-electric ‘killer-hunter’ conventional submarines or SSKs. They are to supplement six similar boats which were licence-built by Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders Limited (MDL) in Mumbai from 2006 onwards.

The visit may also see India agreeing to France’s involvement in the Navy’s programme to build six nuclear-powered attack submarines or SSNs, via a technology transfer. That project is underway at the secretive Ship Building Centre in Visakhapatnam.

Secondly, another anticipated highlight of PM Modi’s visit is the prospective agreement on the anvil for MDL to undertake the license-build of three more Scorpene-class submarines. The Indian Navy’s Project 75-India (P-75I) programme, a home-grown initiative to construct six SSKs in partnership with a foreign original equipment manufacturer, has been plagued by several delays over the past 16 years. However, this potential agreement signifies a reinvigoration of the program and promises to push forward India’s defence ambitions.

France has shown a keen interest in partnering with key Indian entities such as the Defence Research and Development Organisation, the Department of Atomic Energy, the Navy, and related organisations.

Their collaboration would focus on locally constructing six SSNs, designed to augment and operationally assist the Navy’s fleet of four indigenously designed and built Arihant-class nuclear-powered missile submarines (SSBNs), each weighing 7,000 tonnes. The latter submarines were constructed leveraging Russian know-how and technical support, underscoring the international collaboration that underpins India’s naval advancements.

In early 2023, France offered to jointly develop SSNs with India by transferring technology based on its Barracuda-class SSNs. The first of those, INS Suffren, was commissioned into the French Navy in mid-2022. They are designed by the Naval Group, which is also responsible for developing the Scorpene boats.

The deal may be compensation for Naval Design following the cancellation of a similar deal with Australia. Australia 2021 cancelled a deal with Naval Design to supply the Royal Australian Navy with 12 conventional diesel-electric Attack-class submarines for over USD 60 billion.

A new deal to acquire 26 Rafale Marine fighters for indigenously-built aircraft carrier INS Vikrant may be announced during the visit. India has already purchased 36 Rafale fighter jets from France. Air India recently announced a deal to purchase 250 planes from the French behemoth Airbus.

Experts are hopeful that like PM Modi’s successful US tour in which several landmark defence purchases were confirmed by the Pentagon, his Paris visit may, boost the long-deferred modernisation and operational capabilities of India’s military via the G2G route.

Prime Minister Modi’s anticipated visit to France serves as a cornerstone in their strategic partnership. Celebrating the 25th anniversary of their alliance, it promises to reinforce bonds across various sectors, from strategic collaborations and cultural exchanges to economic cooperation.

This visit is expected to usher significant defence contracts and amplify trade, creating a transformative roadmap for bilateral relations. The trip signifies a shared commitment to tackle global challenges and uplift multilateralism, marking a new era of shared growth and prosperity.

(The author of this opinion article is Dr Divya Rani, who is an assistant professor at BHU, Varanasi. She is doctorate in International Relations with specialisation in European Studies from SIS/JNU, New Delhi.)


Ani service

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