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Will India and France work together on aero-engines and nuclear subs after Jaishankar’s visit?

With India set to become the third-largest market for commercial aviation, French companies say that they are fully committed to the 'Make in India' policy championed by New Delhi (Image coutesy Safran/Adrien Daste)

Having already made it clear that the India-France Strategic Partnership is "more relevant today than ever", New Delhi and Paris have agreed to further deepen the cooperation in defence and security besides making the blue economy a driver of progress for both the countries.

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, currently on a visit to France, held bilateral talks with his French counterpart, Jean-Yves Le Drian, on Sunday where both sides adopted the 'India-France Roadmap on the Blue Economy and Ocean Governance'.

The roadmap details how both maritime nations, having dynamic maritime economy sectors, nurture a high quality dialogue on maritime security, which enables them to raise strategic issues in the Indo-Pacific.

It is believed that the both ministers also held discussions on jointly developing high thrust aircraft engines under the Indian government's initiative to promote self-reliance in defence manufacturing and a possible collaboration on nuclear-powered submarines.

Safran says, 'committed to Make in India’

Having global leaders in the defence industry like Dassault Aviation, Naval Group, Airbus Group, MBDA, Nexter, Safran and Thales, France exports a full range of defence systems, with procurement providing an opportunity to create or to strengthen long-term partnerships.

As India had signed the contract for the acquisition of 36 Rafale in 2016, Safran – a pioneer in aeroengine design, development and manufacturing – had highlighted the role played by its key systems and equipment for the 'omnirole' fighter jets designed and built by Dassault Aviation.

The day after the official handover of the first Rafale to the Indian Air Force at Dassault Aviation's Merignac facility in October 2019, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh had visited Safran's Villaroche facility near Paris.

The company had then said that the Indian delegation was "especially interested" in the assembly line of M88, the engine with exceptional performance — up to 7.5 tons of thrust with afterburner — designed and built for Rafale.


(Image coutesy Safran/Adrien Daste)

Safran Aircraft Engines CEO Olivier Andries had reiterated that the company, already a key partner in respect of engines in Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) helicopters like Chetak, Cheetal, Light Utility Helicopter, Light Combat Helicopter and Advanced Light Helicopter, is fully committed to the 'Make in India' policy championed by New Delhi which is set to become the third-largest market for commercial aviation.

"The ecosystem we're building around our commercial engines will be a decisive enabler for the production of military engines in India. All these initiatives are also helping us meet the offset obligations we committed to as part of the Rafale contract," Andries had said back then.

In February 2021, Safran and HAL signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) announcing their intent to work together on bringing niche engine technology to India.

While the terms of the MoU centred around the M88 engine and manufacturing components for the engine with HAL for an additional batch of Rafale aircraft for India, it also contemplated transfer of "a significant amount of technology" in the assembling/manufacturing programmes.

Significantly, the MoU encompassed collaboration between HAL and Safran for indigenization programmes relating to "design and development of high thrust engines of 110 kN power and above" with transfer of key technology.

"Both HAL and Safran are keen to take this partnership to the next level by exploring new avenues. HAL and Safran are interested in exploring opportunities for strategic business cooperation that leverage the complementary talents and capabilities of the parties and support development of a robust ecosystem for aero-engines in India, consistent with the goals of the government of India's Make in India initiative," said R Madhavan, HAL Chairman and Managing Director.

The following months saw both countries underscoring their commitment to deepen the strategic partnership with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and French President Emmanuel Macron holding discussions on the sidelines of the G20 in Rome and National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval travelling to Paris for the annual Indo-French strategic dialogue.


Also Read: Doval in Paris as India and France intensify strategic partnership

A wide range of bilateral, regional, defence and defence industrial cooperation issues were then discussed between Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and and his French counterpart Florence Parly during the third Annual Defence Dialogue in New Delhi on December 17.

Addressing the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) annual convention a day later, Singh had said that a big French company will make engines in India as New Delhi remains focused on manufacturing defence equipment and has invited global companies to invest in the Indian defence and aerospace industry.

"Come Make in India, come make for India, come make for the world," the minister had said.

Indo-French partnership in the Indo-Pacific

Meanwhile, Jaishankar and Le Drian also discussed the India-EU relationship and the priorities of the French Presidency of the EU Council that began on January 1, 2022.

"In this context, Dr Jaishankar appreciated the French initiative of hosting an EU Ministerial Forum on Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific on February 22, 2022, where he will participate along with several other Ministers from Indo-Pacific and EU countries," the Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement.

It was also agreed to jointly launch during the EU Ministerial Forum, the Indo-French call for an 'Indo-Pacific Parks Partnership' which aims to build capacities in the Indo-Pacific region, in terms of sustainable management of protected areas.

Jaishankar will also hold meetings with other French dignitaries, EU Commissioners, as well as with his counterparts from other Indo-Pacific countries participating in the EU Indo-Pacific Forum.

Also Read: Looking beyond Covid-19, PM Modi and Macron solidify Indo-French partnership