France And India Look To Deepen Defence Ties

The Indian government's long-delayed green light to French defence majors Dassault and Thales to undertake the Mirage-2000 combat fighter upgrade is yet another indicator of New Delhi forging stronger strategic links with Paris.

Over the last decade, French defence vendors have bagged, or are the leading contenders to win a number lucrative Indian arms contracts, including the $11-billion medium, multi-role combat aircraft tender for 126 aircrafts for the Indian Air Force, and the estimated $2.4-billion Mirage-2000 upgrade.

"We have always had a long-standing relationship with France, and a lot of goodwill was created after the 1998 nuclear tests at Pokhran. The current relationship is not really a new synergy that is being created, but is a continuation of past ties," Kanwal Sibal, former Indian foreign secretary said.

Defence analysts point out that both countries are now looking to enhance their bi-lateral relationship to a more robust strategic partnership, a development that could see the European powerhouse rival the United States as India's defence partner of choice.

"It is a question of having a basket of choices. If one does a cost-benefit analysis on a subjective term, France is a major player, since their technology is at par with anything being offered by the United States. India has to extract the maximum mileage out of what is being offered by France," Deba Ranjan Mohanty, senior fellow with the New Delhi-based think tank, Observer Research Foundation said.

While Indo-US strategic ties have grown by leaps and bounds over the last decade, they have also been marred by a number of misgivings, including the latter's relationship with Pakistan, transfer of critical technology and the reluctance of India's armed forces in signing a number of strategic agreements such as CISMOA, BECA and LSA.

The French, however, have assured India of complete co-operation with regard to transfer of technology. Aviation major Dassault has claimed that the Rafale, one of the contenders for the MMRCA tender, is not subject to International Traffic in Arms Regulations restrictions, thereby giving it a huge advantage over its rivals.

Separately, the Nicolas Sarkozy's government has also cleared full technology transfer of the Rafale to India, and has also agreed to transfer software source codes, which will allow India to re-programme radars and other sensitive equipment.

However, the effectiveness of the promises are yet to be tested.



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