India and France are all set to sign a memorandum of understanding on upgrading the 51 Mirage 2000 fighters of the Indian Air Force during French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s two-day visit to New Delhi.
“The upgrade will mean that the Mirage 2000s will be turned into all-new aircraft with advanced radars and avionics,” senior officials told the HT on Wednesday, two days before Sarkozy’s arrival.
Following the collapse of the Eurocopter deal, a big-ticket item that was to have been signed during Sarkozy’s visit, the movement on the Mirage upgrade deal is being seen as an effort to reinvigorate bilateral defence ties.
Another agreement on the protection of classified information relating to technology transfer is also to be signed during the French President’s visit, the officials revealed.
They explained that the MoU on the Mirage 2000 upgrade would allow India to begin price negotiations with the French on the cost of the entire project. Paris is said to be asking for Rs. 12,000 crores for the entire project.
The French have been quite direct in expressing their concern at the collapse of the Eurocopter deal, in which 197 choppers were to be supplied to India at a cost of $600 million. A fresh request for proposals to purchase choppers is expected soon.
On the nuclear front, officials from both sides have let on that India and France have hammered out a framework for civil nuclear commerce. Following recent talks in Paris, top Indian officials confirmed that a deal was ready to be signed should New Delhi decide to give the green signal.
In December, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner went on record to state during his visit to New Delhi that it would be “impossible” to sign the civil nuclear cooperation deal.
The complication for the Indian side is that they decided against signing a similar kind of agreement with the Russians, which the government’s Left allies wanted it to conclude with Moscow.
In February 2006, India and France issued a declaration on “development of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes,” which held that future agreements, where applicable, would be subject to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards.