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Different strokes of France at defence expo

The 43 French companies at DEFEXPO-2008 are second only to the 46 from the US and more than double of the 17 that participated in the 2006 edition of the exposition.
By Vishnu Makhijani | IANS, New Delhi
UPDATED ON FEB 18, 2008 03:24 PM IST

With 43 companies, France is the second largest foreign exhibitor at the ongoing DEFEXPO-2008 but what singles it out is that it has taken a very different approach from its aggressive competitors at the international defence exposition.

In fact, words like "aggression" and "marketing" cause Jean-Marie Carnet, director general of GICAN, an umbrella grouping of 129 French companies engaged in the fabrication of naval ships and armaments, to raise his eyebrows.

"No, we are not here with a specific issue or a programme or something like that. There is a big list of programmes India wants to develop and we are here to show that France is an interesting partner for Indian companies," Carnet told IANS in an interview.

"We want to be different. We want to show we are an eligible partner and that we want to be here for a long period," he said, adding: "We want to show that we have the full capacity in a wide range of defence equipment."

According to Carnet, "France is a bit shy when our companies want to export compared to other countries. But, when we decide to go somewhere, when we decide to initiate cooperation, first of all, we fulfil all our commitments.

"Then, we only want to establish cooperation and partnerships on a long duration period and on a win-win situation," Carnet maintained.

In this context, he noted that France was "ready for complete transfer of technology that is mandated under the Defence Procurement Procedure India enunciated in 2006.

"That's why we brought only hi-tech companies here to demonstrate their capabilities," Carnet pointed out, adding: "We have selected only those companies that could be of interest to India."

To reinforce his point, the official said that France was not averse to the transfer of dual use technologies to India.

"Of course, it's possible. If you want to be competitive, you have to incorporate civilian technology in military equipment so as to reduce the cost.

The 43 French companies at DEFEXPO-2008 are second only to the 46 from the US and more than double of the 17 that participated in the 2006 edition of the exposition.

Not surprisingly, defence and electronics major Thales forms the backbone of the French pavilion.

"We are the second biggest (foreign) pavilion," Carnet said proudly, adding: "The increase in rented space is 60 per cent. This shows the interest of the French companies to deal with India and to enter into partnerships with local companies."

He then added a caveat.

"We are willing to open our technology. We want to open friendly cooperation. But, we don't want that this cooperation should be subject to political dependence."

The India-France military engagement began in 1953 when the Indian Air Force (IAF) purchased its first jet fighters - the Ouragan - from France.

Today, the IAF flies two squadrons (40-plus aircraft) of the Mirage-2000 delta-wing fighter that were purchased in the 1980s and for which Thales has now proposed an upgrade to keep them in the skies for another 25-odd years.

State-owned Mazgaon Dockyard Limited is currently engaged in the licensed manufacture of six French-designed Scorpene submarines and France hopes for a repeat order for six submarines later this year.

Thales has also signed a contract for upgrading six of the Indian Navy's Soviet-era minesweepers into state-of the-art mine hunters.

GICAN, or the Groupement Industriel des Constructions et Armements Navals, was created in 1992 by companies involved in the naval industrial sector, under the sponsorship of the French defence ministry. Since then, GICAN has broadened its scope and now encompasses maritime security and safety and commercial shipbuilding.

GICAN recorded a 5 billion euros turnover in 2007, with more than 30,000 employees and an indirect workforce of 20,000.

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