As Rajnath Singh meets France’s Lecornu, a hard push to deepen military ties
The Indo-Pacific region is of significance to both India and France who have made repeated calls for a free, open and rules-based order in the region amid China’s assertive behaviour in the South China sea
NEW DELHI: India and France on Monday discussed ways to deepen their bilateral military ties with a focus on defence industrial cooperation pivoting on the Make in India initiative, increasing the scope and complexity of exercises between their armed forces, and boosting maritime cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, officials familiar with the matter said after the 4th India-France Annual Defence Dialogue between defence minister Rajnath Singh and his French counterpart Sebastien Lecornu.
A wide range of bilateral, regional, defence and defence industrial cooperation issues were discussed, and the ministers reviewed the ongoing military-to-military cooperation which has gone up substantially in recent years, the defence ministry said in a statement.
“Had warm and fruitful discussions with the Defence Minister of France, Mr Sebastien Lecornu during the fourth India-France Annual Defence Dialogue in New Delhi today. A wide range of bilateral, regional & defence industrial cooperation issues were discussed during the dialogue,” Singh wrote on Twitter.
Strengthening maritime cooperation was one of the main points on the agenda, the officials said.
The Indo-Pacific region is of significance to both India and France who have made repeated calls for a free, open and rules-based order in the region amid China’s assertive behaviour in the South China sea. France has been increasingly looking at strengthening its strategic partnerships in the Indo-Pacific region -- the country is present in the region through its overseas territories, and 93% of its exclusive economic zone is located in the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
“The ministers recognised their convergence on a number of strategic and defence issues and shared the commitment to work together on enhancing cooperation in bilateral, regional and multilateral fora, with a focus on the Indo-Pacific region,” the defence ministry said.
Another key area discussed was defence industrial cooperation with a focus on the government’s Make in India initiative aimed at strengthening the country’s defence manufacturing sector, cutting down imports of military hardware, and tapping arms export opportunities globally.
“Future collaborations and potential co-production opportunities were discussed. The ministers agreed that the technical groups from both the countries should meet early next year and take the key cooperation issues forward,” the statement said.
Increasing military-to-military cooperation by expanding the scope of bilateral exercises also came up during the dialogue.
In April 2021, the navies of India, the United States, Japan and Australia (the Quad navies) conducted complex maritime drills in the eastern Indian Ocean Region as part of the French Navy-led exercise called La Pérouse for the first time.
Also, in early November, the chiefs of the air forces of India and France flew fighter planes operated by each other during Exercise Garuda VII between Indian Air Force (IAF) and French Air and Space Force (FASF) in Rajasthan, with the drills aimed at enhancing the interoperability between the two sides.
The two ministers noted with satisfaction that India and France recently held the Garuda exercise successfully in Jodhpur.
Lecornu on Sunday visited the Kochi-based Southern Naval Command and also India’s first indigenous aircraft carrier INS Vikrant.
India plans to buy 26 new fighters for Vikrant through a government-to-government deal to meet the navy’s requirements, with US firm Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet competing against French aircraft maker Dassault Aviation’s Rafale-M for the order.
France is one of India’s most trusted strategic partners, and both countries look forward to celebrating 25 years of their strategic partnership in 2023, the statement added.
The ministers agreed to strengthen defence cooperation in all areas “crucial for strategic autonomy and tackling our common challenges,” Emmanuel Lenain, the French ambassador to India, said on Twitter.