“The ministers had detailed discussions regarding current and future cooperation in the areas of defence equipment and technology collaboration. They agreed such cooperation should continue to the mutual benefit of both countries, including in high technology areas involving joint research and development and transfer of technology,” stated a joint statement issued after the meeting between Union Defence Minister A K Antony and his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian, who is on a two-day visit to India.
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Both have also agreed to strengthen military ties further through greater collaboration in defence equipment and technology. Ever since India agreed to buy the Rafale warplanes from France, it has been engaged in price negotiations, which have become a sticking point in the deal. Besides, both sides have become very cautious in their approach recently in the backdrop of the controversies surrounding another such big-ticket defence deal concerning the purchase of Augusta-Westland choppers.
French firm Dassault Aviation had won the $15 billion contract to sell 126 French Rafale MMRCA to the Indian Air Force in January 2012. The plan is to import 18 of the fighter jets from Dassault directly while the remaining 108 would be manufactured in Bangalore by Hindustan Aeronatics Limited (HAL). Later, during a lecture on Indo-French Defence Partnership at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses on Friday, Le Drian said, “Of course, the MMRCA project is the priority. At the risk of disappointing you, I won’t be announcing the date of signing the contract. I would like you to know the negotiations are going on well and I have full confidence. There would be a framework Indo-French intergovernmental Agreement for this contract, which would provide all the necessary guarantees of the French State.”
He added India would “not regret” selecting the Rafale jets which have proved their merits in Afghanistan, Libya and Mali.
Le Drian told a French newspaper the first batch of Rafale would be delivered to India by 2016-2017.
Last month, on the sidelines of the Paris Air Show, senior officials from HAL and Dassualt met to discuss the final contours of the agreement. The two sides are also engaged in negotiations for a project for co-developing the ‘Maitri’ surface-to-air missile defence system. India has awarded several big-ticket contracts to the French, including the deal for building six Scorpene diesel-electric submarines for the Indian navy.
Le Drian said the first Scorpene submarine would be launched in 2014. French naval defence firms are currently building the six submarines at the Mazagaon shipyard in Mumbai, with complete transfer of technology.
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The two countries welcomed the upcoming bilateral exercise 'Shakti' in September 2013 in France between both armies.
“The ministers noted with satisfaction that the navies of both countries are working towards finalising the schedule for the conduct of Exercise 'Varuna' off the coast of India and also that the next air force exercise 'Garuda' would be held during the first half of 2014,” the statement.
Both ministers also assigned the High Committee on Defence Cooperation, which is scheduled to meet in France in October this year, to follow up and finalise practical measures to expand and deepen the bilateral partnership in defence. Le Drian, who had earlier visited India as part of President Hollande’s entourage, is scheduled to visit the Air Force base in Gwalior on Saturday for a briefing on the Indian Mirage 2000 squadrons and interaction with pilots, officers and technicians who fly and maintain the fleet.
“French manufacturers are currently working on upgrading the Mirage 2000 fleet that India acquired in 1980. At the end of this upgrade, the aircraft would match the most modern standards and continue to be in service for many more years,” the French defence minister stated.