by Vineeta Pandey

Taking forward their strategic partnership to new heights, India and France on Saturday signed an agreement to provide reciprocal logistics support to each other’s armed forces. The two nations will not only open their naval and air force bases to warships and aircrafts from each other for docking, refueling, maintenance and replenishment but also allow each other access to their military facilities.

The agreement assumes significance given that it will boost India’s security control in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) and help check the growing influence of China and its territorial ambitions in the region.

In addition, 13 more agreements — including one on “Industrial Way Forward” between Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited and EDF, France, to pave way for the implementation of the long-delayed Jaitapur nuclear power project — were signed. This apart, the two sides released a joint vision for space cooperation, and a joint strategic vision in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).

The “Agreement regarding the provision of reciprocal logistics support between the Armed Forces” was signed following the delegation-level talks between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and French President Emmanuel Macron.

Terming the agreement of the reciprocal logistics support between the two armies as a “golden step” in the history of bilateral Defence cooperation, Modi said, “From ground to sky, there is no subject on which India and France are not working together.” He pointed out that the two countries have very intense and deep Defence relations and India considers France as one of its “most trusted” Defence partners.

“Regular discussions and training exercises are conducted between all wings of our military forces. We have strong relations in Defence equipment and manufacturing. We welcome the commitment of France for Make in India in the Defence sector,” the PM said.

Later, Macron in his media statement said that the Defence cooperation between the two countries now has a new significance with the new agreement. “A strong part of our security and the world’s stability is at stake in the Indian Ocean. The Indian Ocean, like the Pacific Ocean, cannot become a place of hegemony,” he said.

With Saturday’s deal, India now has reciprocal logistics support deal with two countries of the P-5, after having signed the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) with the US in 2016.

Technically, this agreement will facilitate the reciprocal provision of logistic support, supplies and services between the armed forces of the two countries during authorised port visits, joint exercises, joint training, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts.

On the larger perspective, while the agreement provides New Delhi a higher level of confidence in terms of dealing with the bigger and powerful nations like the US and France, it also provides India a better ability to operate on the high seas.

Sources said India’s range of operations and ability to monitor hijacking, trafficking, smuggling and terrorism goes up by 100 per cent due to this pact. “The agreement is symbolic of the strategic depth and maturity reached in India-France Defence ties,” the two leaders later said in a joint statement.

India and France will also intensify their cooperation in several other areas, including counter-terrorism, space and in the IOR. Following the talks, the two sides also released joint strategic vision for IOR which mentioned joint Navy exercises and maritime surveillance as an important aspect of their growing strategic partnership. The navies of the two countries will also jointly work in the IOR to combat maritime terrorism. Both sides affirmed their intention to enhance the level of joint military exercises and maintain the operational quality-level of these exercises in the future.

During their discussions, Modi and Macron “noted with satisfaction” the on-schedule progress in the implementation of acquisition related agreements, including the Rafale aircraft agreement that was signed in 2016. Both leaders said they looked forward to continue their discussions to expand and deepen the ongoing Defence manufacturing partnerships. It was agreed that through “Make in India” initiatives, the Indian and French Defence enterprises can enter into arrangements for co-development and joint production of Defence equipment in India, including transfer of technologies.

Later, while congratulating India for getting membership of the missile export control regimes, Macron committed France’s support to building consensus among regimes’ members on the issue of India’s membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group.