Despite lockdown, fighter jet production is on target, says Emmanuel Lenain

French Ambassador to India Emmanuel Lenain on Tuesday said France would deliver all 36 Rafale fighter aircraft to India by 2022 despite the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown on French defence industry.

Mr. Lenain, who visited the offices of The Hindu during his two-day visit to Chennai, said, “Although France also had a lockdown in the spring 2020 and factories closed for a while, our defence industries have doubled efforts; they have worked extra shifts and overnight or weekends to be able to deliver and to supply the Rafale jets on time.”

Asked if the delivery schedule of the fighter jets would be shifted due to the pandemic, Mr. Lenain said, “According to the contract, they are delivered in France, in Mérignac, where they are produced. Then it is up to India to decide on how long they keep the jets in Mérignac, where they can train the pilots and the technicians.”

Mr . Lenain was on a visit to Chennai during which he held wide-ranging talks with Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami on French investment and engagement in industry, R&D and renewable energy in the State.

Asked about the impact of Brexit and the U.S.-China trade war on French investment strategy in the changing global business climate, Mr. Lenain said, “One of the lessons that all governments drew from the COVID crisis is that the need for strategic autonomy on certain essential production capacity... It is true for certain medical products.”

However, he added that this did not mean autarky. “We are not going to bring back every supply chain from other places to Europe. That is not realistic. And companies are going to localise in friendly and reliable countries. India is at the top of the list. When you are making an investment for 10, 20 or 30 years, you want to make sure of the partner you choose.”