India plans to acquire the Airbus H225M Caracal helicopter for the coast guard

Within a week of the Modi-Macron summit, India and France will hold a strategic dialogue to talk acquisition and development of defence equipment

PARIS: Within a week of the Modi-Macron summit, India and France will hold a strategic dialogue to talk acquisition and development of defence equipment. NSA Ajit Doval will host his counterpart, Emmanuel Bonne in New Delhi on Thursday to take forward the decisions taken at the August 22 summit.

According to officials, on the table for the high-level discussion would be the next order for fighter aircraft, among other defence equipment.

France is keen to pick up another order of Rafale fighter jets after the first 36 are ready to be delivered. These would be on international bidding. The US also wants to hawk its F-21 aircraft, while Sweden is hoping to sell its Gripen.

Defence minister Rajnath Singh will be here in September for the hand over of the first Rafale. Indian pilots will be trained in France so it may be a while before the jet makes its way to India.

Of much greater significance and far more ambitious is a new India-France project to co-develop and co-build a next generation jet engine for use by India. The lead French defence company in the reckoning here is Safran. There is little clarity on how this will be developed in India, including agencies and companies to be involved. What is clear is that the project has been nicknamed INFRA. Modi may have been hinting at this when he said after his meeting with Macron here that India and France were building INFRA in several sectors.

If it happens, this would be momentous — there aren’t that many companies in the world that can build jet engines. If India does achieve the feat, it would go a long way in giving the country autonomy in defence purchases.

It is rumoured that the outgoing French ambassador to India, Alexander Ziegler may be joining Safran, making negotiations much less problematic. This kind of movement is fairly common among envoys who have served in India where they get get snapped up by the private sector to help navigate the opaque Indian system.

Doval has been the point-person in the Modi government to lead the discussion on defence acquisitions. The government's decision to set up the chief of defence staff, officials say, will go a long way to easing friction between the services both on inter-operability as well as streamlining acquisitions. Doval met with Bonne in Osaka on the sidelines of the G-20. The decision by both governments to hold a strategic dialogue so soon after a summit is a sign of the urgency which is invested in these decisions.

In addition, France is keen to add more Scorpene submarines to India’s inventory. Government officials here suggested these could be part of India's P-75 line of submarines which have been an on-again-off-again project for years. This time however the French are keen to make them in India --- the Indian government is keen to involve both public and private sector shipyards for these.

France is also keen to sell about 18 Caracal helicopters for the Indian Coast Guard, as well as almost 100 heavy “Panther” helicopters for the Indian Navy, both to be made by French company Airbus.