Cooperation in defence is the cornerstone of the India-France strategic partnership and the recent meeting of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the French President Emmanuel Macron further cemented the bond between both nations.

In the one-on-one delegation-level talks, the two leaders held discussions on the entire range of bilateral issues, including cooperation in defence, space, blue economy, and civil nuclear.

Besides bilateral cooperation, the Indo-France partnership today encompasses defence and security, connectivity, technical & scientific space cooperation, and beyond. This article focuses on the defence ties of both nations along with recent initiatives being taken to give a major fillip to combat capabilities.

The Saga of Defence Dialogues

India and France have a Ministerial level Defence dialogue, which has been held annually since 2018. The three services (Indian Army, Indian Navy, and Indian Air Force) also have regular defence exercises; viz. Exercise Shakti (Indian Army last participated in the Indo – France joint military exercise in November 2021 in France), Exercise Varuna (Indian Navy participated in the 20th edition of the Indo-French bilateral Naval exercise ‘Varuna-2022’ in April 2022) Exercise Garuda (Indian Air Force participated in the bilateral Indo-French large force employment warfare exercise in July 2019).

Further in the recent meeting of the Prime Minister and French President both sides welcomed the ongoing intense cooperation across all defence domains. They noted that Joint exercises like (Shakti, Varuna, Pegase, Desert Knight, Garuda) illustrate efforts for better integration and interoperability wherever possible.

The Maritime Camaraderie And Project P-75

Maritime cooperation between India and France has reached a notch higher through new levels of trust through exercises, exchanges, and joint endeavours throughout the Indian Ocean.

The proof in the pudding is ‘P-75 Scorpene Project’, under which six Scorpene submarines have been built by state-owned Mazagon Dockyard Limited (MDL) by the Transfer of Technology (ToT) from France under the ‘Make in India’ initiative.

Importantly, the Scorpene-class submarines are one of the most advanced conventional submarines in the world, which are equipped with superior stealth features, such as low radiated noise levels, advanced acoustic silencing techniques, and the ability to attack with precision-guided weapons on board.

The contract for six Scorpene submarines from DCNS (Naval Group) was inked in October 2006. Under the deal, the first submarine INS Kalvari was commissioned in December 2017, while the second INS Khanderi was commissioned in September 2019.

The third Scorpene class submarine INS Karanj was commissioned on 10 March 2021 and the Fourth Submarine, INS Vela was commissioned in the Indian Navy in November 2021.

Besides this, the Fifth Submarine Vagir is under the Sea trials phase, whilst the sixth and last Submarine will also undergo Sea trials after launching. The Scorpene project has received the unconditional support, course correction, and active encouragement of the Department of Defence Production (MoD) and the Indian Navy throughout its various phases of construction.

Rafale’s Reconnaissance

The purchase of Rafale aircraft can be considered the most historic step in the deepening of India-France defence ties. The Intergovernmental Agreement for the purchase of 36 Rafale fighter aircraft (30 fighter aircraft and 6 trainers) by India in flyaway condition was signed in New Delhi on 23 September 2016.

As of February this year, India has now received 35 of the 36 Rafales. The twin-engine Rafale jets are capable of carrying out a variety of missions including ground and sea attacks, air defence and air superiority, reconnaissance, and nuclear strike deterrence.