India-France defence cooperation to be focus of PM Modi’s 2-day visit to Paris

New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s two-day visit to France beginning July 13 would be both rich in “substance” and set “new benchmark” for strategic partnership between the two countries in years ahead, Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra said on Wednesday.

Boosting defence ties is expected to be a key focus of the talks between Modi and French President Emmanuel Macron with ground work being laid to announce New Delhi’s procurement of 26 Naval variant of Rafale jets from France besides a big-ticket deal to jointly develop an aircraft engine in India.

Modi will be guest of honour at the annual Bastille Day Parade and hold talks with Macron to take forward cooperation in a range of key areas including defence, space, trade and investment. After concluding his visit to France, Modi will travel to Abu Dhabi.

A 269-member Indian tri-services contingent will participate in the parade. Three Rafale fighter jets of the Indian Air Force (IAF) will also join the flypast on the occasion along with French jets.

Kwatra described the recent riots in several French cities as an ”internal matter” and said that had no impact on the visit. While declining to comment on specific outcomes in the spheres of defence in the Modi-Macron talks, he said ways to move the engagement towards ”co-production, co-development and co-design” of military hardware and linking it to India’s priorities for self-reliance is expected to be part of the discussions. On the 1650 MW nuclear power reactors in Jaitapur in Maharashtra, he said both sides are engaged in intense discussions to resolve all issues including those relating civil nuclear liability, cost and techno commercial matters.

”The visit of the prime minister to France would be both rich in substance and in form and we would believe that it would set a new benchmark for our strategic partnership in years ahead,” Kwatra said addressing a press conference.

The Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) headed by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh is expected to give a go ahead to the major defence deals that are expected to be announced during Modi’s visit to Paris. Besides the Rafale and aircraft engine project, the DAC is also expected to clear procurement of three additional Scorpene submarines. Sources said the ”frame of reference” of India’s defence cooperation with various countries have transformed significantly with a focus on the country’s Make-in-India initiative and the engagement with France will also follow that approach. On Thursday, Modi will meet President of the French Senate Gérard Larcher, Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne and address an Indian community event at La Seine Musicale. In the evening, Macron will host a private dinner for Modi.

On Friday, Modi will grace the Bastille Day Parade, meet the president of French National Assembly Yaël Braun-Pivet and will attend a series of interactions with thought leaders and business people. There will be a ceremonial reception for Modi at the Élysée Palace on Friday and it will be followed by delegation-level talks between Modi and Macron. The two leaders will also participate in the India-France CEO Forum. Later in the evening, Macron will host a banquet for Modi at the iconic Louvre museum complex in Paris.

Kwatra said the two leaders will review cooperation under key pillars of the strategic partnership including security, civil nuclear technology, counter-terrorism, cyber security, space, climate change and integration of supply chains of the two countries.

He said the two leaders are expected to explore new areas of cooperation in the space sector.

Replying to a question on riots in several French cities, Kwatra said: ”It is a matter internal to France and from our perspective, we do not see any impact on the visit whatsoever.” In a press statement, the Ministry of External Affairs said Modi’s visit to France will provide an opportunity to chart the course of the partnership for the future across diverse sectors such as strategic, cultural, scientific, academic and economic cooperation.

On defence cooperation, the sources said both sides are looking at expanding it further.

India has already procured 36 Rafale jets from France for the IAF. Another important project with Francet is likely to be a follow-on order of three Scorpene submarines which are set to be manufactured in India.

Under Project 75, six Scorpene submarines have already been made in India. The French side and it’s partner Mazagon Dock Limited (MDL) are now looking at the additional order of three more Scorpene submarines. The defence ministry is in talks with French defence major Safran for joint development of a fighter jet engine in India to power the country’s next generation aircraft including the futuristic Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA).

Modi will visit Abu Dhabi on July 15 during which he will hold wide-ranging talks with President of the United Arab Emirates Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan to take forward bilateral ties in areas of energy, food security, fintech and defence.

”The India-UAE comprehensive strategic partnership has been steadily strengthening and the prime minister’s visit will be an opportunity to identify ways to take this forward in various domains such as energy, education, healthcare, food security, fintech, defence and culture,” the MEA said.

It will also be an opportunity to discuss cooperation on global issues, particularly in the context of the UAE’s Presidency of COP-28 and India’s G-20 Presidency in which the UAE is a ”special invitee”, it added.