French National Day celebrates Prime Minister Modi as Guest of Honour, paving the way for defence collaboration and indigenous technological advancements
|The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army|
During his recent two-day visit to France on July 13-14, 2023, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the ‘Guest of Honour’ at the French National Day on July 14 - a rare honour to him. In 2017, US President Donald Trump was accorded a similar honour. French National Day is also known as ‘Bastille Day’, which occupies a special place in French history as the French commemorate on this day the ‘Storming of the Bastille Prison’ in 1789 during the French Revolution. Prime Minister Modi was awarded the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honour, the highest honour of France, by French President Emmanuel Macron.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's rare honour as Guest of Honour at French National Day symbolises the growing importance of India-France relations
During the visit, Prime Minister Narendra Modi held formal talks with President Macron. He also met French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne as well as the Presidents of the Senate and the National Assembly of France. President Macron hosted a State Banquet at the iconic Louvre Museum on Bastille Day (where more than 200 guests joined the two leaders), as well as a private dinner in honour of Prime Minister Modi.
Modi separately also interacted with the Indian diaspora in France, CEOs of Indian and French companies and prominent French personalities. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the India-France Strategic Partnership, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit provided an opportunity to chart the course of the partnership for the future across diverse sectors such as strategic, cultural, scientific, academic and economic cooperation.
India's Navy to acquire 26 Rafale fighter jets and three Scorpene-class submarines, enhancing combat potential
The IAF has been operating French Rafale fighter jets, as well as French Mirage 2000 fighter jets. France has helped the Indian Navy in making six Scorpene class submarines at Mazgaon Dockyard (in Mumbai). Five of these Scorpene submarines, viz Kalvari, Khanderi, Karanj, Vela, and Vagir, have already been commissioned in the Indian Navy, while the sixth and the last Vagsheer is undergoing sea trials.
On July 10, 2023, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) had already accorded initial approval to buy 26 Rafale fighter aircraft and three Scorpene-class conventional submarines from France. The Scorpène-class submarines are a class of diesel-electric attack submarines jointly developed by the French Naval Group and the Spanish company Navantia. The Indian Navy’s combat potential received a big boost with the in-principle approval of these deals coming through during Prime Minister Modi’s visit to France. The three Scorpene-class submarines will be acquired under the repeat clause by the Navy as part of Project 75 where they will be built in the Mazagon Docks Limited (MDL) in Mumbai.
France's Safran offers partnership for turbojet engine development, empowering India's AMCA and TEDBF projects
France has agreed to arm the air independent propulsion (AIP) equipped Scorpene-class submarine with a naval cruise missile, which has double the range of SCALP air-to-ground missile carried by IAF Rafale fighters. Upgraded from the SCALP missile, the naval version has a range of over 1,000 km when launched from a submarine and goes up to 1,400 km when launched from a warship. The turbojet powered cruise missile is sub-sonic and remains sub-surface before taking to the skies while approaching the target.
The 26 Rafale-M fighter jets are for the Navy’s aircraft carriers, INS ‘Vikramaditya’ procured from Russia and the indigenously built INS ‘Vikrant’ which was commissioned in September last year. The Rafale-M will be equipped with Exocet AM-39 anti-ship missiles having a range of 70 km, which can vary depending on the altitude and speed of the aircraft. Of the 26 Rafale jets being procured, four will be trainer aircraft.
The indigenous Twin Engine Deck-Based Fighter (TEDBF) is under development by Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) under the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) to operate off the Navy’s aircraft carriers. The 26 Rafale-M fighter jets being procured from France will fill the gap in the interim as existing MiG-29Ks may not last till then. In 2017, the Navy had floated a Request For Information (RFI) to procure 57 twin engine carrier fighters which is now set to be downsized to 26 with the TEDBF under development. Both the Rafale-M and F/A-18 had demonstrated their compatibility to operate from Indian carriers by operating from the Navy’s Shore Based Test Facility in Goa.
Safran of France has now offered to establish partnership with India to design and develop a turbojet engine capable of producing 12 tonne thrust for a 26-tonne aircraft, which would power the AMCA as well as the naval version of the TEDBF. However, the start point will likely be Safran’s 125 KN engine already under development for the French next generation fighter. Hence, transfer of critical jet engine technology is unlikely – same as in America’s GE deal with Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) for the already operational GE F414 engine that would be assembled in India. The bottom-line is that no one will give us critical jet engine technology – we must develop our own.
The Bastille Day Parade witnessed a 269-member Tri-Services contingent of the Indian Armed Forces marching alongside their French counterparts. The Indian Army contingent of 77 marching personnel and 38 band members was led by Captain Aman Jagtap. The Indian Navy contingent was led by Commander Virat Baghel, while Squadron Leader Sindhu Reddy led the Indian Air Force (IAF) contingent. Four Rafale aircraft of the IAF also participated in the fly-past on Bastille Day.
The Army contingent was represented by the Punjab Regiment. In World War-I, troops of the Punjab Regiment won 18 Battle and Theatre Honours. In France, they took part in an offensive near Neuve Chapelle in September 1915, earning the Battle Honours’ Loos’ and ‘France and Flanders.’ In World War II, soldiers of the Punjab Regiment won 16 Battle Honours and 14 Theatre Honours. The Rajputana Rifles Regiment Band was also part of the Indian Army contingent.
In another development, (L&T) and Spanish firm Navantia inked a 'Teaming Agreement (TA)' on July 11, 2023, to jointly bid for the Indian Navy's 43,000-crore contract for the procurement of six stealth submarines. According to the agreement, Navantia would carry out the design of P75(I) submarines based on its S80 class of submarines, the first of which was launched in 2021 and is undergoing sea trials prior to its delivery to the Spanish Navy at the end of 2023.
A month earlier, Germany’s Thyssenkrupp Marine Systems (TKMS) and state-run Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders Ltd (MDL) had signed a framework agreement to bid for one of the biggest defence acquisition projects under the 'Make in India' initiative. The MoD is in the process of procuring the six domestically built conventional submarines for the Indian Navy under the Project-75 (India) programme.
The submarines will be built under the strategic partnership (SP) model that allows domestic defence manufacturers to join hands with leading foreign defence majors to produce high-end military platforms to reduce import dependence. The bidding process for P-75 (India) ends in August and the MoD is likely to finalise the winner of the contract by the end of this year or early next year.