FRENCH FOOT IN THE DOOR

India Today - - UPFRONT - —San­deep Un­nithan

French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron’s maiden visit to In­dia on De­cem­ber 8 is likely to be leav­ened by two ex­cit­ing items of mil­i­tary com­merce—the sale of three ad­di­tional French sub­marines and or­ders for 36 more Rafale fighter air­craft.

In­dia is cur­rently build­ing six Scor­pene sub­marines at the Mazagon Dock Ltd (MDL) in Mum­bai un­der a Rs 23,562 crore con­tract signed with France in 2005. France will de­liver the first of the 36 Rafale jets, signed in 2015 for 7.7 bil­lion eu­ros (Rs 59,000 crore), by 2019. Both pro­pos­als un­der dis­cus­sion at the ser­vice head­quar­ters are worth bil­lions and have ‘op­tion clauses’ in the agree­ments, which mean ad­di­tional num­bers can be sup­plied at the cost of the orig­i­nal con­tract. The deals could ce­ment the strate­gic part­ner­ship France en­joys with In­dia and en­hance Macron’s pro-busi­ness im­age within his coun­try. The IAF is be­lieved to have re­cently pro­jected a de­mand for 36 ad­di­tional Rafale jets on the grounds that they would be 40 per cent cheaper than the orig­i­nal batch (the ground sup­port and main­te­nance equip­ment is al­ready built into the first con­tract). The de­fence min­istry (MoD) is yet to take a call on this.

French de­fence min­is­ter Florence Par­ley, mean­while, vis­ited the MDL on Oc­to­ber 28 where the sub­marines are be­ing as­sem­bled, amid a strong sales pitch for the ad­di­tional sub­marines by French ship­builder DCNS. The French ship­builder has agreed to al­ter the orig­i­nal de­sign, adding on new fea­tures like Air In­de­pen­dent Propul­sion (AIP), which ex­tend a sub­ma­rine’s un­der­wa­ter stay, and land-at­tack cruise mis­siles. The navy’s present fleet of 13 con­ven­tional sub­marines are near­ing the end of their ser­vice lives and are be­ing given life ex­ten­sions.

The first two Scor­penes, the Kal­vari and Khan­deri, are al­ready un­der­go­ing sea tri­als. The last and sixth boat will be de­liv­ered by 2021 and DCNS has re­port­edly of­fered to start de­liv­er­ing the next three in 18-month in­ter­vals. This is an at­trac­tive propo­si­tion for the navy which needs new un­der­wa­ter plat­forms fast to de­ter China’s in­creased mar­itime ca­pa­bil­i­ties in the In­dian Ocean. The indige­nous op­tion to make a new class of six sub­marines by pri­vate sec­tor play­ers in col­lab­o­ra­tion with for­eign ship­yards, un­der ‘Project 75I’, is at least seven years away. The gov­ern­ment needs to clear strate­gic part­ner­ships be­tween pri­vate sec­tor play­ers and for­eign tech­nol­ogy part­ners, be­fore con­struc­tion con­tracts can be awarded.

Both re­peat or­ders ap­pear at­trac­tive in the short term, but in their present form could present a dilemma for the gov­ern­ment be­cause they fly in the face of its ‘Make in In­dia’ pitch for mak­ing weapons in­dige­nously.

CHARLES PLATIAU/REUTERS

CLOSE TIES PM Modi and Pres­i­dent Macron in Paris, June 2017

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