French defence industry wants a share in Make in India programme
The French defence industry is enthused over the prospects of participating in India’s ‘Make in India’ programme and is interested in making India one of its production centres. As India plans to acquire defence equipments worth $100 billion during the next decade, the French defence industry has entered into dialogues with Indian private sector companies for setting up joint ventures on Indian soil.
The French defence companies believe that on the back of their successful engagement with India over the last five decades, they can establish fruitful ventures worth multibillion dollars here in India. Whether it is submarines or landing platform decks for the Indian Navy or the short-range surface-to-air missile (SRSAM) for the Indian Army and the Indian Air Force (IAF); or the Howitzer guns for the Indian Army, the French are ready to participate in these programmes.
Under the ‘light utility’ contract, Airbus Helicopters has initiated search for a reliable partner, while the world’s leading missile manufacturer MBDA is looking for partnership with Indian company for short-range surface-to-air missile.
A top MBDA official said that the SRSAMs made in India can be exported worldwide. “We already have a joint partnership going on with Indian firms and are looking forward to deepening it,” the official added. MBDA is already working with the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) for the SRSAM design named Maitri. MBDA has also proposed to DRDO for design and development of Akash Mark-II surface-to-air missile with a range of 40 km. The Akash missile, which is already under induction in the IAF, has a range of 25 km.
The head of the battlefield and new cooperation division of MBDA, Jean Paul Faye said that he is expecting a decision on the programme soon. The SRSAMs will have two versions—ship-launched and land-based. The project is under government-to-government
deal and is under the supervision of the two governments. Faye said, “MBDA has over 90 customers worldwide and we will support in its export as we can.” These SRSAMs are meant for the Indian Army, Air Force and Navy.
Another MBDA official said, “We have contract prepared with the DRDO as we have been negotiating over six to seven years. The Indian production agency will be Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL). There will also be work packages for private industry under this programme.”
Yet another official stated that “the SRSAM is part of the strategic dialogue between the French and Indian governments. We understand the Make in India strategy of the new Narendra Modi Government. In fact we want to build on 50 years of partnership with India as we have helped BDL produce Milan missiles in India. We are also ready to help produce the fifth-generation anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) in India. We can develop the missile in two years with DRDO as design authority and can produce 8,000 missiles in three years. We have proposed these missiles to continue the cooperation.” It is worth noting that the Indian Ministry of Defence has already decided to acquire the ATGM Spike from Israel which has a range of only 2.5 km whereas India can develop beyond 4 km range ATGM in India.
A senior official of Nexter, the leading manufacturers of the howitzer gun systems, said that the company will respond to the Indian request for information (RFI) for making Caesar guns in India in partnership with Ashok Leyland and Larsen and Toubro. It is known that the Defence Acquisition Council has decided to issue RFP for guns to be made in India under the ‘Make In India’ policy. The Indian Army has proposed to the MoD for acquiring 814 artillery guns worth R 15,570 crore. The Indian MoD has also proposed that 100 such guns will be acquired off the shelf, 714 would be made in India in partnership with the Indian private sector company winning the tender.
According to Jian Michel Domitrovic, Executive Vice President of Nexter, “It is one of the major deals that we can have around the world. You can imagine that for Nexter and our partner L&T, it is an important project.” Domitrovic has high expectations from the Narendra Modi Government as it takes faster decisions and they can have better appreciation of the acquisition process. The Indian Army is facing serious shortage of howitzer guns, as these could not be acquired over the last two-and-a-half decades. Six tenders issued till date have been cancelled due to various reasons.
A top official of the world’s leading submarine and warships manufacturing company DCNS said that they have responded to the RFI for six new submarines under the P-75(I) project of the Indian Navy. This project could be worth R 50,000 crore. The DCNS has also proposed to the MoD the manufacture of a landing platform deck (LPDs) similar to French Mistral which has a displacement of 21,000 tonnes. India has issued RFI for acquiring additional LPDs. The US Ship Trenton (INS Jalashwa) was acquired from the US Navy second hand.
However, the French companies want clarity and assurance from the Indian Government that their investment proposal will be facilitated with eased governmental norms as in developed countries. A senior official of DCNS Jerome Penicaud told the visiting Indian media in Paris that if his company had options they would rather have preferred to build in their country but we have to adapt to the context. Though DCNS is already assisting Indian MDL in manufacturing the Scorpene submarines in India, they are eyeing the next big tenders of the Indian Navy the Project 75(I) and the R 16,000-crore amphibious warships and the LPDs. DCNS may engage with MDL for the next six submarines as it is already transferring its know-how to MDL for first six submarines, the first of which will roll out next year.
DCNS has entered into a contract with Pipavav, the Indian private sector shipyard, for manufacturing the LPD. Jerome Penicaud said, “For the LPD project, the idea is that the ships are to be built by one of the Indian shipyards that has been selected. We are partners. We are here to bring the design and necessary technical assistance. That is the way we are addressing Make in India.”
The Modi Government had taken a major decision to increase the FDI limit from 26 to 49 per cent in the defence sector which Xavier Hay, Managing Director of Airbus Helicopters in India, described as positive and said, “We are looking forward to any order on further evolution on that.” When asked about his views on the ‘Make In India’ policy of the Modi Government, Hay said, “Let us see how it is structured.” He pointed out that Airbus Helicopters already have partnership with Indian aviation giant the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited.
MDL is producing six SSK Scorpene submarines (P-75) under transfer of technology from DCNS
(Left) Caesar self-propelled howitzer; (Right) MBDA’s Milan portable medium-range anti-tank missile system