Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is set to embark on a two-day visit to France, where he is expected to announce deals worth an estimated $10 billion for the purchase of 26 fighter jets and three submarines.
He will be the guest of honor at the Bastille Day parade in Paris on Friday, when units of the Indian Army, Navy and Air Force will participate in the event. It’s a rare honor for Modi, as France does not routinely invite foreign dignitaries to the annual celebration, which marks the key event of the French Revolution in 1789.
The prime minister’s visit holds special significance as France and India are celebrating 25 years of strategic partnership this year. It will be the Modi’s third visit to France, having previously traveled to the country in 2015 and 2022. It’s the second time that an Indian premier has been the guest of honor at the parade after Dr. Manmohan Singh in 2009.
“Indian and French troops will march side by side in the military parade on the Champs-Elysees in Paris,” the French Embassy in New Delhi said in a press release. Modi is expected to arrive in Paris on Thursday and will address the Indian community at La Seine Musicale. On Friday, PM will attend a dinner hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron at the Louvre.
On Friday, the prime minister is scheduled to take part in a meeting between Indian and French CEOs. Emmanuel Bonne, a diplomatic adviser to Macron, visited New Delhi last week to finalize the bilateral agenda and discuss the possible outcomes of the visit. On Saturday, Modi will leave Paris and head to Abu Dhabi, where he will hold talks with UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, according to the Indian Ministry of External Affairs.
Speaking to India Today news channel, France’s ambassador to India, Emmanuel Lenain, described Modi’s visit as “symbolic” and “exceptional.” He said it would have a “maximum impact and maximum outcomes” for both nations. Lenain also said Modi’s ambitious ‘Make in India’ initiative would be a priority in the co-development of military hardware. The upcoming visit is expected to strengthen goal-setting objectives in the areas of strategic collaboration, scientific advancements, cultural exchange, and economic cooperation between the two nations.
On Monday, the Indian Ministry of Defense gave its approval for the purchase of 26 Rafale-Marine fighter aircrafts and three Scorpene-class conventional submarines from France. Initial estimates value the deals at $6.05 billion and $4.4 billion, respectively, although the final amounts remain subject to negotiation.
The ministry’s Defense Acquisition Council will take up the discussion on the proposed deals on July 13, news agency ANI reported, and is expected to formally clear the way for procurement. The deals could be announced publicly during Modi’s visit to Paris, although the contracts are likely to be signed only after the cycle of negotiations, which may take many months.
The deal would see the Indian Navy acquire 22 single-seater Rafale-M fighter aircrafts, along with four trainer fighters. These jets would to be deployed on India’s aircraft carriers INS Vikramaditya and INS Vikrant.
The three new Scorpene-class submarines, seen as a deterrent against India’s neighbors Pakistan and China, could be acquired by India through a ‘repeat order’ process, rather than a fresh order, Indian media reported earlier this year. India was previously looking to acquire six submarines under its Project 75 (I) program, which envisions building submarines equipped with air independent propulsion (AIP), but the procurement was delayed due to a lack of vendors with tested and proven AIP technologies.
The six Scorpene submarines of Project 75 (the conventional model, without AIP) have already been built at Mazagon Dock, the state-run shipbuilding facility in Mumbai, in collaboration with the French Naval Group.
India and France could also discuss a possible partnership for a 100% technology transfer for fighter jet engine technology, according to media reports, as New Delhi is also looking to clinch a deal to power its futuristic fifth-generation Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) fighter jet, the development of which is expected to take ten years. Funding for the development has yet to be approved by the Cabinet Committee on Security.
The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) noted earlier this year that France had emerged as India’s second-largest arms supplier between 2018 and 2022, accounting for 29% of the country’s imports as compared to Russia’s 45% during the same period. Data shows that India was the largest recipient of France’s total global arms exports during the same period at 22%. According to the SIPRI, French defense exports to India, which have included 62 aircraft and four submarines, have risen by 489% since 2013.
The Jaitapur nuclear power plant project in the western Indian state of Maharashtra may also be discussed during the bilateral talks. Jaitapur is France’s biggest civil nuclear project abroad and has been under discussion for the past 14 years, with the financing of the project and the nuclear liability being major issues on which parties have yet to agree.
Joydeep Sen Gupta, Asia Editor