Tuesday, January 25, 2022

France Proposes To Develop Rafale Fighter Jets In India; Collaboration On Aero-Engine Technology In Pipeline

France and India are looking to further cement further their defense relations under which Rafale fighters and even aero-engines for the jets could be made in India, as per reports. 

French Defense Minister Florence Parly on her visit to India, emphasized how “valuable” the French-Indian friendship is”. On December 17, the two countries agreed to expand bilateral, regional, and defense industrial collaboration with Defense Minister Rajnath Singh urging French companies to “either work with Indian enterprises or simply produce in India.”

He made a strong case for increased industrial cooperation, while Florence Parly claimed her country was “open and ready” to offer any additional Rafale fighter jets India requires.

India’s clear and assertive pitch to ‘Make in India’ is in consonance with Rajnath Singh’s earlier announcement promising that 90% of India’s defense equipment would be manufactured indigenously in the future.

This is also indicative of the Indian ambitions of giving a preference to domestic industries, to direct purchases under ‘Government to Government’ agreements, often devoid of full technology transfer.

The French defense minister not only offered extra Rafale fighters to India but also touched upon India’s plans about introducing a second aircraft carrier and by virtue of that, expressed its interest in supplying the carrier-based jets.

Made In India Engines

France has consented to jointly manufacture aero engines in India to boost the country’s self-reliance in the defense manufacturing sector,  Rajnath Singh said.

“A big French company will manufacture an engine in India, thus far not made in the country, in collaboration with an Indian firm,” Singh said probably referring to the Safran group, Hindustantimes.com reported. 

Earlier, as EurAsian Times reported, France had pitched an exhilarating proposal to revive plans to develop the indigenous Kaveri jet engine as part of the Rafale deal. A thorough presentation on creating an aircraft engine ecosystem in India was also presented.

File:Snecma M88-4E afterburning turbofan engine for Dassault Rafale PAS 2013 02.jpg - Wikimedia Commons
M88-4E afterburning turbofan engine for Dassault Rafale – Wikimedia Commons

French engine manufacturer Safran, which develops engines and electronics for the Rafale fighters, pitched to co-development of the Kaveri engine for the Indian Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) program which at present used GE engines.

France reportedly assured to transfer more work for the production of the M-88 engine that powers its Rafale jets, only if India orders 36 more jets.

France had hinted that India would the only country that was being offered such advanced technology transfer and this would guarantee that New Delhi would attain complete ‘sovereignty’ in aero-engine technology.

India-France Deal

Vikrant, India’s first indigenous aircraft carrier is expected to join the Indian Navy in August of next year. In the backdrop of enhanced security challenges at the seas, especially in the Indian Ocean Region, India has been planning to ramp up its maritime infrastructure and modernize its naval fleet. A carrier-based Rafale could, thus, be an option.

INS Vikrant (2013) - Wikipedia
India’s indigenous Aircraft Carrier INS Vikrant (via Wikipedia)

In the past few years, India and France’s defense and strategic ties have become stronger. According to reports, Paris was pitching to New Delhi to start negotiations on another batch of 36 Rafale jets.

French firms are also targeting the Indian Navy’s multibillion-dollar Project 75 India (P75I), which calls for the construction of six conventional submarines, as well as a larger order for fighter planes for the Indian Air Force.

Can Rafales Be Manufactured In India?

The French defense minister stated that Paris is ready to give extra Rafale fighter jets to India if it needs them. She also noted that the two strategic allies’ employment of the same aircraft reflects the “true asset and strength” of their ties.

Out of the 36 Rafale fighters purchased by India, 33 have already arrived and deployed whereas the rest three are expected to arrive early next year.

A major takeaway from Parly’s interaction that hinted at the French willingness to manufacture Rafales for India in India was the statement that read, “France is completely committed to supporting the ‘Make in India’ project and further integrating Indian firms into its worldwide supply networks.”

Indian Air Force on Twitter: "Indian Air Force appreciates the support provided by French Air Force for our Rafale journey back home. @Armee_de_lair @Indian_Embassy @Dassault_OnAir #Rafale #IndianAirForce https://t.co/7Ec8oqOJmr" / Twitter
IAF Rafale (via Twitter)

Earlier this year, reports had emerged of France hinting at manufacturing Rafales in India if the latter places a large order.

In order to grow its investment in India, French defense firm Dassault Aviation is reportedly interested in producing Rafale fighter jets in the nation, and willing to make a new pitch to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

It is believed Emmanuel Bonne, the French President’s Diplomatic Advisor, would present the French government’s offer to build the Rafale jets in India if the numbers in play were closer to 100.

Despite the fact that the French Rafale is an expensive aircraft and India remains committed to its own Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) program, it still requires additional fighters as the IAF’s existing squadrons remain short against the actual sanctioned strength.

Additionally, the unprovoked conflict with China last year came as a rude jolt to the Indian armed forces, which is why the country has given a big to modernize its military. This is where France has the potential to come in with its Rafale fighters that it has been aggressively marketing to friendly countries.

The French willingness to manufacture Rafales in India actually goes back to 2017 when Paris had written to the Modi government to opt for ‘Make in India’ route for the Rafales. Dassault Aviation was reportedly working on a joint venture with Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defense to build a third hangar at the Nagpur plant.

Dassault Aviation is in talks to gradually increase the number of parts produced at the Nagpur site for fighter aircraft, The Financial Express reported in 2020.

A Win-Win Situation?

Dassault Aviation has seen an uptick in exports in recent years, after a very long dry spell. Apart from India which has been sold 36 Rafale jets, Dassault recently signed a historic deal with the UAE for 80 units of an advanced variant of the Rafale.

In his tour of the Arab-Gulf region, French President Emmanuel Macron is known to have lobbied for F4 Rafales.

This becomes even more pertinent as France seeks new defense partnerships after being excluded from the ambit of the trilateral AUKUS (Australia-UK-US) agreement.

Rafale F4
The Rafale F4. (Image: Dassault Aviation)

For a while, France has been trying to draw its own Indo-Pacific policy to counter China in the region. It has made significant efforts to court the Pacific countries in this regard.

France and India share a mutual China threat as well as exclusion from the AUKUS arrangement. There is an enhanced opportunity now to manufacture Rafales in India.

India, on the other hand, remains marred with security challenges emanating out of porous borders and an aggressive China. As the Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean region expands, India will have to augment its capacity at the seas.

Carrier-borne Rafale fighters produced locally will give it a dual benefit of enhanced security on one hand and ‘Make in India’ taking shape on the other hand. This is believed to be a win-win situation for both partners if they come to a mutually favorable agreement regarding the second batch of India-made Rafales.

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