According to officials with knowledge of the matter, India and France held a discussion on Monday about ways to strengthen their bilateral military ties with a focus on defence industrial cooperation centered on the Make in India initiative, expanding the scope and complexity of joint exercises, and fostering maritime cooperation in the Indo-Pacific.
On Monday, Rajnath Singh, India's defence minister, and Sebastien Lecornu, his French counterpart, held the fourth annual India-France defence dialogue.
The ministers reviewed the ongoing military-to-military cooperation, which has significantly increased over the past few years, and discussed a wide range of bilateral, regional, and defence and defense-industrial cooperation issues, according to a statement from the defence ministry.
"Had cordial and productive conversations with Mr. Sebastien Lecornu, France's Minister of Defense, today in New Delhi during the fourth India-France Annual Defense Dialogue. The meeting covered a wide variety of subjects related to bilateral, regional, and defence industrial cooperation, Singh wrote on Twitter.
One of the primary items on the agenda, according to the officials, was strengthening maritime cooperation.
Both India and France have emphasised the importance of the Indo-Pacific region in their repeated appeals for a free, open, and rules-based order in the area in response to China's assertive actions in the contentious South China Sea. Since 93% of France's exclusive economic zone is located in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, the government has been exploring more and more to build its strategic alliances in the Indo-Pacific area. France is also represented in the region through its overseas territories.
According to the ministry, "the ministers acknowledged their consensus on a number of strategic and defence issues and shared the commitment to work together on expanding cooperation in bilateral, regional, and multilateral fora, with an emphasis on the Indo-Pacific area."
The government's Make in India initiative, which aims to strengthen the nation's defence manufacturing sector, reduce the import of military hardware, and take advantage of international arms export opportunities, was a key topic of discussion in the defence industrial cooperation category.
"Prospective co-production opportunities and upcoming collaborations were addressed. According to the statement, the ministers "agreed that the expert groups from the two nations should convene early next year and advance the main cooperation issues.
The discussion also touched on ways to improve military-to-military cooperation by enlarging the range of bilateral exercises. The first La Pérouse exercise, commanded by the French Navy, had the navy of India, the United States, Japan, and Australia conducting intricate maritime drills in the eastern Indian Ocean region.
Also in early November, during "Exercise Garuda VII" between the Indian Air Force (IAF) and French Air and Space Force (FASF) in Rajasthan, the heads of the two countries' air forces flew fighter aircraft flown by one another. The exercises aimed to improve interoperability between the two sides.
Lecornu had visited the INS Vikrant, India's first indigenous aircraft carrier, as well as the Kochi-based Southern Naval Command on Sunday. To address the needs of the navy, India aims to purchase 26 new fighters for Vikrant under a government-to-government agreement. The US company Boeing's F/A-18 Super Hornet and the French aircraft manufacturer Dassault Aviation's Rafale-M are vying for the order.
The statement said, "France is one of India's most reliable strategic allies, and both nations look forward to celebrating 25 years of their strategic cooperation in 2023."
According to Emmanuel Lenain, the French ambassador to India, the ministers decided to increase defence cooperation in all sectors that are "crucial for strategic autonomy and handling our mutual concerns."
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Edited by: Satyavrat Singh