India, France discuss military cooperation

India and France Friday discussed their ongoing military cooperation including the progress over Rs 50,000-crore 126 multi role combat aircraft deal during the defence minister-level talks here.

In a joint statement issued after the deliberations between defence minister A.K. Antony and his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian, the two sides said they have agreed to further strengthen their defence ties as they were mutually beneficial.

“The ministers had detailed discussions regarding current and future cooperation in the areas of defence equipment and technology collaboration. They agreed that such cooperation should continue to be progressed to the mutual benefit of both countries, including in high technology areas involving joint research and development and transfer of technology,” it said.

India and France are holding negotiations to finalise the over Rs 50,000-crore deal for procuring 126 Rafale combat aircraft for the Indian Air Force.

India has been moving ahead on the negotiations very cautiously amid complaints in the past over the process of selection of Rafale as the lowest bidder. The chances of the deal being signed before the end of this fiscal are bleak.

The two sides are also holding negotiations for Rs 30,000-crore project for co-developing the Maitri surface-to-air missile defence system.

In recent times, India has awarded several big-ticket contracts to the French including the deal for building six Scorpene diesel-electric submarines for the Navy.

The statement said, “Antony and Le Drian held detailed and useful talks on regional and international security challenges of mutual interest.”

India is apprehensive about the impact of withdrawal of American troops in 2014 from Afghanistan on the security scenario in the immediate and extended neighbourhood.

The two sides also reviewed the status of various measures for bilateral defence cooperation and the progress in areas pursuant to their discussions in February this year during the French President’s visit to India, the statement said.

“The ministers noted that defence cooperation is an important pillar of the strategic partnership between both countries and that the ongoing dialogue and cooperation is mutually beneficial to both nations,” it said.

They agreed to enhance exchanges between their respective defence institutions and armed forces including in the areas of military education and training and through the conduct of military exercises.

The two countries welcomed the upcoming bilateral exercise Shakti in September 2013 in France between both armies.

“The ministers noted with satisfaction that the Navies of both countries are working towards finalising the schedule for the conduct of exercise Varuna off the coast of India and also that the next Air Force exercise Garuda would be held during the first half of 2014,” the statement said.

The two ministers tasked the High Committee on Defence Cooperation (HCDC), which is scheduled to meet in France in October this year, to follow up and finalise practical measures to expand and deepen the bilateral partnership in defence.

The French defence minister also conveyed that on the 100th anniversary of World War I, his country was planning various projects to pay tribute to Indian soldiers who were killed in France during that war and was appreciated by the Indian side.

The ministers exchanged views on issues relating to UN peace keeping operations and maritime security.

The French minister presented his country’s new White Paper on Defence and National Security to Antony.

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