France is keen to sell 36 more Rafale fighter aircraft to India among a series of other defence equipment, including helicopters for the Navy and the Coast Guard and submarines, it is learnt. This will be one of the key points on the agenda when France’s President Emmanuel Macron’s diplomatic adviser Emmanuel Bonne meets National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval in New Delhi on Thursday.
Sources said that the meeting at the level of NSA will be the first high-level contact a week after Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Macron held bilateral talks in Paris, and then again met in Biarritz during the G-7 summit.
Sources said Defence Minister Rajnath Singh is expected to visit France in the latter half of September for the handing over of the first of 36 Rafale fighter jets — the first aircraft is likely to be delivered in the third week of September.
Indian Air Force pilots will be trained for the next few months in France before the Rafale aircraft are sent to India, it is learnt.
More defence deals likely
With elections over and the ghost of Rafale allegations now seemingly history, New Delhi and Paris will engage in consultations on more defence equipment from France. France has expressed eagerness to give more Rafale aircraft, and India will be in a better negotiating position for a better deal and terms, especially since the critical purchase of 36 jets will be met with the first batch.
Besides the first batch of 36 Rafale aircraft, France is interested in bagging procurement order for a second batch of 36 more, sources said. Terms and conditions of the next batch is yet to be confirmed, but it is expected to have “Make in India” component, as against the first 36 which are to be procured in a “flyaway condition”.
France is also looking at selling helicopters for the Coast Guard and the Navy, besides submarines and new engines for jet fighters, among the next set of defence equipment.
The delivery of the first Rafale combat aircraft from this year was the key takeaway in the India-France joint statement.
Sources said Modi and Macron had noted with “satisfaction” the progress in implementation of agreements signed, reaffirmed their commitment to further strengthen cooperation in the field of defence industry, and extended their support to partnerships between defence companies of the two countries in the spirit of “Make in India” and for mutual benefit of both.
While the new helicopters for the Coast Guard will be Caracal — the number is likely to be between 16 and 18 — the helicopters for the Navy will be Panther, sources said. The two sides are learnt to have come very close to signing the orders for new Caracal helicopters for the Coast Guard last year, but could not do so due to the not-so-conducive conditions, ostensibly given the political climate over Rafale aircraft, and New Delhi’s seeming reluctance to sign the deal before the Lok Sabha elections this summer.
Doval and Bonne will also discuss opportunities for collaboration on defence, nuclear, security and space during their talks.
While this is the 32nd round of consultations at the NSA level, it offers an opportunity to follow up on a more realistic and pragmatic terms since it comes right after the PM’s visit to France.