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France wants to be India's best partner in defence manufacturing: French Ambassador Lenain

NEW DELHI (PTI):  France wants to be India's "best partner" in boosting its defence manufacturing and has decided to share the latest technologies and equipment in sync with the growing "trust" between the two sides, French Ambassador Emmanuel Lenain has said.

Without divulging specific details, the envoy said French and Indian companies are working together on the "equipment of the future", platforms and engines.

"I do not think any country provides India with the same level of technology. The progress is also due to the fact that we recognise that India wants to boost its strategic autonomy, build its industrial base and we want to be India's best partner in this move," Lenain told PTI.

The Indo-French strategic ties have been on a major upswing after India signed an inter-governmental agreement with France in September 2016 for the procurement of 36 Rafale jets at a cost of around Rs 59,000 crore.

"Defence has always been a very strong component of our cooperation because there is a lot of trust between our two countries. When you want to work on these issues, you need trust because you commit yourself for 10, 20, 30 years," Lenain said.

"This trust is the main asset that we have. Defence cooperation has been developing very well because we are very comfortable with India and we have decided that we could share our best technology, state-of-the-art equipment, best-in-class technology," he said.

The two sides are now looking at further bolstering the strategic partnership in view of the evolving global geopolitical landscape triggered by the crisis in Ukraine and developments in the Indo-Pacific region.

"From the beginning, we were the best partners in the Make-in-India policy. Now that India is switching to the Aatmanirbhar (self-reliant) policy, we are also there for India," Lenain said.

He said France is ready to co-develop equipment with India and share know-how.

"Our companies are working together on the equipment of the future, on engines, on different sorts of equipment. It is very positive for both industries," Lenain said.

The French ambassador chose not to give a direct reply when asked about the possibility of the Indian Air Force procuring additional Rafale fighter aircraft and whether France is also looking at supplying the naval version of the jet to the Indian Navy.

"We are talking and again, we are very much willing to provide state-of-the-art equipment. Everything is on the table and we do our best," he said.

French aerospace major Safran has already set the ball rolling to set up its biggest maintenance repair and overhaul (MRO) facility in Hyderabad.

Safran is one of the leading original equipment manufacturers of advanced engines for civil and fighter jets.

"It is a partnership of equals and it is a partnership to boost each other's strategic autonomy," Lenain said.

Ways to expand defence and security cooperation figured during the talks French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna held on her visit to India last month.

In December last year, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said France has agreed to jointly build aircraft engines with India.

India is looking at the manufacturing of aircraft engines to power its ambitious fifth-generation Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA).

The defence ministry has already taken a series of policy initiatives for joint production of key military equipment and platforms involving foreign defence majors and Indian entities.

In 2017, India unveiled the ambitious strategic partnership (SP) model to facilitate joint ventures between select private Indian firms and foreign defence majors to build military platforms, such as submarines and fighter jets, in the country.

The SP model aims to create a vibrant defence manufacturing ecosystem in the country through joint ventures between Indian corporates and global defence majors.

The government has initiated a series of measures in the last few years to boost domestic defence manufacturing.

In March, the defence ministry said it plans to procure military equipment worth Rs 5 lakh crore from the domestic industries in the next five to seven years, in line with its policy of promoting indigenous defence manufacturing.

India has been one of the largest importers of arms globally. According to estimates, the Indian armed forces are projected to spend around USD 130 billion (one billion is equal to 100 crore) in capital procurement in the next five years.

The government now wants to reduce the dependence on imported military platforms and has decided to support domestic defence manufacturing.

The defence ministry has set a goal of a turnover of USD 25 billion (Rs 1.75 lakh crore) in defence manufacturing in the next five years, including an export target of USD 5 billion worth of military hardware.

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