We are quickly moving towards pre-globalisation times. Every country needs to choose its own friend for bilateral cooperation. Being a key part of the Indo-Pacific, India has to have a country sharing its values on its side. Currently, France is the only European power with Indo-Pacific presence which India can trust upon. It explains why India would ignore its intra-NATO rival.
More Rafales in India
Latest reports suggest that France is willing to provide more Rafale Jets to India. This time around, it is the Indian Navy which will benefit from them. The Indian Air Force has already received 36 Rafale Jets from Dassault. The marine version named Rafale-M is a modified form of Rafale jets made for the Air Force. It shares 85 per cent of its components with IAF variants.
This will ensure than both services can collaborate for technical cooperation, which is another good feature of the deal. The French are all in for make-in-India and Aatmanirbhar Bharat campaign, which means that in the long run, technology transfer will make it possible for Indian companies to not seek French support for any kind of overhaul, if required.
India is expected to sign a multi-billion-dollar deal for 26 Rafale-M during Macron’s visit to India in March this year. These jets will replace MiG-29K and MiG-29KUB Russian fighter planes. Russian planes have outlived their technical efficiency and the Indian Navy wants to decommission 43 of them.
Additionally, Rafale-M will mainly be deployed on INS Vikrant, which will make indigenous aircraft carriers more deadly. Delta wing and twin engines powered Rafale-M is capable of nuclear assaults with semi-stealth capacity. The French also seem to be aware about its possible aircraft carrier. In 2022, French Minister for the Armed Forces Sebastien Lecornu had visited INS Vikrant.
Boeing seems to have lost
There is no doubt that the deal is going to add an extra layer of trust between India and France. At the same time, it comes off as bad news for the USA, which is looking to get India on its side. Rafale’s rival in the race was F/A-18 Super Hornet, which is manufactured by the American aircraft manufacturer Boeing. The Indian Navy held an extensive trial with both of them in Goa and found Rafale-M to be more suitable. This came despite Rafale’s wings being not a foldable one, which means that it occupies more space on aircraft carriers than F/A-18 Super Hornet.
One of the key reasons why Rafale raced ahead is because it came with no restriction. The probability that with Boeing’s jets, India would be able to carry out nuclear operations was negligible, since the US would not permit India to do that with its jets. On the contrary, there was no such problem with Rafale. An official cited by Financial Express said, “India will lose its strategic autonomy if it buys aircraft from the United States.”
In fact, fear of loss of strategic autonomy is a key reason why countries all across the world are constantly relying on French made weapons. France is fast emerging as a challenge to the military-industrial complex of the USA. Currently, the USA and Russia are two major exporters of arms while France is at 3rd place. This should not have been worrying for the US, but the way France has increased its share is not a good sign for them.
In the period between 2015-2019, France’s Defence exports jumped by 72 per cent. The United States wants to stop this and it is doing so through diplomatic routes. It torpedoed France’s submarine deal with Australia and a helicopter deal with Norway. The Macron government has termed it as betrayal.
Earlier France considered the US as ally and partner, but now it is a bit more wary of Americans. Even during Ukraine-Russia crisis, compared to other allies of the US, it has been more calculative, something which India has done too. Additionally, France has ramped up its military cooperation with India. These include joint exercises, defence dialogues, maritime camaraderie among others. The French have also transferred technology for ‘P-75 Scorpene Project’.
France has been upfront in taking India on board for its Indo-Pacific partnership. That has not been the case with the USA. As usual, it has been uncertain about its commitments in the region. Americans are more interested in nurturing a rival for China than being a holistic partner with India. That does not seem to be the case with French.
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