Hudson Institute’s researcher, Aparna Pande called France as “India’s new best friend” in 2019. Fast forward to present day, France has taken its partnership with India to the next level through the recent Indo-French space partnership for expeditions to Venus.
The space expedition partnership has followed the French envoy’s support for India’s UNSC membership and the launch of a satellite for climate observations. Furthermore, Emmanuel Lenain, ambassador of France to India said, “This year has been an eye opener for Europe. The world is becoming dangerous and the world has powers that do not want to play by the rules. We consider India as positive and trust it for exemplary dependency. France will support India’s bid for a permanent seat at the United Nations.”
India and France have had trade relations since the 17th century. The diplomatic relations go back to the time when India became the newly independent country in 1947. The development of bilateral ties was significantly achieved through the state visit of French President Jacques Chirac in 1998. Since then, there had been a series of state visits to and forth between the heads of both India and France establishing close ties with each other.
Additionally, India and France have been long term partners in the defence arena since 1953. India had acquired the famed MD 450 Ouragan, nicknamed ‘Toofani’ and Mystere in the 1970s and 1980s. Recently, the Indian government has also procured the Rafale fighter jets from France which had arrived in July 2020.
Under the leadership of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and French President Emmanel Macron, the Indo-French relations have been strengthened through regular state visits contributed to take the strategic partnership established in 1998 further ahead. Just like the defence sector, the Indo-French relation is prospering in the space sector as well. This is also because of France’s pivot to Indo-Pacific region. The growing tensions between the US with China and Russia, Brexit, both France and India are realizing that a shift in the world order is underway especially with the Covid 19 pandemic making the world unstable on various fronts.
Indo-French Space Partnerships
The Indo-French space partnership for expedition to Venus seems a follow up from the 2018 bilateral agreement on the India-France Joint Vision for Space Cooperation. This strategic partnership was spread over different facets of space science including sounding rocket development, joint satellite realization, training programmes, satellite launches. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) successfully reached Mars on its first attempt in 2014. In the same year, the French National Space Agency (CNES) successfully launched the E-CORCE Earth observation satellite. In recent years, there has been a number of partnerships between ISRO and CNES.
In 2019, there was an agreement signed between CNES and ISRO to establish a maritime surveillance centre in India. As part of this, both the space agencies are collaborating on India’s first crewed space mission, Gaganyaan project which is scheduled to launch in 2022. CNES has agreed to train Indian astronauts at the Toulouse Space Centre helping India to lay the foundation for preparation for future human spaceflight. The 2019 partnership followed the broader agreement signed during President Emmanuel Macron’s state visit to India in March 2018.
The latest joint Indo-French Venus mission is a historic partnership till now. The instrument for the mission, VIRAL (Venus Infrared Atmospheric Gases Linker) is developed by Russian and French agencies. In September 2020, CNES has confirmed in a statement, “in the domain of space exploration, France will be taking part in ISRO’s mission to Venus, scheduled to launch in 2025. CNES will coordinate and prepare the French contribution, the first time a French payload will be flown on an Indian exploration mission.”
India-France relations in space have been a great success in the past. The upcoming ISRO-CNES Venus mission will strengthen the Indo-French partnerships further.