France and India, two prominent actors in the global arena, share a common perspective on the concepts of multipolarity and multilateralism. The emerging defense collaboration between these prominent global states is significantly altering the defense dynamics in both the European and Asian regions. From historical and geographical backgrounds, as well as their perceptions of threats, particularly in relation to the Russia-Ukraine war and their relationships with Russia and China, are guiding the cooperation between these states. The foundation of pragmatism in their relationship derives from their mutual pursuit of strategic autonomy.
The defense relationship between India and China has held historical significance, particularly in air and maritime warfare. France has significantly contributed to enhancing India’s military capabilities. The bilateral strategic partnership between India and France is primarily characterized by security objectives. Recent geopolitical developments have strengthened the long-standing strategic alliance between India and France, which has lasted over 25 years. This is predicated on a sequence of strategic alignments encompassing dimensions of security, space exploration, civil nuclear technology, counterterrorism efforts, cyber security measures, climate change mitigation, and the integration of supply chains. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi embarked on a two-day visit to France on July 13–14, 2023, with the objective of enhancing the current defense relations between the two nations. Additionally, the two leaders unveiled novel endeavors aimed at fostering collaboration in the domains of renewable energy, hydrogen projects, artificial intelligence, and semiconductors.
The Indian government has prioritized the establishment of a series of strategic partnerships with France, which primarily involve defense cooperation. This cooperation entails various activities such as arms transfers, military exercises, and intelligence sharing. Between the years 2018 and 2022, France has established itself as a prominent arms supplier to India, occupying the position of the country’s second-largest source of arms imports with a significant share of 30%. For several decades, India has engaged in the procurement of French military equipment, with the latest agreements having a value of approximately $10 billion. During Modi’s recent visit, both parties successfully reached agreements pertaining to India’s procurement of 26 Rafale-Marine combat jets for its navy as well as the domestic construction of three additional Scorpene-class submarines. From a strategic standpoint, the Indian government aims to procure defense acquisitions in order to achieve two objectives: first, diversify its military hardware partners; and second, decrease its reliance on outdated Russian military equipment. In order to realize their geopolitical objectives and reduce their reliance on external powers, both France and India are endeavoring to establish military alliances. However, it is important to note that these partnerships do not involve the integration of forces or the development of joint war plans.
The defense collaboration between India and France encompasses various domains, such as joint military exercises, the provision of logistical assistance, and cooperation in ensuring maritime security within the Indian Ocean and Indo-Pacific regions. The diplomatic visit from India to France has proven to be highly significant in terms of both substance and form, establishing new standards for the strategic partnership between the two nations. For a total of Rs 59,000 crore, India has purchased 36 Rafale fighter aircraft from France. India is currently seeking assistance from France in the areas of training, maintenance, and logistics support. India would also receive a significant investment of 305 million Euros from Safran, a prominent French aircraft equipment manufacturer. This investment is intended to facilitate a collaborative effort between the two entities in the development of fighter jets. This development has additionally established a strategic framework for defense-industrial collaboration between the two nations. Both the governments of India and France have expressed their mutual interest in advancing collaborative efforts in the areas of joint research, design, and production of military hardware. These initiatives are in accordance with India’s pursuit of self-sufficiency through programs like “Make in India“. India is actively pursuing investments from France with the aim of facilitating the development of helicopter engines, the production of spare parts, and the establishment of Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul (MRO) facilities within its borders. Furthermore, MDL will construct six Scorpene or Kalvari class submarines through a program valued at ₹23,562 crore, utilizing technology provided by France’s Naval Group.
India plays a pivotal role in our Indo-Pacific strategy. Both India and France possess significant strategic interests in the Indian Ocean and share concerns regarding China’s increasing assertiveness in the area. The Sino-Indian rivalry has grown worse as a result of ongoing disputes along the Himalayan border, which is pushing New Delhi to rapidly modernize its armed forces. The Indian Western Naval Command is tasked with the responsibility of ensuring the security of the entire Arabian Sea region, spanning from the southernmost point of Lakshadweep to the Persian Gulf, which is adjacent to the International Maritime Boundary Line that borders Pakistan. The emergence of new dynamics within the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) is an undeniable geopolitical reality. Therefore, it is imperative for the Indian Navy to expeditiously acquire a fleet of 28–30 submarines in order to fulfill its role in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).
India has emerged as a crucial market for arms trade for France as well. Furthermore, France possesses significant capabilities in the areas of diplomacy, military, space, and nuclear technology, which it can potentially offer to India. In the context of addressing threats such as Sino-Russian aggression or terrorism in the Indian Ocean Region, France considers India to be its foremost partner in terms of trade and defense cooperation. Several European and American companies, including the prominent US technology company Apple, are increasing their production activities in India as a strategic measure to address the potential risks associated with supply chain disruptions originating from China. Additionally, France is spearheading this initiative within the European Union. However, disparities continue to emerge between France and India with respect to their perspectives on the war in Ukraine. Currently, India is maintaining a diplomatic equilibrium between Moscow and the Western nations and has chosen not to denounce Vladimir Putin’s military intervention in Ukraine. Moreover, India has emerged as a prominent importer of Russian oil at reduced prices during the largest European conflict since the Second World War.
From a geo-strategic perspective, the Indo-Pacific concept has proven to be a valuable framework for the flourishing relations between France and India. Both France and India share a similar perspective on strategic autonomy. Both nations share a common goal of achieving a certain level of independence from policies originating in the United States while simultaneously acknowledging their dependence on the United States for defense and security. Presently, India is endeavoring to develop weapons and systems with the assistance of France. The true example of Franco-Indian strategic cohesion is based upon evaluations of how effectively they interact with prominent nonwestern powers such as China and Russia.
In conclusion, it can be noted that Modi’s visit to France represents a significant step towards strengthening the defense relationship between France and India, with the potential to develop into a robust military alliance centered around defense cooperation. This aligns with the shared goal of both states to uphold a degree of strategic adaptability within the global arena.