New Delhi: French Defence Minister Florence Parly, who is on a visit to India, on Friday pledged to supply more Rafale jets to India if needed.
“France stands open and ready to provide any other Rafales if this is India’s decision,” she said during a talk here.
“I am very happy that the Indian Air Force is satisfied with Rafale, and we are very proud that despite Covid, the 36 aircraft will be delivered on time, and according to the contract. It’s a real achievement,” she said, adding that she was lucky to participate in the induction ceremony last year of Rafale aircraft into the IAF.
She said the fact that the air force of both countries was using the Rafale is a real asset for bilateral cooperation.
“… I am sure that there is room for new developments; we on our side are ready to answer any additional needs and requests that could be made by India.
“We know that an aircraft carrier will soon be delivered, and that aircraft are needed, so we are open and ready to provide any other Rafale if this is India’s decision,” she said.
India’s indigenously built aircraft carrier INS Vikrant is expected to become fully operational in 2022.
She said the friendship between France and India is “very precious”. “The trust we have in each other has developed in recent years to such an extent that the distance between the Ganges and the Seine seems to be lessened,” she remarked.
Party also noted that China’s behaviour in the region is becoming “more and more aggressive” and France seeks to find a “delicate balance” between addressing such behaviour and cooperating with China on issues such as climate change and trade.
India and France inked a Rs 59,000-crore deal for 36 Rafale jets in 2016. All the aircraft are being manufactured in France to Indian specifications.
The French Defence Minister had attended an event marking the induction of the first batch of Rafales into the IAF in July 2020. France has so far delivered 33 of the jets.
On France’s views on China’s increasing assertiveness, she said: “It’s a delicate balance that must be found. China is a major country, there are areas where cooperation can be envisaged and developed… And China is, of course, a major player to implement this fight against climate change.”
She termed terrorism as a big challenge, which has struck across Europe in the last few years and not spared the Indo Pacific, including India.
“The situation in Afghanistan is a matter of concern for both France and India; this threat (terrorism) needs to be addressed in a comprehensive manner,” she added.
Party mentioned, “respect for international maritime law” as another challenge.
“No one should consider themselves entitled to bypass international maritime law. Disputes should be resolved by legal means and negotiations, not by fait accompli and freedom of navigation must be upheld,” she stressed.
Party is on an official visit to India to strengthen Indo-French strategic and defence ties.
She is slated to call on PM Narendra Modi, and hold the Annual Defence Dialogue with her counterpart, Raksha Mantri Rajnath Singh.
“These in-depth talks will cover all aspects of the wide-ranging Indo-French defence cooperation, including operational defence cooperation, particularly maritime security in the Indo-Pacific; an industrial and technological partnership in line with Make in India; and counter-terrorism cooperation,” a French Embassy release said.
She will also meet NSA Ajit Doval, in particular for discussions on regional security issues.
During her visit, Minister Parly will pay tribute to India’s soldiers at the National War Memorial in Delhi. She will also offer her respects to CDS General Bipin Rawat on his tragic demise.
“This visit highlights France’s engagement in the Indo-Pacific and the centrality of India in the French strategy. It comes in the wake of several major bilateral air, navy, and army exercises this year: Desert Knight 21 in January, Varuna in April, Shakti in November. Minister Parly will stress France and India’s joint commitment to answering the challenges of the Indo-Pacific by bringing together friendly powers to defend the rule of law, offering a positive agenda to the countries of the region, and rejecting all forms of hegemony,” it said.
She will detail the recently unveiled EU Strategy for Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific that brings a multiplier effect to this comprehensive approach for the region. Upon taking the presidency of the Council of the European Union on January 1, 2022, France will make the Indo-Pacific and India a key priority, the statement said.
Minister Parly’s previous visit to India was on September 10, 2020, for the induction ceremony of the first five Rafale aircraft by the Indian Air Force.
Since then, a total of 33 Rafale jets have been delivered to India, all perfectly on schedule despite the disruptions of the pandemic.
“The Minister will reiterate France’s commitment to strengthening India’s defence industrial base and its willingness to offer the best of its technology with a high “Make In India” component,” it added.