India and France have agreed to intensify their cooperation in defence sector, particularly in the field of anti-piracy and maritime security and expected to finalise soon a deal for upgrading IAF's Mirage-2000 fighter aircraft.
"The two states agree to continue and intensify their cooperation on counter-piracy and maritime security. France and India recognise the need for an intensified cooperation in combating piracy in the Gulf of Aden and other areas," said a joint statement issued after talks between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and visiting French President Nicolas Sarkozy in New Delhi on Monday.
It said the two countries welcomed efforts and future prospects for joint programmes in defence industry, which would include joint research and development and transfer of technology and as a first step, they "expect to launch soon the Short Range Surface to Air Missile and Kaveri (aircraft engine) programmes. Discussions concerning the upgrading of Mirage-2000 aircraft are expected to be finalised soon," the statement said.
France already has a naval force deployed in the Gulf of Aden to fight the sea brigands from Somalia who had in the recent years adversely impacted movement of merchant vessels in one of the busiest sea lanes for commerce.
India too joined the anti-piracy patrols in October 2008 and have so far escorted about 1,300 vessels in the Gulf of Aden to safety apart from warding off about two dozen pirate attacks on cargo ships.
“France is one of India's most important and reliable defence partners. We deeply appreciate France's willingness to supply us advanced defence technologies in a way that contributes to the modernisation of our own defence industry”, Singh said in his opening remarks at a joint press conference with Sarkozy after their talks here.
The joint statement also said the two countries "reaffirm their common interest" in continuing their defence relationship "which is an important pillar of their strategic partnership and reflects their common determination to work for global peace and security."
It also welcomed the ongoing exercises between their navies and Air Forces and spoke of their interest in extending the cooperation through joint exercises to their two armies soon.
At the centre of the estimated Rs 9,640 crore upgrade programme for 50-odd Mirage-2000 fighter jets in the IAF fleet is the plan for advanced multimode pulse doppler radar and fire-and-forget missiles, to be executed by French companies D'Assault and Thales along with Indian DPSU Hindustan Aeronautics Limited.
The IAF currently operates two squadrons of Mirage-2000s and the upgrade programme will enable the aircraft to perform a given mission effectively due to greater fuel and weapon-delivery capacities.
The project will involve providing the aircraft, which IAF inducted first in mid-1980s, a fly-by-wire digital cockpit and an enhanced weapons-carrying capability.
Under the programme, the French companies would deliver the first two upgraded aircraft within 40 months of the contract being finalised and at the same time, HAL would upgrade another two aircraft.
Later, the Indian DPSU would take charge of the programme for the rest of the Mirage-2000 fleet within India.
India and France have also decided to co-develop the SRSAM missile under an agreement between the Indian Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and French missile manufacturer MBDA.
The missile is being developed to provide Indian armed forces better air defence capabilities to protect its vital installations.
While India and France initiated the project in 2007, the missile project, tentatively named 'Maitri', took over three years to finalise.
The next generation air defence missile, which will be inducted by the Army, Navy and Air Force, could also be made available for export.
The Kaveri engine, being co developed by the two countries, is for India's indigenous Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) or 'Tejas' for which HAL has partnered with French Snecma.