France aims to lure India away from major arms dealer: Russia – POLITICO

PARIS – Russia’s growing unreliability as an arms supplier presents France with an excellent opportunity to accelerate its moves to penetrate and make New Delhi one of the cornerstones of President Emmanuel Macron’s major strategic push in the Indo-Pacific region.

French Defense Minister Sébastien Lecornu left for India on Sunday to strengthen ties with Paris’ longtime ally ahead of a possible visit by Macron early next year. Officially visit France Inc. It’s more of a diplomatic charm offensive than a shameless attempt to sell weapons made by, but the hard power component cannot be ignored.

India and France have held joint naval exercises since 1993, and France is now India’s No. 2 arms supplier after Russia. That can only count in France’s favor, whose war in Ukraine has widely exposed concerns about the quality of Russian weapons and Moscow’s ability to meet production deadlines for exports under sanctions.

For India, sandwiched between nuclear-armed Pakistan to the east and an increasingly aggressive China to the north, weapons effectiveness is a pressing concern. Although it has diversified its suppliers in recent years, Russia still supplies about half of India’s weapons.

“There is a sense of urgency in New Delhi to diversify, to find new sources, and France is already seen as an important partner. [India] is ready to soften and diversify relations”, said Garima Mohan, EU-India expert of the German Marshall Fund.

The official French version is that Lecornu’s visit is not about weapons, but he will not hesitate to find an alternative to Russia.

The adviser of the French Ministry of Defense said that Lecornu was invited to the Indian ship: “We are not going there to sell military equipment, our goal is to emphasize the importance of relations.” “Vikrant” An aircraft carrier as a “goodwill gesture” between France and India.

“[But] We can show them that there are European alternatives to Russian weapons.”

The big test for France will be whether a heavy military like India can really increase its production capacity to meet its massive demands.

A reliable partner

In the race to win India’s military contracts, France is off to a high start.

Last week, the French president discussed “deepening the strategic partnership” at the G20 with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi before heading to the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, where he assured participants of France’s commitment to participation. in the region.

The two leaders have a warm relationship and have reminded each other on social media over the past few years that they are good friends. French presidents have been developing relations since the 1990s, and Macron in particular never misses an opportunity to indulge. public display of affection With Indian Modi.

“This is the most important partnership within Europe. “In some ways, it’s more of a ‘special relationship’ than relations with Russia and the US. France and India have consistently been strong partners,” Mohan said, citing maritime operations, interoperability and intelligence gathering as areas of cooperation.

France, India’s second largest arms supplier, has in the past signed major arms deals such as the Rafale fighter jet deal. Ties in the maritime sector have deepened as India and France, which have a string of islands and a large maritime exclusion zone in the Indo-Pacific, find common ground in confronting a more aggressive China.

“China is one of the great points of convergence between France and India, more or less openly acknowledged. They should watch what China is doing in terms of communication and deployment of warships and submarines,” said Isabelle Saint-Mezar, a lecturer at the French Institute of Geopolitics at the University of Paris.

However, as Russia plunges into war with Ukraine, France’s relations with India may go to a new level.

According to a 2020 study by the Stimson Center, 70 to 85 percent of India’s armed forces are powered by Russian equipment, and Modi’s government is already trying to reduce this dependence.

“When the Soviet Union collapsed in the 1990s, a smarter government would have understood that there is no point in putting all your eggs in one basket,” said one Indian private sector analyst who spoke on condition of anonymity. reasons.

“There is now a perception that we have not bought enough non-Russian weapons,” he said.

Far from being a showcase for Russia, the war in Ukraine exposed the shortcomings of the Russian military machine. According to a Ukrainian government report, many of Russia’s weapons are “ineffective” and “obsolete,” missiles can miss their targets, and armored vehicles are vulnerable to small arms fire.

Industrial problems of France

There could be several tempting deals for Macron. The Indian Air Force is looking to upgrade its fleet of fighter jets and buy more than 100 new aircraft, and a tender for a submarine construction contract has gone unanswered.

But there are credibility issues for France. Its defense industry has struggled to increase military production and meet global demand and wartime needs since Russia invaded Ukraine. In June, Macron warned that France must build a “war economy” with more investment and streamlined, faster production chains.

“They plan to increase production,” says Michel Goya, a French defense consultant and retired colonel. “But there are problems with production capacity and bureaucratic delays. The question remains whether our defense industry can transition from a luxury craft business to a mass production industry.”

France’s truck-mounted Caesar howitzers have drawn global attention in Ukraine for their effectiveness, but they take nearly two years to build. France may see an opportunity as other suppliers such as the US, Israel or South Korea struggle to keep up.

France and its rivals may also struggle to disrupt India’s relationship with Russia.

“Everything does not change overnight. India is so dependent on Russia that… The purchase of aircraft and very sophisticated weapons has closed them in the medium term,” said Saint-Mezard. Nor does Modi’s government want to alienate Russia and force it to seek closer ties with India’s rival, China.

Macron is playing the long game with India, but as China builds its navies, India moves on, and the US turns its attention to the Pacific, France risks finding itself off the deep end.