AGENCY Paris: Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said on Wednesday that he had “fruitful deliberations” with his French counterpart during which they reviewed the full spectrum of the bilateral defence engagement and reaffirmed their strong commitment to further deepen cooperation to combat terrorism. Singh and French Minister of Armed Forces Florence Parly held the second ministerial level Annual Defence Dialogue between the two countries in Paris on Tuesday night after France formally handed over the first Rafale fighter jet to India. Soon after the meeting, Singh tweeted that he “had fruitful deliberations” with Parly. “We assessed and reviewed the full spectrum of our bilateral defence engagement,” he said.
The two ministers comprehensively reviewed the entire gamut of the bilateral defence cooperation, which is a key pillar of the India-France strategic partnership, the defence ministry said in a statement.
“Both leaders also reaffirmed the strong intention of the two sides to further deepen bilateral cooperation on counter-terrorism,” it said.
The two leaders exchanged views on contemporary regional and international developments of mutual interest.
“Both sides discussed ways to further deepen defence-related official as well as operational level interactions. Both sides agreed to expand the scope and complexity of the existing regular bilateral joint exercises (SHAKTI, VARUNA and GARUDA),” the statement said.
Recognising that India-France partnership in the Indian Ocean Region is crucial for preserving and promoting common strategic and security interests in the region, Singh and Parly noted the continuing implementation of actions outlined in the Joint Strategic Vision of India-France Cooperation in the IOR.
“This (Rajnath’s) visit is a major step in the relationship with India, one of France’s main strategic partners in the Indo-Pacific,” a statement issued by the French Embassy in New Delhi said.
The two ministers discussed numerous prospects of the already rich bilateral defence cooperation, as well as security issues in the Indo-Pacific region, on which France recently published its defence strategy, it added.
Singh was received by a military guard of honour at Hotel de Brienne, the headquarters of the French Armed Forces ministry in Paris, on Tuesday night at the end of a packed day’s schedule during which he received the delivery of the first Rafale combat jet for the Indian Air Force (IAF).
“This marks a new milestone in the Indo-French strategic partnership and indeed a new high in the bilateral defence cooperation. Such achievements encourage us to do more and that will be on my agenda when I meet minister Parly,” said Singh, just before performing the ‘Shastra Puja’ on the new Rafale aircraft.
After performing the puja, he flew a sortie in it.
The minister is on a three-day visit to France, which will cover a tour of a facility owned by French multinational Safran – the company which produces the engines for the Rafale fighter jets.
He concluded his tour with a meeting with captains of French business and industry around the merits of the ‘Make in India’ initiative, during which he extended a formal invitation for them to participate in the DefExpo to be held in Lucknow from February 5 to 8, 2020.
Singh had kick-started his busy schedule with a meeting at Elysee Palace with President Emmanuel Macron for talks described as “warm and productive”, as both leaders resolved to take the India-France relationship to a higher level.
He was then flown for Merignac Airport in the nearby town of Bordeaux for a grand induction ceremony planned for the first of 36 Rafale combat jets, which are all scheduled to be delivered to India by around May 2022.
“This aircraft marks a massive enhancement in the Indian Air Force combat capability but that enhancement is not for attack purposes but as a deterrent for self defence. And, the credit for this milestone goes to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose decisiveness has made this crucial air enhancement possible today,” the minister said after a 25-minute sortie in the aircraft.
Singh has said he expects the first 18 aircraft to be delivered by February 2021, with the remaining expected by April-May 2022.
The 36 high-precision Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft, which include 13 India-specific enhancements sought by the IAF, are destined for Ambala in Punjab and Hasimara in West Bengal.
“In terms of guarding of two borders, these aircraft will certainly provide the potent air defence we require. They are by far the most potent platform for our air defence,” explained Air Marshall Harjit Singh Arora, the Vice Chief of Air Staff who accompanied the minister at the induction ceremony on Tuesday, which also marked the Air Force Day.
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