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Indo-French Aerospace Relationship by Air Marshal Anil Chopra

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Author: Air Marshal Anil Chopra PVSM, AVSM, VM, VSM (Retd)
A most interesting and insightful article that posits aerospace cooperation as virtually the bedrock of Indo French Strategic Partnership. The Air Marshal surveys the growth of Indo-French cooperation in military, civil and space applications. French Ouragan and Mystere aircraft took active part in the 1965 and 1971 wars and the French Mirage 2000 performed brilliantly in the Kargil conflict.

France supports India for a permanent seat in Security Council. General Denis Mercier, Chief of Staff of the French Air Force, headed the official French delegation to Aero India 2013 in Bangalore. He held a meeting with his Indian counterpart Air Chief Marshal NAK Browne, during which they discussed bilateral cooperation between the two air forces. Last 50 years French have supported Indian companies to autonomously produce helicopters, radars or anti-tank missiles in India through transfer of technologies, transfer of license and transfer of know-how. France is an all-weather friend ready to support India’s desire for self-reliance.

Indo-French relations date back to the 17th century visit of French traveller Francois Bernier who later served as the physician to Emperor Aurangzeb. Eighteenth century saw Anglo-French competition shift to Indian soil when French under General Dupleix took sides to confront British forces under Robert Clive. France later became one of the major European countries to establish colonies in India. Finally they had control over Pondicherry, Karikal, Yanam, Mahe and Chandannagar. After independence all French enclaves were peacefully transferred to India in 1954. In France there are about 55,000 People of Indian Origin (PIOs) holding French passports and about 10,000 Non-Resident Indians (NRIs – Indian passport holders). There are also large communities of PIOs in the Reunion Islands (about 2,30,000), Guadeloupe (about 57,000), Martinique (about 5,000) and St Martin (about 3,600), the overseas territories / departments of France. Thomas Jefferson, the third US president, is supposed to have said that France is every man’s second country.

Paris and New Delhi have had warm and business friendly relations from the very beginning. Even during the cold war, when the Western world would treat India more like a ‘Red’ state, the French helped India in setting up plutonium reprocessing plant. They also supported the space programme well beyond what any state was willing to do. Even during various US arms embargoes, starting 1965 India-Pakistan War, France continued to provide aircraft and other military spares for French equipment. French have always tacitly supported India as a nuclear power. ‘India Year’ was flaggedoff in France by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1985. Western world’s concerns in last two decades about rising China brought greater interest in building-up India as a counter balance. India and France signed a strategic partnership in January 1998. Of late Indo-French relations have hit a new high. President Sarkozy, was the Chief Guest at India’s Republic Day parade 2008, similarly, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was called as the guest of honour at France’s Bastille Day celebrations 2009, where 400 Indian soldiers paraded on the Champs-Elysées.

For the last nearly three centuries, French was the language of the kings and the courts. Paris had become the home to the painters and artists. Fine arts flourished. The French gave the world terms liberty, equality and fraternity. Their wines and cuisine were world famous. In 1783 the Montgolfier brothers of France were the first to leave the earth’s surface in a balloon. In 1906 the Brazilian-born, Albert Santo-Dumont achieved a flight covering 722 feet in just over 22 seconds. Aviation had come up in a big way in Europe. The French were somewhat humiliated during the SecondWorldWar when the Germans got a near walk through. With the defeat of Germany and massive destruction in Europe, there was a power vacuum and both the British and the French were keen to dominate. General Charles de Gaulle rallied the nation around. The traditional rivalry across the English Channel made them take separate paths. To look after their national interests and not get overly dominated by US-UK combine, the French opted out of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) military structure in 1966. However, they participated in most NATO led activities especially those related to defence against the Communist Soviet Union. Early enough, French understood the future of aerospace and nuclear energy and spent a lot of national effort in this area.

After the WW II, aviation designer Marcel Dassault re-established the aviation industry. The MD 450 (Marcel Dassault) Ouragan (French: Hurricane) was the first French-designed jet fighter-bomber to enter production. The Ouragan was later operated by France, Israel, India and El Salvador. One real solid pillar in the Indo-French relationship since early fifties has been that of Aerospace.

In 1964, France and India initiated a programme of peaceful scientific space cooperation. India took initial support from France for the sounding rockets. French helped India build the launch complexes at Sriharikota. India’s first experimental communication satellite ‘Apple’ was launched aboard a French Ariane rocket in 1981. Ariane rockets have been used for putting the heavier, three to five ton satellites into geostationary orbit. Nearly 15 such launches have taken place till date. Similarly India launched the French Satellite Spot 6 aboard a PSLV. Our space collaboration has lasted over 50 years


Aviation unfolds

Indian Air Force’s (IAF) connection with the French started when in June 1953, India ordered 71 Ouragans. The aircraft was named the Toofani (Hurricane). Deliveries were completed in March 1954. With an additional order for 33 second-hand Ouragans in March 1957 the total became 104. Toofanis faced combat in 1961 Goa operations. They were also used in ground attack missions against rebels in Assam and Nagaland and in 1962 for reconnaissance missions in the Sino-Indian War.

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