Nirmala Sitharaman on 3-day tour of France, may visit Rafale manufacturing facility

Nirmala Sitharaman on 3-day tour of France, may visit Rafale manufacturing facility

Courtesy : Bureau12/10/2018 13:30

Bureau, Oct 11: Amid the ongoing controversy over the Rafale deal, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman is all set to begin a three-day tour of France from today, during which she is expected to visit Dassault’s fighter jet manufacturing facility.

She will hold talks with her French counterpart Florence Parly today and is likely to visit Dassault’s Rafale fighter jet manufacturing facility outside Paris on Friday.

Sitharaman may also meet French President Emmanuel Macron, although there is no confirmation on this.

Government officials familiar with the matter said the defence minister wanted to have a first-hand experience of Rafale’s capabilities which led to the plans for her visit to the fighter jet’s production facility. 

She also wanted to discuss with the plane’s maker Dassault Aviation, the delivery status of the 36 fighter jets ordered by India. The first fighter is expected to land in India in September 2019, a government official said on condition of anonymity.

According to the officials, the decision to hold an annual dialogue between the two countries at the defence minister level was decided during Macron’s visit to India in March.

The aim is to deepen military cooperation between the two strategic partners and expand it from air to space, they said.

While defence cooperation between India and France has touched new heights, New Delhi wants to strengthen the on-going defence manufacturing partnership with more role for the Indian industry in cases involving transfer of technology such as the Scorpene submarines.

India’s Mazagaon Dock Shipbuilders Limited has a partnership with French Naval Group for manufacturing the Scorpene submarine through the transfer of technology route.

Sitharaman and Parly will discuss expanding the scope of joint exercises with advanced military training in the Persian Gulf and near the Reunion Islands in the far Pacific.

The two defence ministers will also talk about supply of French Safran M88 military jet engine for Tejas Light Combat Aircraft.

Sitharaman will visit Singapore next week for the ASEAN Defence Minister Meeting and is expected to travel to the US’ newly named Indo-Pacific Command in Hawai during her December visit to the United States at the invitation of Secretary of Defence James Mattis.

Prime Mninster Narendra Modi had announced the procurement of a batch of 36 Rafale jets after talks with then French president Francois Hollande on April 10, 2015, in Paris.

The deal was sealed on September 23, 2016.

The Congress has been alleging massive irregularities in the deal, saying the government was procuring each aircraft at a cost of over Rs 1,670 crore as against Rs 526 crore finalised by the UPA government when it was negotiating the deal.

It has also been targeting the government over the selection of Reliance Defence as an offset partner for Dassault.

Hollande, who was French president when the Rs 58,000 crore deal was announced, was quoted as saying by French publication 'Mediapart' that France was given "no choice" on selection of the Indian partner for Dassault and the Indian government proposed the name of Reliance as offset partner for the French aerospace giant.

AFP later reported that Hollande told it on the sidelines of a meeting in Canada that France "did not choose Reliance in any way". When asked whether India had put pressure on Reliance and Dassault to work together, Hollande said he was unaware and "only Dassault can comment on this".

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