France, which delivered the first five of 36 Dassault Rafale fighters to the Indian Air Force (IAF) on Wednesday amidst a frenzy of media publicity, has been one of India’s steadfast materiel suppliers for decades.
In the process, it has notched up sales worth billions, which other than combat aircraft include light utility helicopters, submarines and missile systems. French defence companies have also forged lucrative collaborative ventures with Indian public sector undertakings to develop and manufacture a range of engines, to successfully power an assortment of locally designed helicopters.
“The pragmatism, flexibility and professionalism of France’s defence trade practises have ensured their commercial success, not only with India, but with other countries as well over many years,” said a senior Indian Ministry of Defence (MoD) official, declining to be named. The French government and their military vendors work in unison, he added, to ensure effective project completion, which is certainly not the case in India.
Flying under the radar, several French defence vendors operating under Paris’ direction have frequently participated in classified Indian strategic programmes, one of which involved Dassault engineers quietly assisting the IAF in re-jigging its Mirage-2000H fighters to deliver precision guided munitions (PGMs) during the 1999 Kargil War.
This swiftly provided French support proved decisive in turning the tide of the 11-week long Kargil War, after the deadly PGMs blasted Pakistan Army bunkers in the Batalik and Drass heights, hastening the enemy’s withdrawal from Indian territory, back across the disputed line of control.
These precision Mirage strikes also created aviation warfare history, in that they were the first to have been executed in the world’s highest and most arduous terrain that is not only difficult to navigate but also highly challenging to effectively attack.