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India-France Defense Cooperation and Information Security

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On January 5, 2023, the French delegation led by Emmanuel Bonne, the diplomatic advisor of French President Emmanuel Macron, visited New Delhi within the framework of the 36th India-France Dialogue. At the meeting where defense cooperation was discussed, Indian National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, Defense Minister Rajnath Singh and Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar were also present. In the agreement reached as a result of the negotiations, it was decided that India would receive assistance from France in the production of aircraft engine and long-range submarine that it most needed.[1] Thus, France reiterated its commitment to support India’s domestic defense industry.

As a matter of fact, for a long time, India wanted support from Western countries in the development of its defense industry. On this subject, India was particularly uncomfortable with the fact that the United States of America (USA) was offering Pakistan, its regional rival, technology that it had refrained from providing. Due to this omission of the West, which continued for decades, New Delhi turned to Moscow in the field of defense. It became dependent on the Soviet Union, especially for the production and development of warplanes and submarines that required precision technology. According to some sources, 80 percent of India’s military equipment, and according to others more than 60 percent, is of Russian or Soviet origin.[2] According to SIPRI data, the actors with the largest share in India’s arms imports and thus the most influential actors in the defense industry are Russia (46%), France (27%) and the USA (12%), respectively.[3]

In order to develop the domestic defense industry, India has restricted foreign direct investments to this sector. However, it still chooses to buy or lease aircraft, helicopter engines and long-range submarines from countries such as Russia, France and the USA, which it cannot produce and urgently needs. In this context, it is seen that the investments made in public and private sector partnership are insufficient.

One of the products that has been missing for a long time is long-range submarines. It is nuclear energy that provides long range. However, India is unable to produce nuclear powered submarines. On this subject, it again chose to lease submarines from Russia. When the lease expires, it leases a new one. In addition to this, it is going to buy new nuclear submarines from Russia.

France, on the other hand, agreed with Australia on nuclear submarines in recent years. However, after AUKUS, Australia canceled this contract. Therewith, Paris put the cooperation with India on submarines on its agenda; however, France abstained due to Russia’s support in this area. This is because of the sharing of sensitive military technologies. Because big states avoid giving their nuclear submarine technology to other states. For example, while the USA and England export nuclear submarine technology to Australia under AUKUS; it is not willing to share this technology with India. Therefore, India is going to lease or buy nuclear submarines from Russia.

Finally, India thought of using France’s nuclear technology to produce long-range submarine and offered to cooperate with France on this subject. But the Paris administration also avoided giving nuclear technology to New Delhi. Instead of this, it was decided to cooperate in the field of conventional submarines.

The main reason why Western states are not willing to share sensitive defense technologies with India is Russia’s dominance in this field. In other words, if Western states sell their defense products to India; these will be integrated with Russia’s defense tools, resulting in a security vulnerability. Because India continues to receive technical assistance from Russia for the modernization or maintenance of its defense vehicles.

There is concern about the possibility of examining the defense products given by the West by Russian engineers and learning the technology. More clearly, there is concern that Russia will make copy of Western defense products through “reverse engineering” and “theft of intellectual property”. This is seen as a matter of national security for states such as the USA and France.

A similar situation exists in the defense industry products of India. Russia is concerned that the technologies it has given to India will be learned by the Westerners. For example, Moscow reacted to this situation when a British defense delegation examined the nuclear submarine that India bought from Russia in 2017.[4] As a matter of fact, Moscow shares this technology with itself because it trusts New Delhi. While no Western state supports India in this regard; due to its dominant position in the defense industry, Moscow does not hesitate to assist New Delhi with nuclear submarines. On the subject, Lieutenant General D. S. Hooda, a former Indian military commander, said, “Russia is the only country that leased nuclear submarines to India.  Can another country lease a nuclear submarine to India? I don’t think so.” he said.[5]

Similar to the situation in nuclear submarines, which has been extensively mentioned above, is also experienced in warplanes. Since the USA has not supplied new generation warplanes to India since the 1960s, New Delhi has chosen to meet this need from Russia. This is one of the reasons why the US does not impose sanctions on India today for purchasing the S-400 from Russia. India is dependent on Russia, not the United States, for fighter jets. Therefore, there is no American technology that the S-400s’ are feared to easily detect. Due to the technical requirements as well as the geopolitical factors, the USA did not react much to India’s purchase of the S-400.

Due to these difficulties with the USA, India has been increasing its cooperation with France on fighter jets, helicopters and submarines. However, it is understood that there are limits to the defense industry cooperation between France and India. As a result, as long as India continues to be dependent on Russia in the field of defense, it will not receive the support it seeks from Western states.


[1] “India-France to Join Hands in Fighter and Submarine Design and Manufacturing”, Hindustan Times, https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/indiafrance-to-join-hands-in-fighter-and-submarine-design-and-manufacturing-101672890137294.html, (Date of Accession: 11.01.2023).

[2] “India’s Weapon Imports Fell By 33% in Last Five Years but Remains World’s Second-Largest Arms Importer”, Time of India, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/indias-weapon-imports-fell-by-33-in-last-five-years-but-remains-worlds-second-largest-arms-importer/articleshow/81516403.cms, (Date of Accession: 11.01.2023).

[3] “Trends in Internatıonal Arms Transfers, 2021”, SIPRI, https://www.sipri.org/sites/default/files/2022-03/fs_2203_at_2021.pdf, (Date of Accession: 11.01.2023).

[4] “British Team, Not the Americans, Visited India’s Russian Nuclear Submarine”, The Print, https://theprint.in/defence/british-eam-visited-indian-nuclear-submarine/15766/, (Date of Accession: 11.01.2023).

[5] “India Unsure of Russian Arms Imports to Meet Regional Threats Following Moscow’s Invasion of Ukraine”, Alaraby, https://english.alaraby.co.uk/news/india-unsure-russian-arms-meet-china-pakistan-threats, (Date of Accession: 11.01.2023).

Dr. Cenk TAMER
Dr. Cenk TAMER
Dr. Cenk Tamer graduated from Sakarya University, Department of International Relations in 2014. In the same year, he started his master's degree at Gazi University, Department of Middle Eastern and African Studies. In 2016, Tamer completed his master's degree with his thesis titled "Iran's Iraq Policy after 1990", started working as a Research Assistant at ANKASAM in 2017 and was accepted to Gazi University International Relations PhD Program in the same year. Tamer, whose areas of specialization are Iran, Sects, Sufism, Mahdism, Identity Politics and Asia-Pacific and who speaks English fluently, completed his PhD education at Gazi University in 2022 with his thesis titled "Identity Construction Process and Mahdism in the Islamic Republic of Iran within the Framework of Social Constructionism Theory and Securitization Approach". He is currently working as an Asia-Pacific Specialist at ANKASAM.