As a fallout of French President Emmanuel Macron’s visit to India as the Chief Guest at the country’s 75th Republic Day celebrations on January 26 this year, India and France have agreed to bolster their collaboration in the defence and aerospace sectors, finalizing the Indo-French defence industrial roadmap and many other equally strategic agreements. Macron is the fifth French president to be invited as Chief Guest at India’s Republic Day after President François Hollande (2016), Nicolas Sarkozy (2008), Jacques Chirac (1998), Valery Giscard d’Estaing (1980) and Jacques Chirac as PM (1976). This, incidentally, was Macron’s third visit to India, after earlier visits in 2018 and 2023.
Foreign secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra, addressing a press conference in New Delhi on Friday, said the new roadmap would spur Indian and French collaboration in co-development and co-production in defence sector projects, such as critical military hardware and platforms. However, the comprehensive roadmap does not only cover the field of defence, but also those of science, technology, healthcare, education, training, research, public administration and sustainable agriculture. To celebrate innovation, the year, 2026, has been dubbed the ‘India-France Year of Innovation’.
Macron’s visit follows Prime Minister Modi’s trip to France in July 2023, where he was the Guest of Honour at the Bastille Day Parade. The recent interaction between Modi and Macron is their fifth since May. France ranks as India’s second-biggest supplier of arms. Notably, it was the sole Western country that refrained from imposing sanctions on New Delhi following India’s nuclear tests in 1998.
At the G20 meeting held in Delhi in September in 2023, the Ministry of Defence had actively sought advice from industry professionals to develop a collaborative strategy with France. Their goal is to enhance defence industry partnership with cooperation in such fields as maritime technology, ground combat equipment, robotics, autonomous vehicles, different systems and cyber security. The two countries had earlier agreed to pursue the roadmap when Prime Minister Modi visited France for the Bastille Day celebrations.
Before Macron’s arrival, the French Embassy in Delhi had said in a statement that these talks would focus on strengthening bilateral relations and establishing new ventures in multiple key sectors. Additionally, the visit was expected to focus on enhancing business connections and cross-investments as part of France’s ‘Make it Iconic’ national branding campaign, which considers India a key target country. But the focus of the defence industrial roadmap-signifying a landmark agreement-that was agreed on during Macron’s current visit is on air, maritime and terrestrial warfare; collaboration in space missions; artificial intelligence (AI) technology, robotics, autonomous vehicles; and cyber defence, besides other areas.
Preceding Prime Minister Modi’s trip to the Bastille Day festivities, India had, initially, agreed to the purchase of 26 Rafale-M fighter jets for its 45,000-ton INS Vikrant aircraft carrier and co-produce three Scorpene-class submarines, a deal valued at approximately Rs 80,000 crore ($9.62 billion). But Macron’s current visit did not see a major announcement on the purchase of these Rafale marine aircraft, or Scorpene-class submarines from India. Asked about where these deals now stood, Kwatra said, “The visits are not focused on individual transactions.”
However, aerospace giant Thales has announced plans to establish an avionics maintenance, repair and operations (MRO) facility in Delhi with the goal of bringing reliable high-tech capabilities to India to support the modernization and indigenization of India’s aerospace and defence sectors. Thales provides state-of-the-art equipment and systems aboard the Rafale fighter jets, underscoring its role in enhancing India’s defence technology capabilities. The company recently opened its second state-of-the-art facility in Bengaluru-a sign of its deeper involvement with India’s aerospace and defence sectors.
During their discussions, Modi and Macron engaged in conversations about global issues, with special focus on addressing the Gaza conflict issue. The leaders explored different aspects, such as terrorism and humanitarian concerns, demonstrating their joint commitment to navigating complex geopolitical challenges. Kwatra stated that the discussions also involved a thoughtful exchange of views on the changing security dynamics in the Red Sea. Both leaders recognized the potential disruptions and existing developments in this strategically important region, reaffirming their dedication to mutual understanding and cooperation.
With the aim of enhancing space situational awareness, preventing collisions in space, earth monitoring and remote-sensing, the two countries also agreed on a letter of intent (LoI) to increase cooperation in the field of defence space. New Space India Ltd (NSIL) also signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with France’s Arianespace to boost satellite launch capabilities that underscores the shared goal of space technology advancements. According to another announcement that Kwatra made, Tata and Airbus are poised to establish a final assembly line (FAL) for production of H125 helicopters in India with significant emphasis on locally made components.
France has been keenly interested in expanding collaboration with India in the areas of space and nuclear technology. India and France have been working together since the 1960s, demonstrating the long-term nature of their relationship. Much of their collaboration has focused on creating propulsion technology, a significant symbol of their teamwork over the years. The opening of France’s CNES office in Bengaluru in 2013 strengthened the long-lasting relationship between the two. An agreement signed in April 2015 took their partnership to a higher level, and then a joint plan for space cooperation in 2018 highlighted their commitment on different areas of space exploration.
The Joint Vision for Space Cooperation, which started in 2018 when President Macron visited India, is a big step forward. It involves working in collaboration between India’s ISRO and France’s CNES on many aspects of space exploration. France plays a key role by providing important parts and equipment for India’s growing space projects.
In 2019, India-France space activities increased, especially after President Macron’s visit, which led to forming a group focused on India’s human spaceflight mission. In 2019, a significant deal was made to set up a maritime surveillance centre in India. This goes along with India’s big plans for missions to Mars, Venus and asteroids. They also worked together on such satellites as SARAL and Megha Tropiques, showing the vast range of their partnership.
The first India-France Strategic Space Dialogue in 2023 focused on important areas of collaboration, including joint satellite missions, such as Trishna; understanding the ocean better; payload accommodation on satellites; ground station support; and working on sending humans to space.
India-France Student/Tourist Exchange: Macron’s trip also emphasises France’s commitment to opening up more avenues for Indian students, artists, investors and tourists. There will be particular emphasis on initiatives that encourage student exchanges, aligning with President Macron’s goal of hosting 30,000 Indian students by 2030.
Macron, on the social media site X (formerly Twitter), announced that France’s goal was to welcome 30,000 Indian students to that country, which would facilitate visa processes for Indians who had once studied in the country. The other announcements were regarding the introduction of the Young Professionals Scheme, encouraging the exchange of individuals aged 18-35, and an extension of validity to five years for Schengen visas for Indian students pursuing their Masters degrees in France. (IPA )