France has a golden opportunity to pounce and quicken its efforts to establish New Delhi as a cornerstone of President Emmanuel Macron's major strategic thrust in the Indo-Pacific area as a result of Russia's growing adversities as an arms supplier.
In preparation for a potential visit by Macron early next year, French Defense Minister Sébastien Lecornu will strengthen ties with this longtime ally of Paris by traveling to India on Sunday. Although the official purpose of the trip is a diplomatic charm offensive rather than a blatant attempt to sell weapons produced by France Inc., the hard-power element cannot be ignored.
India and France have collaborated on naval drills since 1993, and France is already India's second-largest supplier of weaponry behind Russia. The fact that France's conflict in Ukraine has extensively publicized worries about the caliber of Russian weaponry and Moscow's capacity to meet manufacturing deadlines for export in violation of sanctions only works to France's advantage.
Because India is sandwiched between a nuclear-capable Pakistan to the east and a rising power China to the north, weapon efficiency is a pressing concern. Despite increasing supplier diversification, Russia continues to provide close to 50% of India's weapons.
"New Delhi feels the need to diversify and find new sources urgently, and France is already viewed as a key partner." Garima Mohan, an expert on the EU-India relationship at the German Marshall Fund, stated that "India is ready to cut its ties and diversify away."
Lecornu's trip isn't ostensibly about weaponry, according to the French government's official account, but he won't hold back when discussing alternatives to Russia.
An advisor from the French defense ministry stated, "We are not going there to sell military goods; our purpose is to emphasize the importance of the relationship." Lecornu has been invited on board India's "Vikrant" aircraft carrier as a "symbol of goodwill" between France and India.
However, he continued, "We can show them that there are European alternatives to Russian arms.
France's ability to scale up its manufacturing capacity to satisfy the enormous demands of a military superpower like India will be its biggest challenge.
A reliable partner
France gets out in front of the competition for Indian military contracts.
Before departing for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference, the French president met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the margins of the G20 to discuss "deepening the strategic cooperation" before assuring attendees that France was committed to its presence in the region.
The two presidents enjoy a cordial connection and have recently mentioned one another as good friends on social media. Since the 1990s, French presidents have been fostering the connection, and Macron in particular never misses an opportunity to show Modi of India public demonstrations of affection.
The most significant partnership in Europe is this one. More so than the connections with Russia and the United States, it's the "special relationship." According to Mohan, naval operations, interoperability, and intelligence gathering are examples of areas where France and India have historically cooperated well.
France, the second-largest arms supplier to India, has already won high-profile arms contracts, such as the one for the Rafale fighter plane.
The alliance has become stronger in the naval sphere as India and France, which have several islands and a sizable maritime exclusion zone in the Indo-Pacific, find common ground in the face of an increasingly belligerent China.
One of the major points of convergence between France and India is China, which is more or less acknowledged in public. They must closely monitor China's efforts to develop connections and station warships and submarines, according to Isabelle Saint-Mézard, a lecturer at the University of Paris' French Geopolitics Institute.
France's relations with India, though, might reach a new height as a result of Russia's protracted conflict with Ukraine.
A 2020 assessment by the Stimson Center found that between 70 and 85 percent of the Indian armed forces use Russian weaponry, and Modi's administration is already looking into ways to lessen that reliance.
One Indian expert who works in the private sector and preferred to remain anonymous for professional reasons stated, "A better administration would have learned when the Soviet Union collapsed in the 1990s that it doesn't make sense to put one's eggs in one basket."
“Everyone now understands that we haven't purchased enough non-Russian weapons,” he said.
The conflict in Ukraine has shown weaknesses in the Russian military apparatus, far from serving as a showcase for that country.
Issues with France's industry
There might be a few alluring jobs available for Macron. There is a tender for a submarine building contract that has not received any responses, and the Indian Air Force is looking to update its fleet of fighter jets and purchase over 100 new aircraft.
But France faces problems with credibility. Since Russia invaded Ukraine, its defense industry has struggled to increase military production in response to demand from around the world and to meet the demands of a time of war.
French President Emmanuel Macron issued a warning in June that France needs to create "a wartime economy" with increased investment and streamlined, quicker production chains.
As France struggles to keep up, other suppliers like the U.S., Israel, or South Korea may seize opportunities. India's connection with Russia may be difficult for France and its opponents to understand. They are tied down in the medium term due to the procurement of airplanes and highly advanced armaments.