Visit of the French Defence Minister to India

Speech of H.E. Mr Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister of Defence of the French Republic on the occasion of the signing of the agreement on the purchase of 36 Rafale aircraft.

File photo: Rafale aircraft during Indo-French Air Exercise “Garuda V”
File photo: Rafale aircraft during Indo-French Air Exercise “Garuda V”
June 2014

New Delhi, 23 September 2016

check against delivery

Mr Ambassador,
Hon’ble Members of Parliament,
CEOS and company heads,
Dear members of Team France,

I am delighted to be among you. We have just witnessed a historic day. As you know, almost 10 years ago, India issued a call to tender for the renewal of its fleet of combat jets. Almost a decade later, it is the Rafale that has won this lengthy competition, which was demanding right up to the last moment.

We have worked tirelessly and we have spared no effort to make it possible to incorporate all the different aspects well – industrial and technical ones, of course, but also political and diplomatic ones – all of which were indispensable for making this project a success, which we are celebrating today.

Once again India has reposed trust in France and the Dassault Group for the modernization of its Air Force. With the acquisition of 36 combat jets, the Rafale joins glorious predecessors: the Ouragan, the Jaguar, the Mystère, the Mirage 2000.

Because, since 1953, a part of the defence of the Indian skies has depended on French aircraft. And it is with joy, with the immense pride of great collective successes that I can say this evening that this will continue in the decades to come.

With the delivery of the Rafale to India, we are thus continuing to write the history of the strategic partnership between our two countries. This is all the more true as India had requested us in April last year, through the voice of its Prime Minister, that this project come under a State-to-State relationship.

The common history that links us to India, through our defence relationship, is longstanding, forged on mutual trust and mutual interests: it will continue and become even more substantive thanks to this new project we are sharing.

And today before you, this is the wish I make: that the successful supply of the first 36 Rafale jets be but the beginning of a great Indian history for this extraordinary aircraft, this jewel in the crown of the French defence industry.

I would also like to mention that this is the biggest contract that France has ever recorded in the combat aircraft sector.

With the signing of this contract, France reaffirms the strength of its ties with a great world power, India, a robust democracy that wishes to maintain its position in the world. After Australia’s choice of DCNS, France confirms here that it is a credible actor of the Indo-Pacific zone, where – as I have been saying ceaselessly – we have a prominent role to play.

France, a security actor of the African continent, present more than ever before in the Middle East – I will, in fact, be travelling to Egypt tomorrow – is also a credible power in this zone of the Indian Ocean, where we have military presence – in Abu Dhabi, Djibouti, Reunion Island – and where we have two great democracies as our preferred partners: India and Australia.

This success thus reinforces our presence in the world. I am delighted, as you can well imagine. It also consolidates our sovereignty: with 84 Rafale jets exported since February 2015, our entire industrial base is being strengthened. This will also create secure jobs in France while guaranteeing the independence of our supplies. This also opens new investment prospects in India for our companies under the “Make in India” programme desired by Prime Minister Modi

It may be recalled that the 2013 Military Planning Law fixed the combat aircraft export target at 40. We have achieved double that number! This is irrefutable proof that this ambitious bet was realistic.


How can this political, diplomatic and industrial success be explained?

First, and I’m saying this in front of defence industry captains and Defence Procurement Agency (DGA) officials present here, we have to build the best equipment. Dassault Aviation has been devoted to this since decades, in the service of France’s defence, like Thalès and Safran, whose CEOs have travelled to Delhi with me. We also need the most high-performance weapons, and in this regard, we are glad to have a group like MBDA in France. It is a company offering ultramodern technology, which brings together the talent of major European countries.

I have already said this: Rafale is an exceptional aircraft, equipped with armaments that are just as exceptional. But how does one explain this top industrial quality? Actually, none of this could have happened without a true strategist State which, with through the DGA, finances the extremely high technicality involved and armaments of the future, and frames a real strategic vision for the industry.

The Rafale is actually 30 years of the State’s support in various areas, each complementary to the other. First, there is our education system that trains very high-level engineers in our grandes écoles and universities. Then there are technicians, workers, greatly talented employees, and, of course, remarkable industry captains.

The second key to our success is thus mobilisation and coherence of State action. I mentioned the strategist State. There is also the “regalian” State in two of its core components: the armed forces and diplomacy.

The armed forces first. Without our military personnel, who forge defence cooperation, who take care of training our partners, who bring consistency to our strategic relations, today’s success – like that of the past months – would not have been possible.

Without the operational feats of the French Air and naval aviation forces in Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq and Syria, in the Balkans sky police, or during military exercises everywhere in the world, this historic agreement would not have been possible.

I therefore wish to thank all those have taken up a military career as their profession. They are France’s pride, its bulwark, as well as an essential part of our influence, our greatness and our position in the world.

The State is also the diplomatic State. As you know, India’s choice of France is not a recent one. In 1998, France made the bipartisan choice of a strategic partnership with New Delhi. This choice has never faltered – neither during the crisis triggered by the nuclear tests in 1998, nor that of Kargil in 1999. 18 years later, India remembers that it can count on France in tough times, in moments of truth when one recognises true friends.

Thus, this is a substantive diplomatic choice, borne to its highest level by President François Hollande, who was here earlier in January, as the Chief Guest of Republic Day. On this occasion and for the first time in the history of India, foreign troops were invited to march in the parade. These troops, dear friends, were French troops. And we have every reason to be proud of this.

This substantive strategy was supported and carried out by men and women, through a valuable diplomatic network – which, the British have apparently said is the best in the world – and every day we endeavour to prove them right.

This evening, I therefore wish to thank the three ambassadors who have worked since 2007 towards this success: Jérôme Bonnafont, François Richier, and Alexandre Ziegler, who is hosting us this evening and whose posting has commenced with a most auspicious start, with this historic moment in our bilateral relations.


There is the substance, and there is also a method; you know that I attach importance to it. Under the authority of the President of the French Republic, who, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has established a very close relationship over the months, I have had the honour of leading a well-knit Team France.

This success is really once again that of total mobilisation of what I like to call Team France. Because that’s what it really is: everyone has their role in this team, but all of them pursue one and the same goal: winning. And for winning this major contract we had to strengthen this even more than during other negotiations.

As such, this contract is exemplary. It would have been impossible to win it without each working with the other partners, be they industries, the Defence Procurement Agency, or the Armed Forces.

This team is first of all made up of industry captains: Eric Trappier, Antoine Bouvier, Patrice Caine, Philippe Peticolin. As well as all those who work with them and together define their commercial strategy.

And I have not forgotten that this success was also supported by the competitive SME base. This team is also composed of functionaries: I have already mentioned diplomats, and armament engineers. I would like to especially congratulate Laurent Collet-Billon and Stéphane Reb, as well as their teams.

This team is obviously also composed of my direct colleagues, who daily implement and carry out my action. Together, we have constantly ensured that all the members of Team France give their best so as to achieve the target we set ourselves.

To the men and women who work quietly behind the scenes, go my thanks – something we don’t do often. You who are here know them: Cédric Lewandowski, my Principal Secretary; Luis Vassy, my Diplomatic Adviser, and his deputy, Bruno Gruselle; and Christophe Salomon, my Industrial Adviser.

But this aggregation of individual talents is not all. It could even have amounted to nothing if, right from 2012, we had not worked out a collective discipline. I’ll give a quick overview of that:

  • First, collegial deliberations: it is by collectively taking into account all the constraints of a project that we can be sure of having an intelligent and winning strategy. That’s why there are so many meetings around me, as part of the COMED chaired by Principal Secretary, or at my Diplomatic Adviser’s office.
  • Next, as I said, discipline: when President Hollande and Prime Minister Modi approved the strategy I suggested, everyone had to adhere to it, and everyone adhered to it – that’s a real force!
  • Lastly, specialisation in execution: each one must be at their post in their area of expertise. To the manufacturers, the technical and financial specifications; to the State, the strategic dialogue, operational cooperation and the follow-up of programmes.

Ladies and gentlemen, I wish to mention one last great force of our Team France. In the strategic domain, we have benefited from remarkable unanimity. The delegation I am leading is bipartisan, and I wish to salute the French National Assembly Members and Senators from the left and the right who have accompanied me. When France’s interests are at stake, unity and cohesiveness must be the rule! It has always been so since I have had the honour of leading our team.

It is, of course, perfectly legitimate to experience immense satisfaction today with the work accomplished. But let’s not forget the future and what it requires of us straight away. We must stay mobilised as much remains to be done. In the naval sector, with competitions in Europe; in the air sector, the negotiations with the United Arab Emirates are being pursued. We must also plan for a future in which the merger of Nexter and KMW – which I desired – will create a new force in terrestrial equipment exports.

On this historic day, it is time to celebrate the magnificent success that the Rafale has won once again, a success that calls for more in the future. This is the desire that I express before you this evening.

Thank you.

Long live the Republic. Long live France. Long live Indo-French friendship.

Last modified on 26/09/2016

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