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Indo-French missile pact signing put off
A.K. Dhar

Paris, September 5
The signing of a crucial Indo-French agreement on transfer of technology for production of French cruise missiles by India was put off owing to last-minute hitches, official sources said today.

The deal, which would have facilitated the transfer of critical technology for sub-systems needed for India’s indigenous missile programme, was to have been the high point of Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee’s visit to France.

Although Mukherjee had said late last night that the “deal is still on track” and details were “close to being firmed up”, sources today said certain hitches had resulted in the signing of the pact being put off.

There were no details about the hitches and French officials too were tight-lipped about why the deal was stalled. The sources said the deal would be signed later.

The proposed agreement envisages the transfer of technology from European missile consortium MBDA to India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).

It was to have been signed in the presence of Mukherjee and his French counterpoint Michele Aliotte-Marie.

At the delegation-level talks yesterday, Mukherjee had told the French defence top brass that they should declare their policy on transfer of critical technologies and ensure that the strategic partnership between India and France was reflected in Paris’ arms sales policies for China and Pakistan.

Besides cruise missile technology, India is seeking the supply of ring laser gyros, a key component holding up the progress of the nuclear-capable Agni missile programme as well as other indigenous missiles from France.

India has a joint venture with Russia for making the supersonic BrahMos cruise missiles with a range of around 300 km.

But with progress apparently stalled on the prestigious Agni-III ballistic missile, India is keen on developing an alternative delivery system — a cruise missile with a range of 1,200 to 1,500 km.

The proposed agreement with France was not only for technology transfer as it envisaged joint research and development of missiles, Mukherjee said.

In addition to missile technology, India is looking to France for know-how for other futuristic weapon platforms with applications in space and surveillance, he said.

Elaborating on India’s wish list, Mukherjee said it included the supply of spares and technical know-how as well as arrangements with French equipment manufacturers for setting up production facilities for spares and weapon sub-systems.

Before the start of bilateral talks yesterday, the minister had told the French candidly that they had failed to supply some critical sub-systems to the Indian Air Force.

However, Mukherjee acknowledged that the French had been “supportive” in supplying critical technology to India and hoped the trend would continue. — PTI

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