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Mon, May 09, 2005

France Is Not Happy

Ambassador to India Bemoans Big Boeing Buy

France is not happy, and when France is not happy the French Ambassador is not happy. In this case, the French Ambassador to India, M. Dominique Girard, aired his dissatisfaction to the Indian Express newspaper, specifically on the subject of aircraft sales.

There is little nuance in the French message on India's recent -- and upcoming -- aircraft buys. "We are surprised and disappointed," the envoy said. He insisted that, compared to Boeings, Airbus aircraft were better, available more quickly, and preferred by Indian pilots; he argued that "some factors other than commercial have played a role" in Air India's purchase of fifty Boeing jets.

Those "factors" would presumably be political. While the US has rewarded anti-terror war ally Pakistan for its support, it has also responded to Indian overtures -- and significant behind-the-scenes anti-terror cooperation -- by opening the possibility of joint or license production of modern F-16 or F-18 fighters, and offering the Indian defense industry other high-tech weapons.

That's important because the Indian Air Force is now seeking 126 fighters, and the French have had the inside track. One important factor -- which Girard doesn't mind stressing -- is parts availability. The French are indifferent to nonproliferation issues and international sanctions -- during the war in Iraq, at least one US aircraft was downed by a French missile made no earlier than October, 2002.

As strange as it sounds, France's cash-and-carry policy is reassuring to some end users -- particularly those who fear the possibility of US or international sanctions. India has first-hand experience chafing under US sanctions, imposed when India pursued nuclear weapons. The few US types in Indian inventory, such as the Harrier and the SH-3 helicopter, faced severe parts crises before the US quietly lifted sanctions last year (as reported in Aero-News: " US, India Shake Hands On Spare Parts."

Girard noted that if the IAF selected the French Dassault Mirage fighters it was considering, it could count on a steady flow of spares, without regard for international politics. "We never stop supplies in any condition," he pledged.

The decision the Indian Air Force will take is anybody's guess. The IAF does have extensive experience with Russian and French aircraft, and none with American combat planes, so the Dassault bid probably still has advantages over the American alternatives.

But right now, the Quai d'Orsay is not happy... and Dominique Girard is not happy.



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