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French firm to launch Indian earth observation satellite, move to boost gathering of intel

French space company Arianespace is scheduled to launch an Indian earth observation satellite (EOS) on December 4. It would contain an Electronic Intelligence System (ELINT) package that will boost New Delhi’s capability to collect strategic intelligence in the neighbourhood.

While the ELINT satellite launched from French Guiana will act as a force multiplier for India’s National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO), India has also asked French nuclear reactor supplier Areva to consider joining hands with Indian private sector to build steel pressure vessel forgings in order to supply pressurised reactors for 9,900 MW Jaitapur power plant in Maharashtra.

Both the issues were discussed at the 26th India-France Strategic Dialogue meeting on October 9 with Jacques Audibert, diplomatic advisor to French President Francois Hollande, meeting National Security Advisor Ajit Doval. Audibert also met Prime Minister Narendra Modi the next day.

At the meeting, both sides decided to speed up the Rafale Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) deal but a India-France proposal to produce short range surface to air missile was shot down by the Indian Air Force, which appeared to be in favour of DRDO developed Akaash medium range surface to air missile.

India and France have deepened cooperation in high technology, nuclear, space and intelligence areas. The ELINT satellite project was moved through NTRO in 2011 with both sides freezing technical classifications and parameter in 2013 strategic dialogue.

The SR-SAM project was cleared by previous UPA-2 government in July 2011 and Defence Acquisition Council in December 2012. Both MMRCA and SR-SAM projects are worth billions of dollars.

With Japan playing hardball on signing the bilateral civilian nuclear deal, any hope of the steel pressure vessels to house Areva reactors from Japan Steel Works is ruled out.

As the designs of the steel vessels belong to Areva, New Delhi has asked France to consider tying up with Indian high technology companies so that the steel forgings can be made within India.

Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited and Areva are partners in the Jaitapur nuclear plant. In 2010, both companies signed an agreement to supply first set of two third generation European Pressurised Reactors and 25 years worth of nuclear fuel.