Paris: India and France maybe moving closer to jointly producing a surface-to-air missile (SAM) system in response to an Indian Army tender for 1,000 quick reaction missiles. The cooperative venture is meant to function along the lines of the Indo-Russian joint venture, BrahMos Aerospace, which has successfully developed the supersonic cruise missile, which is also called BrahMos.
Termed Maitri (Friendship), the Indo-French short-range missile is intended to replace the near-obsolete Soviet-era SAMs, according to Antoine Bouvier, chief executive officer, MBDA. The french firm is one of the world's largest manufacturers of missiles.
''We have been assured of support at the highest political level by French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, after he discussed the project with prime minister, Manmohan Singh, during the former's visit to New Delhi in January this year,'' Bouvier told visiting journalists.
''We initiated discussions with the Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL) and the Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO) in November 2005 on a completely new missile version. The next step is joint development with the DRDO and production by the BDL some of which can also be earmarked for export,'' said Bouvier.
The new missile will have the ability to track hostile aircraft nine km away and would be used to protect sensitive government and economic complexes. The nature of the missile system may also interest the Indian Air Force (IAF) as well as the Indian Navy, which also need to guard static facilities along with active units.
The Army will use these systems to guard field units as well as tactical headquarters.
''The decision to field the MBDL-BDL-DRDO Maitri missile was not easy. We could have responded with products here. But want to give priority to our long-term vision. The intention is to offer systems produced entirely in India rather than those that are partly made,'' Bouvier informed the media.
The DRDO has been seeking outside expertise for seeker and guidance systems, even as it offers indigenously developed launch and platform integration abilities. ''We are in discussions at the highest level on seeker and guidance systems. This would be the most significant component of the project,'' Bouvier said.
The MBDA, which has a two-decade-old relationship with the Indian defence sector, will also supply new missiles for the French supplied Mirage-2000 fighters in service with the IAF, as part of te up-gradation programme of the fleet.
MBDA missiles are also likely to be the preferred option for the French Rafael, the Swedish Gripen and the European Aeronautics Defence Space (EADS) company, which are bidding for the $11 billion IAF tender for 126 MMRCA fighters.
The government has already attempted a partnership with an Israeli company for a different class of missiles. However, the project has run into a cloud with investigative agencies probing other deals struck between the company and Indian officials.