France plans for $6-billion Maitri missile project

Monday, Dec 29, 2014

With the Indo-French $6 billion surface-to-air missile systems project in doldrums, France is hoping that new government's push for "Make in India" will lead to inking of the long delayed deal.

France remains hopeful of signing the deal even though Indian armed forces are sceptical about the missile since indigenously developed Akash is in play.

Titled Maitri, the project for joint development and production between India's Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and France's MBDA, was initiated in 2007 and a MoU to co-develop the surface-to-air missile (SRSAM) was signed during French President Francois Hollande's visit to India in February last year.

Since then, the situation has changed as Indian Air Force feels that its requirements could be met by indigenous Akash surface-to-air missile weapon system.

Asked about reservations by the Air Force, a top MBDA official in Paris told PTI, "we have written back answering the issues raised by the IAF. We are hopeful that this deal would be inked soon."

The official at MBDA also said that the "Make in India" project is apt for the deal.

He added that while the range of SRSAM will be of 40 km, Akash's range is only 25 km.
Sources at Indian Air Force said that they have nothing against the Maitri project per se but would prefer to use the available Akash missile rather than wait for the Indo-French ones to come.

"The Maitri project can go on but we want the missiles and Akash is serving that purpose," sources said.

Refusing to comment about the Maitri project, sources in DRDO said that the Akash missile is already in play and is based on a similar platform like the Maitri.

However, the French are pushing for Maitri. "SRSAM is part of our strategic dialogue with India and is raised whenever top officials and leaders from both sides meet. We believe that a lot of information has been handed over after the new government has taken over in Delhi," an MBDA official said.

French officials said that both Akash and Maitri can be inducted as the two will improve overall weapon system of India.

MBDA believes that the Maitri will be better for India as it will be "more cost-effective to develop a new missile than to upgrade a missile based on outdated propulsion".

India is working on Akash Mark-II with longer range and MBDA is even calling Maitri as a potential Akash Mark-II.

As per the deal, the Maitri missiles will be produced only in India and the first deliveries will happen three years after the agreement is signed.

India can also export the missile with "MBDA support". The French defence major said Source Codes for Maitri will be delivered to DRDO giving an autonomy to India for guided missiles and seekers.

French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian had also written to the Modi government about the project.

The issue was also raised when Drian and the country's Foreign Minister visited India since the Modi government came into power, sources at MBDA said.