Rafale, the French medium multi role combat aircraft (MMRCA), which was selected by India for a $18 billion deal has an interesting link with the unique identification project. One of Rafale’s most important manufacturers belongs to the Safran group, which is closely involved with Indian unique identification card, Aadhar, project. Safran is also part of other significant deals that the French have struck with India.
The Rafale is manufactured primarily by a consortium of three French companies, Dassault, Snecma and Thales. Of these, Snecma, which manufactures Rafale’s engine, is a Safran group company. The French government has 30.2% stake in Safran.
The Safran group, which specialises in defence, aerospace propulsion and equipment, and security, also has Morpho among its many companies. Morpho specialises in biometric identification systems, explosive detection systems (EDS) for hold baggage, smart cards, etc. In India, Morpho is best known for its tie-up with Mahindra Satyam. In July 2010, Morpho and Mahindra Satyam were selected by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) as one of the key partners for the initial stages of the UID project. According to a 30 July 2010 Mopho press release, “Mahindra Satyam and Morpho will develop and maintain systems that will cross-check every new application by sifting through the biometrics database, preventing accidental or fraudulent duplication and ensuring that each identification number is unique. Morpho will provide the biometric technology while Mahindra Satyam will integrate and provide support across platforms and databases.”
In July 2010, a US company, L1 Identity Solutions too was selected for the “implementation of biometric solution for UIDAI”. Interestingly, in September 2010, Safran announced that it was acquiring L1 Identity Solutions for $1.09 billion. L1 would join Safran’s security business and would be renamed as Morpho Trust. So France now has a significant business interest in the UID project.
In fact, there are several other Safran angles to India-France business ventures. Snecma, which has designed, developed and produced the M88-2 engine for Rafale, is also the manufacturer of the M53 jet engine that powers the Mirage 2000 family of aircraft. India has more than 60 such engines in service.
Snecma is also closely associated with the ongoing upgrade of 50 ageing Mirage aircraft. The deal for this was signed during Nicolas Sarkozy’s visit to India in December 2010.
Snecma also has a 50:50 joint venture with HAL, which supplies some components for the commercial CFM56 engine that the French company manufactures. It also has a mechanic training centre in Hyderabad, the fourth such in the world. The other three are in France, China and the US.