India and Italy while inking 15 pacts in the fields of trade, infrastructure & sovereign funds, energy, shipbuilding & culture, etc sought to give new direction to defence ties at the virtual summit held in the light of New Delhi’s growing strategic partnership with the European nations.

The summit explored the possibility of enhancing Italian investments in India, defence cooperation and manufacturing under the ‘Make in India’ initiative, sources told ET.

The joint statement after the summit laid strong emphasis on defence partnership. “The two prime ministers welcomed the steady strengthening of defence cooperation and recognised the importance of regular defence exchanges… They underscored the need to further expand defence engagement through greater two-way collaboration and technology cooperation, co-development and co-production by expediting discussions through the joint defence committee and military cooperation group. They recognised the opportunity to consolidate defence relations with the aim of enhancing the effectiveness of peacekeeping activities within the framework of the United Nations.” The two sides decided to adopt this action plan to set up priorities, strategic goals and mechanisms of a bilateral partnership for the period of 2020-2025.

Italian firm Fincantieri has over time enhanced its presence in India by providing momentum to the longstanding partnership with the government-owned CSL, which controls facilities both on the east and west coasts of India. In the past, the group entered into contracts with CSL — to which the Indian Navy awarded the construction of the aircraft carrier Vikrant — for design and integration of the unit’s engine system as well as for the supply of complementary services. Thereafter, Fincantieri delivered the two fleet tankers ‘Deepak’ and ‘Shakti’ to the Indian Navy, in addition to the research vessel ‘Sagar Nidhi’ built for the National Institute of Ocean Technology.

Defence ties with Italy — which took twin hits with the AgustaWestland scam and the marines case — were revived after an eight year gap in 2018. Prior to the banning of Finmeccanica (now Leonardo) in 2013 in the aftermath of the VVIP chopper scandal, Italy had significant interests in the Indian defence sector, ranging from maritime systems to radars, avionics and land systems. The ban on Leonardo still continues, limiting Italian participation in major Indian defence acquisitions, including helicopters, naval guns, radars and aircraft. Efforts have been made to lift the ban but this has been difficult as the corruption case is being probed by the CBI.

With the revival of defence ties in 2018, the two sides are eyeing joint military cooperation, including the sale or joint development of arms and equipment. Defence ties with Italy were normalised after the visit of Italian PM Paolo Gentiloni in 2017. Italy is keen to retain the market in India’s defence sector. The two PMs also stressed on the importance of the Indo-Pacific region as a fundamental area for connecting Asia and Europe and stated their willingness to support connectivity initiatives based on internationally recognised norms and standards, good governance, rule of law, inclusiveness, transparency and level playing field.