India has agreed to buy 36 Rafale fighter jets from France.
The two countries’ defence ministers – Jean-Yves Le Drian and Manohar Parrikar – signed the deal in New Delhi, ending almost 18 months of wrangling over terms with manufacturer Dassault Aviation, after a selection process that took nearly a decade.
The price – 7.75 billion euros – was reportedly bargained down from 10.6 billion.
This is India’s first major purchase of combat planes in two decades as it rebuilds its ageing largely Russian-made fleet .
Indian air force officials have warned for years of a major capability gap opening up with China and Pakistan without new state-of-the-art planes.
The air force is down to 33 squadrons, against its requirement of 45 to face both China, with which it has a festering border dispute, and nuclear-armed rival Pakistan.
The French jets are expected to arrive by 2019 with all 36 delivered within six years.
More orders to come
India had originally wanted to order for 126 Rafales from Dassault. Talks started in 2012, but subsequent collapsed.
India says its locally made Tejas fighter, which took to the skies in July – 33 years after it was cleared for development – will form a major part of its future fleet, but defence minister Manohar Parrikar has also said the military will need 100 new light combat aircraft by 2020 to replace Russian MiG-21s.
That has encouraged the likes of Sweden’s Saab and US Lockheed Martin to re-pitch their single-engine Gripen and F-16 planes that lost out to the Rafales.
Defence analyst Nitin Gokhale said: “The Rafale is filling up one critical gap. It’s not the whole envelope. Once this is over, the government will get down to business to assess the proposals.”