India signs deal to buy 36 French Rafale fighter jets
India signed a formal agreement Friday to buy 36 Rafale fighter jets from France’s Dassault for a reported €7.9 billion ($8.8 billion), one of its biggest defense deals in decades. India’s Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar and his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian signed the agreement at a ceremony in New Delhi after years of tortuous negotiations between the two countries. Defense experts say it will bring a much needed boost to India’s air force as it tries to renew its dwindling fleet of Russian MiG-21s. The world’s top defense importer has signed several big-ticket deals as part of a $100-billion upgrade since Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi took power in 2014. Friday’s agreement is a major vote of confidence in the Rafale, which had long struggled to find buyers overseas.
Under the deal, the first ready-to-fly Rafales are scheduled to arrive by 2019. India is set to have all 36 within six years.
The fighter jets will be customized according to India’s requests. France has to ensure that at least 75 percent of the aircraft, or 27 planes, are operationally available at any given time by providing proper maintenance, spare parts and ammunition.
Half of the money India pays for the French hardware must be invested back into India’s domestic aviation industry.
Although the deal is scaled down from the 126 planes originally discussed, it still represents one of India’s biggest defense deals in decades. The original number was reduced in talks over the cost and assembly of the planes in India.
The deal also represents a large victory for Rafale, which has struggled to find buyers overseas, despite lobbying efforts by the French government.
Dassault has signed several deals with India as part of a $150 billion military overhaul under the government of Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The Friday deal marks the biggest order for the Rafale since Egypt agreed to buy 24 of the jets in 2015, and Qatar purchased the same amount later that year.
The Rafale is currently being used for bombing missions over Syria and Iraq, as part of an international campaign against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL). It has previously been deployed for airstrikes in Libya and Afghanistan.
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