India, France finally ink deal for 36 Rafale fighter jets

India today signed a deal to buy 36 high-tech Rafale fighters from France in the country's first major acquisition of fighter aircraft in over two decades.

Defence minister Manohar Parrikar and his French counterpart Jean Yves LeDrian signed the contract in Delhi after years of tortuous negotiations between the two countries.

India will pay about Rs58,000 crore or €7.8 billion for 36 off-the-shelf Dassault Rafale twin-engine fighters. About 15 per cent of this cost is to be paid in advance.

India will also get spares and weaponry, including the Meteor missile, considered among the most advanced in the world.

Sources tracking the final negotiations had confirmed to NDTV that the IAF's Rafales will come equipped with the Meteor, designed to knock out enemy aircraft and cruise missiles significantly more than 100 km away.

"This new contract illustrates the strategic relationship and the exemplary partnership maintained between the two countries and marks the natural culmination of the relationship of trust initiated in 1953 when India became Dassault Aviation's first export customer," the company said in a statement released on Friday.

The acquisition of this weapon is likely to be game changer in South Asia. Neither Pakistan nor China, India's traditional military adversaries, have a weapon in the same class.

The first Rafale warplanes are slated to be delivered roughly within 18 months of the signing of the final contract.

There is an accompanying offset clause through which France will invest 30 per cent of the €7.8 billion in India's military aeronautics-related research programmes and 20 per cent in local production of Rafale components.

The deal could not be signed this January when French President Francois Hollande was the chief guest for the Republic Day because India wanted a better price.

For the Indian Air Force, the deal is bitter-sweet. On one hand, it will be getting two squadrons of the state-of-the-art fighter; on the other hand, the original requirement was for at least 126 jets.

The IAF's rapidly-aging Soviet-era fleet threatens to hamper New Delhi's ability to counter potential threats from Beijing and Islamabad. Modi and Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar still need to purchase additional aircraft to keep up with regional rivals.

India needs at least 42 squadrons of fighters and has an existing strength of 32. The fighter fleet will go down further by about 10 squadrons as the MiG-21 fighters - dubbed flying coffins because of their poor safety record in view of their having outlived their safe lifespan - will have to be grounded.