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India’s Defence 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.
The purchase of Rafale aircraft, which will replace part of the country’s ageing air force fleet, was first mooted in 2012 and the deal was signed in January 2016.
Air force officials have warned for years about a major capability gap opening up with China and Pakistan without new state-of-the-art planes, as India’s outdated and largely Russian-made fleet retires and production of a locally made plane was delayed.
Sumit Ganguly, director of the India Studies Program at Indiana University.
India’s government initially planned to buy 126 of the fighters, but the number of planes was scaled back over the cost and assembly of the planes in India.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has vowed to modernise India’s armed forces with a $150 billion spending spree, personally intervened in April 2015 to agree on the smaller order of 36 and give the air force a near-term boost as he weighed options for a more fundamental overhaul.
The first ready-to-fly Rafales are expected to arrive by 2019 and India is set to have all 36 within six years.
France has previously sold Rafales to both Egypt and Qatar for multi-billion euro contracts, though other proposed deals have fallen through, notably with Brazil.