After long dilly-dallying, India signed a contract with France on Friday for acquiring 36 Rafale fighter jets. Under the agreement, French aircraft manufacturer Dassault Aviation SA is likely to deliver those fighter jets between 36 and 66 months from the date (September 23) the contract is signed in New Delhi.

The Indian Defence Ministry has confirmed the news, saying in a statement that senior officials of the two countries signed the deal in the presence of Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar and his French counterpart Jean Yves Le Drian.

On the occasion, the Indian defence minister said that the Narendra Modi administration had finalised the details for the EUR 7.878 billion deal with the French government last week. “This is an achievement which will give the Indian Air Force (IAF) the required potency in terms of penetration and capability,” added Parrikar.

For his part, Le Drian said that the accord was a “historic decision that opens a new chapter in our relations”. Eric Trappier, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Dassault Aviation, issued a statement, saying that the move would help industrial co-operation with India. “Together, Indian and French companies alike, we will endeavour to ensure ambitious industrial co-operation. I am certain that the Rafale and its performance will hold high the colours of the IAF. It will demonstrate unstinting efficiency in protecting the people of India and the sovereignty of the world’s largest democracy,” stressed Trappier.

There was a speculation that the recent Scorpene leak might affect the Indo-French Rafale deal. Indian Navy Chief Admiral Sunil Lanba stressed that New Delhi signed the agreement only after a preliminary investigation found that the leak of sensitive information pertaining to Scorpene submarines did not take place in India, but at the office of French defence company DCNS.

Earlier this week, a “working team” from France arrived in the Indian capital and their own translators went through the contract with their Indian counterparts. Later, they sent the document to the Cabinet Committee on Security for a final clearance.

A senior French official told the Indian media that the South Asian country managed to save more than EUR 590 million through tough price negotiations. According to the official, Paris agreed for a 50% offset clause only after Prime Minister Modi made a request to the French government in this regard during his visit to the European country late last year.

Meanwhile, the Indian defence industry has congratulated the Modi government for signing the deal with France. Defence experts believe that the move will create business worth around EUR 3 billion for Indian companies, apart from generating thousands of jobs through offsets.

As per the deal, France will also supply the weapon systems, including the new-age, beyond visual range ‘Meteor’ missile, which will give the IAF more teeth. The IAF badly requires the new fighter jets, as it has just 33 fighter squadrons (with 16-18 jets each). Earlier, the Air Force informed the Modi government that it needed at least 42-44 squadrons for collusive China-Pakistan threat. Another reason for the acquisition of Rafale jets is the poor serviceability of the IAF’s Sukhoi-30MKI and Jaguar fleets. As far as the Rafale is concerned, the French jet, with 4.5 generation twin engine, is capable of different missions, including delivery of nuclear weapons. The omni-role Rafale fighter jet is battle-proven in Afghanistan, Libya and Mali.

Defence experts are of the opinion that Rafale, armed with 150km beyond-visual range Meteor air-to-air missiles, 70km range MICA air-to-air missiles, 300km Scalp air-to-ground cruise missiles and deadly bombs, will provide the IAF a clear edge over Pakistan’s F-16s. That is why the EUR 7.878 billion deal is crucial for the IAF, which is grappling with a downward of its fighter fleet.

Koushik Das, based in the Indian capital of New Delhi, is a senior news editor with more than 15 years of experience. He also runs a blog – Boundless Ocean of Politics. E-Mail: [email protected]