PARIS: India received on Tuesday the first of 36 Rafale fighter jets ordered from France in 2016 in a multi-billion-dollar deal that Paris hopes will unlock more sales despite being tainted by suspicion of corruption.

Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh joined his French counterpart Florence Parly for a ceremony at the Dassault Aviation factory in Merignac, near the southwestern city of Bordeaux, on the Indian Air Force’s birthday.

Standing next to the plane, decorated in the colours of the Indian flag, Singh hailed a “historic and landmark day for the Indian armed forces”, noting the Rafale “will add to the strength of our air force”.

India, which in February fought air battles with Pakistan over the occupied territory of Kashmir, is seeking to renew its ageing fleet of Jaguar, Mirage 2000, Sukhoi 30, and Mig 21 and 27 jets.

The fighter aircraft to be based near Pakistan border, held Kashmir

It signed a deal in 2016 to buy 36 Rafales from France, but delivery has been held up by corruption allegations levelled by the opposition Congress party.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has accused Congress of undermining the country’s security, saying the skirmishes over occupied Kashmir would have ended “better” for India if it had had the Rafales.

French plane-maker Dassault had in 2012 won a contract negotiated under a Congress-led government in 2012 to supply 126 jets to India, with some built in France and the rest in India by state-owned Hindustan Aeronau­tics Limited.

But on a visit to France in 2015, Mr Modi scrapped the deal, replacing it with an order for 36 jets — all to be built in France. The deal was estimated to be worth $9.4 billion at the time.

Mandated to be able to deal with two conflicts at once — with China and Pakistan — the Indian Air Force is meant to have 42 squadrons but struggles to put together 33, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

The 36 Indian Rafales will be based in Ambala, near held Kashmir and the Pakistani border, and at Hasimara in West Bengal state near the border with Bhutan.

Published in Dawn, October 9th, 2019