India has received the first batch of three dozen Rafale fighter jets purchased from France in a multi-billion-dollar deal in 2016, amid heightened military tensions with neighboring Pakistan over the disputed Kashmir.
The jets were handed over to Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh at a ceremony held at the Dassault Aviation factory near Bordeaux in southwestern France on Tuesday.
Standing next to his French counterpart, Florence Parly, and one plane — decorated in the colors of the Indian flag, Singh said the Rafale “will add to the strength of our air force.”
Most of the Rafales will be based in Ambala, near the disputed Kashmir Valley and the Pakistani border, and at Hasimara in West Bengal State, near the border with Bhutan.
India, which had been seeking to renew its ageing fleet of Jaguar, Mirage 2000, Sukhoi 30, and MiG 21 jets, signed the deal in 2016 to buy the Rafales from France. The deal was estimated to be worth 9.4 billion dollars at the time.
But delivery had been held up by corruption allegations against the administration of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, leveled by the opposition Congress Party.
Under the agreement, a conglomerate named Reliance and headquartered in Mumbai partnered with Dassault. The Reliance’s head is reported to be close to India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Party.
Modi and his government have denied any misconduct and “commercial favoritism.” Modi has accused the Congress of undermining the country’s security, saying the skirmishes with Pakistan in Kashmir earlier this year would have ended “better” for India if it had had the Rafales.