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October, 1, 2016

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India inks US$8.8 bil. deal to buy 36 French Rafale fighter jets

NEW DELHI--India signed a formal agreement Friday to buy 36 Rafale fighter jets from France's Dassault for 7.9 billion euros (US$8.8 billion), one of its biggest defense deals in decades.

India's Defense 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.

"You can only ever be completely sure once (the deal) has been signed and that's what happened today," said Le Drian after the ceremony, referring to the delays.

Friday's agreement represents a substantial reduction from the 126 planes originally mooted, but is still one of India's biggest defense deals in decades.

Defense experts say it will bring a much needed boost to India's air force as it tries to renew its dwindling fleet of Russian MiG-21s — dubbed "Flying Coffins" because of their poor safety record.

The world's top defense importer has signed several big-ticket deals as part of a US$100-billion upgrade since Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi took power in 2014.

The increasing assertiveness of its giant neighbor China as well as its simmering rivalry with Pakistan have increased India's need to upgrade its military.

Friday's agreement is a major vote of confidence in the Rafale, which had long struggled to find buyers overseas, despite heavy lobbying efforts by the administration of French President Francois Hollande.

Hollande hailed the deal as recognition of France's aviation industry.

"The agreement ... is a mark of the recognition by a major military power of the operational performance, the technical quality and the competitiveness of the French aviation industry," he said in a statement.

It was first mooted in 2012 but faced major delays and obstacles over the last four years.

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French Defense Minister Jean Yves le Drian, left, and Indian Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar (center right) sign a deal to purchase 36 French Rafale fighter jets in New Delhi on Friday, Sept. 23. (AFP)

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