India nears $15 bln purchase of 126 Rafale fighter jets, possible first foreign sale by France

NEW DELHI – India is close to an agreement to buy Rafale fighter planes from France, an Indian defence spokesman said Tuesday. The 12 billion euros ($15 billion) deal for 126 of the jets would be France’s first foreign sale of the combat-tested planes.

France and French manufacturer Dassault Aviation have been trying for years to sell the jets abroad without success. The Rafale has been in service for the French Air Force since 2006.

Defence spokesman Sitanshu Kar said Tuesday that Indian defence minister Manohar Parrikar met his french counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian on Monday as part of an official visit to India.

“All issues related to defence were discussed including the Rafale,” Kar said. “Both sides decided to adopt a fast track approach wherever there are differences.”

A French defence official, who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly, also said that the two defence ministers agreed to accelerate negotiations.

India has become the world’s biggest arms importer as an economic boom has allowed it to modernize its military. Major arms manufacturers are wooing the country as it replaces its obsolete Soviet-era weapons and buys new equipment. India already has a fleet of the older Mirage jets.

India’s air force has around 700 fighter aircraft and is only exceeded in size by the United States, Russia and China.

Growing worries about China’s fast-expanding military and the decades-old mistrust of Pakistan have fueled India’s impetus to add heft to its defence forces.

The Rafale has struggled to find an export market because of its high cost, complexity and a design that was a marked shift from France’s last big-name fighter jet, the Mirage.

Competing jets from the United States and Russia such as the General Dynamics F-16, McDonnell Douglas F-15 and the Sukhoi Su-27 have grabbed a large slice of the market.

Deals for Brazil, Libya and Switzerland to buy the Rafale have all fallen through, often at the last minute.


Associated Press writer Jamey Keaten in Paris contributed to this report.