‘The birds have landed': French-made Rafale jets arrive in India amid China tensions

The first batch of five French-made Rafale fighter jets arrived at an Indian air force base on Wednesday, Indian officials said, as the country seeks to modernize its military amid security challenges with Pakistan and China.

An Indian Air Force Rafale aircraft taking off from Merignac air base, southern France on July 27, 2020.
An Indian Air Force Rafale aircraft taking off from Merignac air base, southern France on July 27, 2020. V. Almansa Dassault Aviation/AFP

The planes landed at the airbase in Ambala in Haryana state amid tight security. Police and soldiers closed roads leading to the base, banned photography and enforced restrictions on gatherings of more than four people, police officer Abhishek Jorwal said.

“The birds have landed safely in Ambala,” Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh tweeted. "If anyone should be worried about or critical about this new capability ... it should be those who want to threaten our territorial integrity.”

Indian and Chinese soldiers are locked in a tense stand-off along their disputed border in Ladakh region, while Indian troops regularly clash with Pakistani soldiers along their de facto frontier in disputed Kashmir, which is also claimed by Pakistan.

In 2016, five attackers and three Indian troops were killed in more than 14 hours of fighting in an attack on an Indian air force base in Pathankot in neighboring Punjab state. India blamed Pakistani militants for the attack. Pakistan condemned the attack, calling it a terrorist incident.

The fighter jets are part of a $8.78 billion deal signed with France in 2016. They are to be formally inducted in the Indian air force by mid-August. 

India has become the world’s biggest arms importer as it modernizes its military. India’s defense ministry on July 2 approved the purchase of 21 Russian MiG-29 and 12 Sukhoi Su-30MKI fighter aircraft costing $2.43 billion to replace obsolete Soviet-era weapons. 

The defense deals come amid heightened tensions along the disputed frontier with China in Ladakh, where New Delhi has sent reinforcements of fighter jets and military equipment after hand-to-hand combat between Indian and Chinese soldiers on June 15 left 20 Indians dead. 

Indian and Chinese military officials and diplomats have held several rounds of talks aimed at reaching a solution, but the standoff has continued.

India’s ties with neighboring Pakistan hit a low since last August, when India revoked the statehood and semi-autonomy of the portion of Kashmir it controls. India and Pakistan have fought two wars over control of the Himalayan region since Britain gave them independence from colonial rule in 1947.


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