The first batch of five French-made Rafale fighter jets has arrived at an Indian Air Force (IAF) base, Indian officials said, as the country seeks to modernise its military amid security challenges with Pakistan and China.
The planes landed at the airbase in Ambala in the northern state of Haryana amid tight security on Wednesday.
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,” India’s Defence 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.”
The jets – built by Dassault Aviation – were piloted by IAF officers as they took off from Merignac in southwest France on Monday.
The fighter jets are part of a $9.4bn deal signed with France in 2016. They are to be formally inducted in the IAF by mid-August.
The multibillion-dollar deal has been shadowed by corruption allegations levelled by the opposition Congress party, though Prime Minister Narendra Modi has rejected the claims.
World’s biggest arms importer
India has become the world’s biggest arms importer as it modernises its military. India’s defence ministry on July 2 approved the purchase of 21 Russian MiG-29 and 12 Sukhoi Su-30MKI fighter aircraft costing $2.43bn to replace obsolete Soviet-era weapons.
The defence 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.
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 neighbouring Punjab state.
India blamed Pakistani fighters for the attack. Pakistan condemned the attack, calling it a “terrorist” incident.
India’s ties with neighbouring 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.