The first five Rafale fighter jets bought from France in a multi-billion-dollar deal landed in India yesterday and the defence minister used their arrival to launch a veiled warning to neighbouring China over territorial tensions.
A water-cannon guard of honour greeted the five jets when they landed at the Ambala air base in Haryana state. An intense nationwide spotlight on the combat jets has been sharpened by a deadly border standoff with China.
India has bought 36 Rafale fighters from France in a deal estimated to be worth $9.4 billion. All are scheduled to be delivered by the end of 2021.
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said the combat jets' arrival marked "the beginning of a new era in our military history".
"If it is anyone who should be worried about or critical about this new capability of the Indian Air Force, it should be those who want to threaten our territorial integrity," Singh declared.
Indian and Chinese forces have been in a six-week-long standoff on their Himalayan border since a hand-to-hand battle in which 20 Indian troops were killed. China also suffered casualties in the showdown but has not given figures. The two sides blame each other for the clash in the Ladakh region and have since moved thousands of troops there while pursuing talks that they say aim to ease the tensions.
The purchase of the French jets marked a significant shift in India's traditional preference for Russian defence equipment.