Dassault's Rafale Combat Aircraft.
Dassault Aviation's Rafale combat aircraft is in some ways the most advanced warplane that Europe has today. Reuters

India is buying 36 Rafale fighter-bombers from France’s Dassault Aviation, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Friday in a joint news conference with French President François Hollande, during a visit to Paris. Modi did not disclose the price or terms of the deal.

“I have spoken to President Hollande about buying 36 Rafale jets in fly-away condition,” Modi said, Indian broadcaster NDTV reported.

It is not yet clear whether the order announced Friday is for a first batch of Rafales with more to come, or whether it will also entail the cancellation of an original, tentative order for 126 Rafales requested by India in 2012 for $15 billion. Most of the 126 planes would have been built under license in India, and the order had been in jeopardy for months as India and France squabbled over what guarantees Dassault should provide for airplanes assembled by Hindustan Aeronautics.

French newspaper Le Monde reported Friday that price was another sticking point that had stalled the 2012 contract, because when it turned out that Rafales assembled in India would be more expensive than those built in France, the overall price of the deal would have had to rise “from 12 to 20 billion euros,” or $19 billion. The figure worried the Indian government, but the air force wanted to field the advanced fighter as soon as possible anyway; the Rafale would give India a far more capable airplane than anything its archrival Pakistan has, as well as a potent defense against the Chinese air force.

The decision to buy 36 Rafales directly from France gives India a modern machine quickly. According to the French 2014-2019 defense budget, Le Monde said, Dassault will build 66 Rafales by 2019. The French air force and navy are committed to getting 26; the other 40 will have to go to foreign buyers. Egypt recently announced it is buying 24, and that would give India 16 top-of-the-line fighter jets within the next four years, a relatively short time in aircraft purchasing.

India has been a longtime buyer of French warplanes. It bought the Dassault Ouragan, the French firm’s first jet fighter, in 1953 and currently operates the Mirage 2000. To win the 2012 competition, one of the biggest military contracts in recent history, the Rafale defeated a slew of rivals including the Eurofighter Typhoon made by Britain, Italy, Germany and Spain; the Swedish Saab Gripen; two U.S. planes, the Boeing F-18 and the Lockheed-Martin F-16; and the Russian MiG-29.