New Delhi: India and France have arrived at an agreement on the price of 36 Rafale fighter aircraft that Asia’s third largest economy is to buy at an estimated cost of almost €9 billion, NDTV news channel reported on Friday.

The induction of the aircraft is expected to add much-needed punch to India’s air power.

The agreement is to be signed within three weeks and it will take at least 18 months for India to get the first lot of aircraft, the news channel reported.

When contacted, a person in the defence ministry familiar with the development said discussions were still going on and no deal had been finalised as yet. Spokespersons at the French embassy in New Delhi were unavailable for comment.

According to the NDTV report, France had put a price tag of €12 billion on the 36 fighter aircraft, complete with weapon systems.

The deal, if it comes through, is expected to add to India’s fast depleting Indian Air Force (IAF) squadron strength. Senior IAF officials are on record saying that India’s fighter squadrons are not equipped to deal with a two-front war if challenged to do so. India would need 42-25 squadrons to fight a two-front war while its current strength was about 30 squadrons.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a visit to Paris last year confirmed India’s order of 36 read-to-fly jets manufactured by Dassault Aviation SA.

Before that, the defence ministry had sanctioned the purchase of 120 medium range multi-role aircraft, but the deal was scaled down dramatically after both sides were unable to agree—for years—on the price of aircraft and the assembling of the planes in India.

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