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[NEW DELHI] An Indian cabinet commitee gave its approval Wednesday to a long-delayed deal for the purchase of 36 fighter jets from France's Dassault, as the country looks to counter China's growing military clout.
A senior defence ministry official said Prime Minister Narendra Modi's cabinet committee on security had given its green light to the multi-billion dollar Rafale jet purchase at a meeting in New Delhi and that the defence ministers of both France and India would ink the agreement on Friday.
"The deal was approved at the meeting in the evening," the official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
"It will now be formally signed by Indian and French defence ministers on September 23 in New Delhi," the senior official told AFP.
The official said that other details including the exact amount and formalities "will become clear after the signing event" which is expected to see French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian fly to the Indian capital.
Recent local media reports have said the Indian government has agreed to pay around US$8.8 billion for the long-delayed deal.
The purchase of the Rafale jets, to replace part of the country's ageing air force fleet, was first mooted in 2012 but has faced major delays and obstacles over the last four years.
India entered exclusive negotiations on buying 126 Rafale jets four years ago, but the number of planes was scaled back in tortuous negotiations over the cost and assembly of the planes in India.
Mr Modi announced on a visit to Paris last year that his government had agreed to buy the jets as India looks to modernise its Soviet-era military and keep up with neighbouring Pakistan and China.
But the deal continued to be held back by disagreements such as Delhi's insistence that arms makers invest a percentage of the value of any major deal in India, known as the offset clause.
French President Francois Hollande again pushed the deal on a visit to India in January, when he was Mr Modi's guest for the Republic Day celebrations, but officials privately acknowledged that the price had become a sticking point.
In an interview ahead of that trip Mr Hollande said that India needed new planes and "France has shown that it has the world's best aircraft".
The growing military clout of its giant neighbour China has increased India's need to upgrade its military.
Gulshan Luthra, from the New Delhi-based Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, said the planes would deliver an important boost to India's air force.
"The fundamental thing is the air force does not have new aircraft, the old ones need to be replaced and Rafale is a spearhead.
"It has to be a spearhead and we needed it in yesteryears, not even today," Mr Luthra told AFP.
"Unfortunately, we have been very late on this deal. But this has been chosen and it's a very good aircraft."