Policy & Government

From MiGs to Rafale: The history and politics behind India’s fighter jet purchases

After years of delays and renegotiations, the process to deliver the 36 Dassault Rafale fighter jets to India has kicked off with India receiving the first batch of five jets as part of the Indian Air Force’s modernisation efforts on July 29.

While many in India are celebrating the delivery, many others are questioning the costs involved, delays, reduced size of the final purchase, and the Rafale’s utility against hostile neighbors that may well have already passed it by. This post isn’t an attempt to take a side in the debate, but rather to illuminate some of the unique history behind the Indian Air Force’s fighter jets —and, above all, to show that the current Rafale drama isn’t anything new.

India’s aircraft purchases, and indeed armaments imports in general, have always been complex and bizarre things, mired in tangled international and domestic politics, to the detriment of the country’s defence needs. Our story starts, of course, in the middle of the Cold War.

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