The Indian Defence Ministry has received the first Rafale fighter aircraft during an official handover ceremony at Dassault Aviation’s facility in Merignac, France.

The Indian Air Force will procure a total of 36 Rafale medium multi-role combat aircraft under an approximately $8bn intergovernmental agreement signed between India and France in 2016.

India chose Rafale over other proposals, including Lockheed Martin-built F-16, Boeing’s F/A-18, Eurofighter Typhoon, Saab’s Gripen fighter, and Russian-made MiG-35.

The Rafale aircraft will deliver advanced capabilities to the IAF fleet, which includes Sukhoi Su-30MKI, MiG 29, and Mirage-2000.

India will become the fourth country to operate the Rafale multi-role combat jet after France, Egypt and Qatar.

Speaking at the handover ceremony, Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, who visited France to take delivery of the first aircraft on behalf of the IAF, said the fighter will enhance India’s air dominance.

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Indian pilots and technicians are currently undergoing training in France.

The Hindu reported that the country will welcome the first aircraft in May 2020. Under the programme, only three IAF pilots have trained on French Rafale jets to date, the report added.

Dassault Aviation chairman and CEO Eric Trappier said: “I am particularly honoured to host this ceremony today as India is part of Dassault Aviation’s DNA.

“The long and trustful relationship we share is an undeniable success and underpins my determination of establishing for the long term Dassault Aviation in India.

“We stand alongside the Indian Air Force since 1953, we are totally committed to fulfil its requirements for the decades to come and to be part of India’s ambitious vision for the future.”