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India hails Rafale jets but defense experts wonder if ‘handful of planes’ will burden China

India has officially commissioned its newly bought French Rafale jets hailing them as a 'strong message' to adversaries.

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India’s defence minister hailed the formal commissioning Thursday of the country’s first new French Rafale jets as a “strong message” to its adversaries, amid an escalating border row with China. The first five of a $9.4-billion order for 36 Rafale aircraft formally entered service following a ceremony in Ambala in northern India.

“The induction of Rafale is a strong message for the world and especially for those who challenge India’s sovereignty,” Defence Minister Rajnath Singh tweeted, without mentioning China directly. “Our country will not take any step to disturb peace anywhere. We expect the same from our neighbours,” Singh added.

India inclination towards West solidifies after tensions China  

Earlier this week shots were fired for the first time in 45 years on the Himalayan border with China, after a medieval-style battle in June that saw 20 Indians killed. India and China’s foreign ministers met in Moscow Thursday, but in a joint statement with their Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and Wang Yi did not directly address the border tensions.

Read more: India’s show of power to China: new ‘Fighter Jets’ from France

Their statement said “common development and cooperation of the three countries is conducive to promoting global growth, peace and stability”. Since the deadly June 15 clash — which also resulted in an unknown number of Chinese casualties — the world’s two most-populous nations have sent tens of thousands of extra troops to the mountainous border, that has never been demarcated.

Even before relations with China nosedived, India was moving strategically closer to the West, deepening security cooperation with the United States, Japan and Australia in the Asia-Pacific region. It has also embarked on a $130-billion modernisation of its armed forces — including ordering attack helicopters from the United States and a missile defence system from Russia.

Read more: India-China escalating tensions: French fighter jets en route to New Delhi

Manoj Joshi, a defence and foreign policy expert at New Delhi based think-tank Observer Research Foundation, said the new French Rafale jets were a “morale booster for the country’s defence forces”. But he cautioned: “If you are China, you’re not going to take few Rafales seriously. A handful of planes cannot bog down a military power like China.”

AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk

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