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India plans to acquire new Mirage fighters
LONDON: In a bid to enhance its strike and nuclear-deterrence capabilities, India planned to acquire 126 Mirage 2000-5 multi-role fighter aircraft, a leading defence weekly reported on Wednesday.

The Indian Air Force (IAF) is currently holding preliminary discussions with the Dassault Aviation of France, the Mirage manufacturer, in this connection, Jane's Defence Weekly reported.

"The IAF plans to acquire 126 Mirage 2000-5s to equip seven squadrons that will comprise the backbone of India's proposed strategic nuclear command" the report said quoting official sources in New Delhi.

The IAF reportedly wants 36 Mirage 2000-5s to be delivered in completed form and the remainder to be assembled by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) at Bangalore.

HAL units in Bangalore and Kanpur have been servicing Mirage 2000Hs since 1998 and also manufacture some spare parts.

Confirming that they were engaged in talks with the IAF for a new order for Mirage fighters a Dassault spokesman in Paris said, "We aren't yet at a crucial stage in negotiations and have no idea of the number they want".

He said that when India ordered 10 Mirage 2000H/TH aircraft in September 2000 for Rs 1,500 crore it made clear that additional fighters would be ordered.

The spokesman said that Mirage 2000-5 was Dassault's latest and most sophisticated model. Deliveries of the four single-seat Mirage 2000H and six twin-seat Mirage 2000TH aircraft will begin next year and be completed a year later.

Since 1982, when the first major order was placed, the IAF has ordered 46 Mirage 2000H and 13 Mirage 2000TH aircrafts.

"By 2010, the IAF wants around 35 lethal combat squadrons, five less than the existing 40, equipped with the latest platforms after around 300-350 MiG-21 variants are phased out," an Aair Force officer said.

The proposed Mirage 2000-5 purchase is part of this fleet enhancement, the officer said.

Defence relations between India and France are proliferating with New Delhi finalising negotiations to build six Scorpene-class submarines locally.

The two countries established a military co-operation committee four years ago that meets alternately in Paris and Delhi to boost defence acquisition programmes.

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