India will deploy the recently bought Rafale combat jets capable of carrying tactical nuclear warheads near disputed regions with Pakistan and China as New Delhi continues to be the largest arms buyer in the world, the Chinese state media predicted on Friday.
The jets are capable of carrying tactical nuclear warheads, which means India’s nuclear deterrence capability will be enhanced, an article published in nationalistic Global Times tabloid said.
India recently signed a deal to buy 36 Rafale fighter jets from France for close to 7.8 billion euros ($8.7 billion). The delivery of the jets, which experts say will allow the air force to strike targets in Pakistan and China from within Indian territory, will begin after three years.
The deal is crucial for the Indian Air Force that is grappling with a dwindling fighter fleet.The IAF has 33 fighter squadrons, each consisting of 18 planes. It requires 45 combat units to counter a combined threat from China and Pakistan.
The Global Times article added China’s neighbours, including India, are “hyping” the so-called “China threat” and have gone on an arms purchasing spree - a move that has increased the import of Western-made weapons into Asia.
The report came against the backdrop of India’s strikes on terror launchpads across the Line of Control, India’s de-facto border with Pakistan. India has said the strikes on Thursday inflicted “significant casualties” on terrorists preparing to launch attacks in India.
Pakistan, Beijing’s “all-weather ally”, has denied that Indian troops had carried out “surgical strikes” across the Line of Control, saying it had responded to “cross-border fire” from the Indian side that killed two soldiers and injured nine more.
The Global Times article, titled “Asia arms imports on the rise as India buys new jets”, is an indication that both the government and strategic circles in China - even if they were surprised at the Indian operations - are keeping a close watch on developments in the region, especially the escalating tension between India and Pakistan.
China’s only border, if it can be called that, with Pakistan is along the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, which is claimed by New Delhi as an integral part of India.
“Last week, India signed an inter-governmental agreement with France in New Delhi for the purchase of 36 Rafale jet fighters in flyaway condition for $8.82 billion from French company Dassault. The jets can carry tactical nuclear warheads, and this means India’s nuclear deterrence capability will be greatly improved,” it said.
Quoting a Shenzhen television report, the newspaper then wrote: “India will deploy its new French-made fighters in the disputed areas bordering Pakistan and China.”
The article emphasised India’s focus on building its military power, possibly indicating that both Beijing and Islamabad should be wary.
“According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), India is the largest arms importer in the world. India is rapidly expanding its military capabilities, spending an estimated $100 billion on new defense systems since Narendra Modi became prime minister in 2014,” the article said.
Zhao Gancheng, director of South Asia Studies at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, told the newspaper: “India also wants to purchase the Rafale technology from Dassault but France refused, meaning France has no intention to help India promote its military industrial system.”
Song Zhongping, a Beijing-based military expert, told the Global Times: “The majority of Asian states don’t have a comprehensive and developed military industry, but they have good economic bases, so they are willing to purchase ‘security’ from the West rather than spending more time and money to develop their own systems.”
Many of China’s neighbours are also on the list of top 10 importers, such as Vietnam, South Korea and India.
“Due to the South China Sea dispute and the increasing power of the Chinese navy, countries like Vietnam and the Philippines are very concerned, but the US is not helping China solve the problem peacefully,” Song said.