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France delivers first Rafale fighter jet to India

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APTOPIX France India Fighter Jets

Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh thumbs up as he sits in a Rafale jet fighter during an handover ceremony at the Dassault Aviation plant in Merignac, near Bordeaux, southwestern France, Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2019. France has delivered to India its first Rafale fighter jet from a series of 36 aircraft purchased in a multi-billion dollar deal in 2016. (AP Photo/Bob Edme)

MERIGNAC, France (AP) — India's defense minister took a flight in a Rafale fighter jet as France delivered the country its first aircraft from a series of 36 purchased in a multibillion-dollar deal in 2016.

Following an official ceremony at aircraft maker Dassault Aviation's facility in Merignac, southwestern France, Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh donned a pilot suit and helmet and got in the Rafale cockpit for a test flight with a French pilot.

Singh, who is on a three-day visit to France, was due to meet with French Defense Minister Florence Parly later in the day. The ministers were scheduled to hold talks on defense cooperation and security issues in the Indo-Pacific region.

The $8.78 billion deal sparked controversy in India last year with the main opposition Indian National Congress party accusing Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government of buying the aircraft at nearly three times the price being negotiated when it was the ruling party before Modi came to power in 2014. The government denied any wrongdoing.