NEW DELHI, India -- The goverment said Monday it has agreed to purchase 40 Mirage 2000 jet fighters from France, giving India its most sophisticated warplane to counter U.S.-supplied fighters to Pakistan.
The Defense Ministry said the agreement for the sale was signed Friday by India and Marcel Dessault, the French manufacturer of the sophisticated Mirage fighter. It said the agreement 'brings to a close six months of negotiations with France.'
Terms of the agreement were not disclosed.
Defense Ministry sources reported the Mirage will be outfitted with Exocet missiles, the French-made weapon used succesfully by Argentina against British ships in the Falkland Island war.
'The machines will be fitted with Smecma M53-P2 engines and Thomson CSF RDM radar,' the ministry said.
The Indian air force currently has 45 squadrons which include Soviet-made MiG-21s, MiG-23s, Sukhoi-7s and 50 British Jaguars.
Indian Defense Minister Ramaswamy Venkatarama told Parliament recently the French manufacturers have given India the option of producing the Mirage with French assistance.
A Defense Ministry spokesman refused Monday to comment on whether India has accepted the offer.
New Delhi is said to be reluctant to produce the Mirages because of pressure from the Soviets, who have been the major Indian arms supplier, according to Indian news reports.
Soviet Defense Minister Dmitri Ustinov, who recently visited India at the head of a team of senior military officials, is reported to have offered to sell New Delhi MiG-27s and to allow them to be produced in India.
'So far there has been no decision to acquire Mig 27s,' a Defense Ministry official said.
India already is manufacturing Mig-21s and has received two squadrons of MiG-23s.
The first of 40 F-16s the United States is supplying to Pakistan under a $3.2 billion aid package was delivered to Islamabad last week.
India has publicly expressed fears it could be attacked by Pakistan, which is being armed by the United States as a protection against Soviet aggression in Afghanistan.
In New Delhi Monday, officials announced that Pakistani President Mohammad Zia ul-Haq will arrive Nov. 1 for a meeting with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, the first official face-to-face talk by leaders of both nations in 10 years.
Zia's one-day meeting with Mrs. Gandhi will focus on improving relations between the two bordering nations, which fought each other in 1948, 1965, and 1971.
Indian sources say the new Mirage fighters and the 50 Jaguars will be more than a match for the 40 F16s Pakistan will get from the United States.