India tests new French fighter jets in skies near China border
India's new French Rafale jets have flown "familiarisation" flights above the border region contested with China where a deadly clash between soldiers from the nuclear-armed neighbours took place in June, an official told AFP Monday.
The first five planes of a $9.4 billion order for 36 Rafale aircraft were formally commissioned on September 10, with Defence Minister Rajnath Singh calling them a "strong message" to New Delhi's adversaries.
In mid-June, Chinese and Indian soldiers engaged in violent hand-to-hand fighting in the Ladakh region that left 20 Indian troops dead.
China has also acknowledged suffering casualties but has not revealed any figures.
The announcement of the Rafale flights came as military commanders from both sides held their latest round of talks aimed at easing tensions along the disputed Himalayan border.
It was not revealed when the flights commenced, but an AFP photographer saw a Rafale jet fly over Ladakh's capital Leh on Monday.
The defence ministry had said during the commissioning that the fighter planes had "already flown and familiarised with our operational environment" without specifically mentioning Ladakh.
"(The Rafales) have undergone intense integrated training with other combat fleets including firing of advanced weapons," that statement added.