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A Rafale jet flies over the Arc de Triomphe in Paris

Dassault Aviation’s sale of 36 Rafale fighter jets to India will help the defence group win further multibillion contracts in Asia and the Middle East, according to its chief executive.

Éric Trappier told the Financial Times that the deal could lead to more sales to the Indian air force, this time with aircraft built in India, as well as encouraging countries such as Malaysia to sign a contract for the fighter jet.

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“A deal like this really builds credibility,” he said on the phone from India, where he had on Friday signed an €8bn deal to supply 36 aircraft to the country’s air force — the culmination of four years of tense discussions.

“The confidence we have been shown by India will be seen around the world, and will really help us with other deals,” he said. The Rafale jet is in the running for sales to Malaysia and the UAE as well as Belgium and Canada.

A fourth contract would be a coup for Dassault and the entire defence industry. Thales, the French defence electronics group, and Safran, the aircraft engine maker, are suppliers to the Rafale programme, along with about 500 smaller companies.

This follows years where the Rafale was struggling on the international arena. Before a €3.5bn deal to sell 24 jets to Egypt last year, the 28-year-old aircraft — which cost more than €40bn to develop — had not won a single export order.

Two months later, Qatar agreed to buy 24 as part of a defence contract worth roughly €6bn. The 36 jets sold to India was the aircraft’s third export order. This was less than the 126 originally planned.

The “big challenge” for Dassault over the India deal is that half of the value of the contract — about €4bn — has to be made in India, said Mr Trappier. But he added that this is also an opportunity if the local operations go well.

“India is a big country and has a large need for aircraft,” he said. “If we work well together . . . the future could be better than supplying 36 aircraft.”

Mr Trappier said that Dassault could win a contract with Canada to replace the country’s CF-18 fighters, but said that there could be pressure to buy from the US. “If there is no political obligation, we may have a chance,” he said.

A fourth contract for the Rafale would be yet another blow to the Eurofighter Typhoon, the European combat aircraft programme that is 33 per cent owned by Britain’s BAE Systems.

People in the French defence industry say that part of the exports success is because of the efforts made by the socialist government, with particular praise directed at Jean-Yves Le Drian, defence minister, for supervising complex deals.

French defence export orders in 2015 were double those in 2014, which itself had been the best year on record. Lebanon last year took delivery of 48 MBDA anti-tank missiles, part of a $3bn contract funded by Saudi Arabia.

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