After 10 years, India no longer world’s top weapons importer

Image for representation purpose only. Courtesy: Bloomberg file photo

India is no longer the world’s largest importer of weapons, a position it held for over a decade, with Saudi Arabia topping the global share of arms imports between 2014 and 2018, a leading Stockholm-based think tank that measures weapons imports over five-year periods said in a new report on Monday.

Saudi Arabia accounted for 12% of the global share of arms imports in that period, followed by India in second place with a 9.5% share, reveals the new data published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri). With imports pegged at 4.2% of the global share, China is the world’s sixth-largest buyer of weapons.

Indian arms imports fell 24% between 2009-13 and 2014-18, the report said, adding that this was partly because of delays in deliveries of fighter jets and submarines produced under licence from Russian and French original equipment manufacturers.

While India has been trying to reduce its reliance on imported weapons, experts said the development could be considered noteworthy only if India stopped importing a particular weapon system because it was being manufactured locally under the Make in India initiative.

The rider that imports may have fallen due to delayed deliveries can’t be ignored. It will be a little premature to start believing that the indigenous defence manufacturing activity has taken off said Air Vice Marshal Manmohan Bahadur (retd), additional director general, Centre for Air Power Studies.

Russia’s arms exports to India fell 42% between 2009-13 and 2014-18, the report said. Russia, the country’s top arms supplier, accounted for 58% of India’s arms imports during the last five years, compared to 76% in the previous five-year period (2009-13), according to the report. Russia accounted for 70% of Chinese arms imports in 2014-18.

Russia’s arms sales to India have fallen in recent years with India looking to diversify its arms purchases and also seeking specialised weaponry. India has also started buying more from the US as strategic relationships between the two countries have improved.

Sipri said the US, Israel and France increased their arms exports to India in 2014-18.

Pakistan recorded a 39% dip in arms imports in 2014-18 compared to 2009-13, with the US becoming “increasingly reluctant” to provide military aid or sell arms to Pakistan, the report said. “US arms exports to Pakistan fell 81% between 2009-13 and 2014-18. Pakistan has instead turned to other suppliers. For example, in 2018 it ordered four frigates and 30 combat helicopters from Turkey,” it said, adding that Pakistan was the main recipient (37%) of arms from China during the last five years. China has become the primary exporter of unmanned combat aerial vehicles, it said.