India's arms import doubles in five years - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Thursday 18 March 2010

India's arms import doubles in five years

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 18th March 2010

The world’s most credible monitor of the annual US $30 billion international arms trade --- the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, or SIPRI --- reveals in its just-released report for 2009 that India is the world’s second-biggest arms buyer over the five-year period from 2005-2009, importing 7% of the world’s arms exports. Only China imported more weaponry, 9% of the world’s total.

Since the numbers of contracts signed by a country, or weaponry bought or sold by it, can fluctuate significantly from one year to another, a five-year average offers a more stable indicator of trends in the global arms bazaar.

But India seems likely to top next year’s five-year rolling average as China increasingly builds rather than buys weaponry. The SIPRI report clearly points to China’s decreasing dependence on weapons imports. For the five year period under review, China’s annual arms imports declined from $3.5 bn in 2005; $3.8 bn in 2006; $1.5 bn in 2007; $1.5 bn in 2008; to a mere $0.6 billion in 2009.

The SIPRI report notes: “With the exception of a handful of helicopters from France and Russia, no major conventional weapons were delivered to China in 2009, although transfers (including via licensed production) of engines for aircraft, ships and armoured vehicles from Russia, Germany, Ukraine, France and the UK continue.”

In contrast, India continues to import rather than build its defence equipment. From 2005-2009, India’s annual arms imports doubled from $1.04 bn in 2005; $1.25 bn in 2006; $2.2 bn in 2007; $1.8 bn in 2008 and $2.1 billion in 2009.

India’s major capital imports include 82 Sukhoi-30MKI fighters and T-90 tanks from Russia, and an A-50/Phalcon Airborne Early Warning (AEW) system integrated by Israel.

The United States, currently India’s sixth-biggest arms supplier, seems likely to leapfrog to second position once New Delhi starts paying for a series of recent and ongoing acquisitions. The period under review does not reflect India’s purchase of C-130J Super Hercules transport aircraft for $1.1 billion; or the $2 billion acquisition of P8I long-range maritime patrol aircraft. India has also submitted procurement requests to the US for ten C-17 Globemaster airlifters, worth an estimated $2.4 billion; and for 145 M777 ultralight howitzers worth about $647 million. Initial payments for all this equipment could start this year.

The SIPRI report also highlights how US military aid has sharply boosted Pakistan’s buying power in the international arms bazaar. Islamabad’s annual purchases grew dramatically from $0.33 bn in 2005; $0.26 bn in 2006; $0.6 bn in 2007; $0.9 bn in 2008; to $1.15 billion in 2009.

Pakistan’s recent purchases include two F-22 Jiangwei frigates and the first of up to 300 JF-17 Thunder fighters from China.

Amongst arms exporters, the US has dominated 2005-09, accounting for 30% of international weapons sales. Russia is next with 23% of the global market, followed by Germany (11%); France (8%); and the UK (4%). The big gainer in this group is Germany, which has doubled its share when compared to the preceding five-year period, i.e. 2000-2004. UK arms sales, in contrast, declined by 13% in the same period.

(all figures in millions of US dollars)

China’s arms suppliers 2005-2009: (Total imports: US $ 10892 million)

Russia 9647
France 368
Ukraine 351
Switzerland 325
UK 150
Germany 51

India’s arms suppliers 2005-2009 (Total imports: US $ 8398 million)

Russia 6458
UK 696
Israel 423
Poland 283
France 154
USA 147
Germany 93
Uzbekistan 90
Netherlands 35
Italy 20

Pakistan’s arms suppliers 2005-2009: (Total imports: US $ 3292 million)

China 1215
USA 1164
France 301
Switzerland 156
Germany 123
Sweden 107
Ukraine 58
Turkey 47
Italy 47
Libya 45
Russia 29

The world’s top five suppliers and recipients

United States : 30% of global market
[Key importers were South Korea (14%); Israel (11%); and UAE (11%)]

Russia : 23% of global market
[Key importers were China (35%); India (24%); and Algeria (11%)]
Germany : 11% of global market
[Key importers were Turkey (14%); Greece (13%); and South Africa (12%)]

France : 8% of global market
[Key importers were UAE (25%); Singapore (21%); and Greece (12%)]

United Kingdom 4
Key importers were United States (23%) India (15%) Saudi Arabia (10%)


  1. Excellent report Ajaiji. Statistics do not lie. However, in this case we need to note that while India may ave spent a lot of money, the total number of weapon systems procured or produced has been minuscule. In fact we can safely say that most of the money has been squandered away in useless deals by Shri AK Antony and his friends in Congress government.

    Scorpene subs are nowhere in sight.
    T-90 is still plagued with ToT issues.
    Hawk AJT is a dud.
    Admiral Gorkoshov is rusting heap of metal.
    145 artillery guns purchased from US with no bidding or contract.
    MRCA!! God only knows what we are going to get.

    Taxpayer's hard earned money has gone into foreign accounts and swiss banks. India is still empty handed and defenceless.

    Contrast the Indian lethargy with the Chinese determination to build their industrial capability. Chinese are focussed like hawks on building their infrastructure and industry, while our esteemed ministers are busy doling out billions of dollars for useless duds. Even after two decades of trials, we have not been able to procure artillery guns. But all izz well, all is iz well.

  2. What defence equipment does the UK sell India?I know of items after independence and last purchase was the Jaguar aircraft but nothing I know of since.

  3. @anon@6:32,
    How did you forget Hawk AJT?

  4. Hi Ajai, excellent article. This proves all the indigenisation jingoism and Indian self reliance hollow.
    None of the big deals that we are tom-toming about are any great shakes in technology and neither has it added any stronger teeth to the Indian defence!

  5. Excellent article. While India is busy enriching foreign countries with bloated prices on imported defence hardware, China has taken upon itself to be self-sufficient. It makes almost all its defence needs, only importing or stealing defence technology that it hasn't.

    Even though China is a trillion dollar economic giant, it does not simply squander its money on everything found in the glossy defence journals unlike the GOI and MOD.

    The sane people in the Indian Defence establishment seems to the the Indian Navy. They are an asset to the country.

    The IA, especially its top officers have become treacherous and a liablity to indigenisation. These cry-babies just don't want any locally made products. They are still enamoured by the natashas and kickbacks. They will reccommend rust buckets like the T90 against the Arjun because it is where their kickbacks come from.

    It is during times when the country is not facing an imminent sneak attack that it should encourage and assist in indigenisation. The knowledge gained would come in handy when the country faces a real war and sanctions and arms denial from unreliable friendly countries.

    The MOD is more interested in black listing arms suppliers rather than getting the necessary items to keep the Armed Forces ready to face any armed conflict.

    The MOD needs to be more proactive instead of being retroactive and hiding behind aborted and scandal-ridden defence deals.

  6. Its very easy to lament the government that it is not doing enough. When it does you call them not supporting indigenisation.

    In the last 5 years, the indian forces are being transformed to a formidable 21st cent. force. Make no mistake on this.

    Look what was the main tank they operated before?
    What was the main fighter they operated before,what was its range?
    What submarine force they had?
    What MRLS they had before?

    The list is huge. When you think what is coming in the next 5 years, it gives the chinese nightmares :-)

    OK hard earned tax payers money is spent on defence forces instead of trying to feed 400 million under nourished indians. If you have dreams of gradure what choice do you have?

  7. good post clearly shows how anthony in his persuit of his owm twisted ideals is destroying our defense industry in his useless and complicated DPP policies if he had spent half of the money in developing the pvt sector and industries, we could be in a better position to think we can compete against chinese is a big JOKE!!!, RT purchase is a classic example a gun which could have been purchased for a lower cost after all the trials and testing conducted by the army he goes ahed and scraps it now we are purchasing M1777 from BAE with no trials or testing god help us

  8. Ajai sir good article

    but any news on the 2nd Akula lease


    the 9 AEW systems India is buying from Israel


    the cornershot guns

  9. Er... so much for Russia never having supplied weapons to Pakistan. Besides I clearly recall sales of T-55s and Mi-8/17 helicopter to Pakistan.

  10. As usual, all blame is on MOD. MOD tried its best to push the deals to our defence units where ever possible. But when DRDO comes up with missiles that cannot keep target properly, jets that take ages to create, MOD cannot blundly support indigenisation.

  11. Numbers dont lie. If your estimates are correct Ajaiji, then its the time we opened our eye to the changing reality. Even if Russia is a friend, a debt still remains a debt and it seems Russia is getting fatter from the feeding frenzy of India & China (Pakistan included).

    We should encourage our Pvt sectors to develop good weapons. TATA, Mahindra and L&T are all reputable firms which can deliver. It is time that they were given an even playing field against DRDO and public sector undertakings. I think we are yet to come out of the hangover of nationalization wave that hit us decades back. Not everything was bad about it, like banking sector. However, if one needs to look for the drawbacks of nationalization, then its defense. It seems our paranoia has crippled the industry-university-military complex even before it was born. The pvt industry 'rich' with funds, literally has no role to play. They will bring competition into the sector that equips the men and women guarding India. For now, I dont care if it is healthy or unhealthy competition. Anything would be better than the state we are in now.

    Hell, would it do any harm if a fraction of this money stays back in India to give more employment.
    Hopefully, in 50 years we could reverse this trend.


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