India remains largest arms importer as Russia’s share declines below 50%: SIPRI


India remains world’s largest weapons importer: India remained the world’s largest arms importer for the five-year period between 2018-22 even though its arms imports declined by 11% between 2013–17 and 2018–22, according to a report by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). While Russia was the largest supplier of weapons to India in both 2013–17 and 2018–22 but its share of total Indian arms imports fell from 64% to 45% while France emerged as the second largest supplier between 2018-22.

As per the latest data from the Swedish think tank, among the top 10 arms exporters for the period 2018-22, India was the biggest arms export market to three countries — Russia, France and Israel and the second largest export market to South Korea. India was also the third largest market for South Africa which was ranked 21 in the list of arms exporters.

For the same period, India remained the largest arms importer followed by Saudi Arabia. Russia accounted for 45% is India’s imports followed by France (29%) and the US (11%). At the same time, India was the third largest arms supplier to Myanmar after Russia and China accounting for 14% of the country’s weapons imports.

Photo: IAF Rafale Ambala Airbase

Photo: Rafale at Ambala.

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“India’s tensions with Pakistan and China largely drive its demand for arms imports. With an 11% share of total global arms imports, India was the world’s biggest importer of major arms in 2018–22, a position it has held for the period 1993–2022. It retained this position even though its arms imports dropped by 11% between 2013–17 and 2018–22,” said the SIPRI report.

“The decrease can be attributed to several factors including India’s slow and complex arms procurement process, efforts to diversify its arms suppliers, and attempts to replace imports with major arms that are designed and produced domestically.”

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Authors of the report observed that Russia’s position as India’s main arms supplier is facing challenge due to strong competition from other arms exporting countries, increased Indian arms production and, since 2022, the above-mentioned constraints on Russia’s arms exports related to its invasion of Ukraine.

“India’s arms imports from France, which included 62 combat aircraft and four submarines, increased by 489% between 2013–17 and 2018–22. France therefore displaced the USA to become the second largest supplier to India in 2018–22,” the report said.

Indian Navy Submarine

Indian Navy’s Scorpene class submarine.

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Just under two thirds of Russian arms exports went to three states in 2018–22 — India (31%), China (23%) and Egypt (9.3%). India was also the largest recipient of Russian arms in 2013–17, but exports to India decreased by 37% between the two periods. In contrast, exports to China (+39%) and Egypt (+44%) increased within the same time frame, the report said while noting that Russia made no deliveries to Egypt in 2021–22 and the volume of deliveries to China in 2020–22 was at a much lower level than in 2018–19.

“It is likely that order volumes from these two states will reduce in the coming years,” said the report.

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For the same period, arms imports by Pakistan increased by 14% between 2013–17 and 2018–22 and accounted for 3.7% of the global total with China supplying 77% of Pakistan’s arms imports in 2018–22.

While the global level of international arms transfers decreased by 5.1%, imports of major arms by European states increased by 47% between 2013–17 and 2018–22 in the backdrop of the war in Ukraine.

“Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, European states want to import more arms, faster. Strategic competition also continues elsewhere: arms imports to East Asia have increased and those to the Middle East remain at a high level,” said Pieter D. Wezeman, senior researcher with the SIPRI arms transfers programme.

Overall, the U.S. share of global arms exports increased from 33% to 40% while Russia’s fell from 22% to 16%.

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