India spends £20bn a year to lead world in arms imports
In its race to join the club of international powers, India has reached another milestone - it's now the world's largest weapons importer.
A Swedish think tank that monitors global arms sales has said that India's weapons imports have overtaken China's, as the Asian nation pushes ahead with plans to modernise its military, counter Beijing's influence and gain international clout.
According to a new report published today from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, India accounted for nine per cent of all international arms imports in the period from 2006 to 2010, and it is expected to keep the top spot for the foreseeable future.
"Just from what they have already ordered, we know that in the coming few years India will be the top importer," said Siemon Wezeman, a senior fellow at the institute.
China dropped to second place, with six per cent of global imports, as it continued to build up its domestic arms industry, something India has so far failed to do, Mr Wezeman said.
The United States was the largest arms exporter, followed by Russia and Germany, according to the report.
The institute measures arms transactions over a five-year period to take into account the long time lag between orders and delivery of arms.
India's investment comes amid its rising concerns about China's regional power and its designs over vital Indian Ocean shipping lanes, which New Delhi sees as part of its sphere of influence.
It is spending billions of dollars on fighter jets and aircraft carriers to modernise its air force and navy.
Tensions also linger over unresolved border issues with China which led to war between the two nations in 1962.
India also remains in its traditional face-off with neighbouring Pakistan, with which it has fought three wars.
"India has ambitions to become first a continental and (then] a regional power," said Rahul Bedi, an Asia analyst with Jane's Defence Weekly. "To become a big boy, you need to project your power."
With its booming economy and growing power, India has been pushing for a greater international role, including a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.
India's defence budget for the coming year is 1.5 trillion rupees (about 20 billion), a 40 per cent increase from two years before. It imports more than 70 per cent of its arms.
The vast majority of those imports, 82 per cent, come from Russia, which has long been India's supplier of choice, the report said.But other countries have been pushing for a chunk of the lucrative market, with world leaders streaming here in recent months, in part to push defence deals.
During Prime Minister David Cameron's July visit, the two countries announced a nearly 683 million deal for India to buy 57 Hawk advanced trainer jets. During President Barack Obama's November visit, a $4.1 billion sale of 10 C-17 transport aircraft was announced.
France and India moved closer to finalizing a 1.3bn Mirage 2000 fighter aircraft upgrade deal during president Nicolas Sarkozy's December visit, and a few weeks later India and Russia agreed to jointly develop a fifth generation fighter aircraft during president Dmitry Medvedev's visit.
India is awaiting delivery of a 1.4bn rebuilt aircraft carrier from Russia - as it builds another carrier itself - and has ordered six submarines worth 2.8bn from France.
India is in the market to buy 126 fighter jets, a deal worth 6.8bn, and about 200 helicopters worth another 2.5bn.
It also has plans to buy large amphibious landing ships at 186m to 311m each and is discussing another 6.2bn submarine order, Mr Wezeman said.
"The kind of purchases that India is buying, no country in the world buys," Mr Bedi said. "What is in the pipeline is huge."
India last topped the list in 1992, just after its main arms supplier, the Soviet Union, collapsed.
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