India Retains Position as World’s Largest Arms Importer, France Gains as Russian Arms Exports Decline: SIPRI

Defence Industry

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New Delhi: In a new report released on March 11, 2024 by Stockholm-based defence think-tank Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), India continues to be the world’s top arms importer though its overall imports have declined between 2013-17 and 2018-22. The decline was linked to a complex procurement process, efforts to diversify arms suppliers and attempts to replace imports with local designs.

Despite the government’s “Make in India” initiative, which aims to promote India as the “most preferred global manufacturing destination”, India’s arms imports increased by 4.7 percent between 2014–2018 and 2019–2023, according to the report. The report mentions that the five largest arms importers in the world during 2018-22 were India, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Australia and China.

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Russia has retained India’s main-arms-supplier status, accounting for 36 percent of its arms imports. Since 1960-64, the period between 2014 and 2018 was the first five-year stretch when deliveries from Russia or the erstwhile Soviet Union (prior to 1991) made up less than half of India’s arms imports. Moreover, Russian arms exports fell by 53 percent between 2014–2018 and 2019–2023. “The decline has been rapid over the course of the last five years, and while Russia exported major arms to 31 states in 2019, it exported to only 12 in 2023,” the report stated.

In the past few years, India has been looking increasingly to other countries. For example, it was the largest single recipient of French arms exports, accounting for nearly 30 percent in the period 2019-2023. France’s overall arms exports increased by 47 percent between 2014–2018 and 2019–2023, according to SIPRI. This is the first time that the country became the second-biggest arms exporter after the US and just ahead of Russia. France’s arms exports increased by 44 per cent between 2013-17 and 2018-22 and most of these exports were to countries in Asia and Oceania and the Middle East. The increase in French arms exports was largely due to deliveries of combat aircraft to India, Qatar and Egypt.

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“France is gaining a bigger share of the global arms market as Russian arms exports decline, as seen in India for example. This seems likely to continue as by the end of 2022, France had far more outstanding orders for arms exports than Russia,” said Pieter D Wezeman, senior researcher with the SIPRI Arms Transfers Programme. “Even as arms transfers have declined globally, those to Europe have risen sharply due to the tensions between Russia and most other European states. 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,” he added.

The Indian Air Force operates 36 Rafale fighter jets customised in accordance its needs. Furthermore, India is in talks for 26 Rafale Marine jets to be procured for the Navy’s aircraft carrier INS Vikrant. In December 2023, France sent in a bid and the contract will likely be signed this year.

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The report comes at a time when Russia is on an offensive in Ukraine and has several sanctions (nearly 16,500) imposed on it by the West. In the global context, US and French arms exports have gone up, while Russian exports plummeted. The US exports grew by 17 percent between 2014-18 and 2019-23. The country’s share of total global arms exports rose from 34 percent to 42 percent. The US delivered major arms to 107 states in 2019-2023. The USA and countries in Western Europe together accounted for 72 percent of all arms exports in 2019-2023, compared with 62 percent in 2014-2018.

According to SIPRI report, the largest share of global arms transfers went to Asia — nearly 37 percent in 2019-2023 went to countries in Asia and Oceania. The US accounted for 34 percent of imports by states in Asia and Oceania, compared with Russia’s 19 percent and China’s 13 percent. For the first time in 25 years, the US has become the largest supplier to Asia and Oceania.

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The SIPRI report said, “Pakistan was the fifth largest arms importer in 2019-23 and China became even more dominant as its main supplier, providing 82 percent of its arms imports.” Pakistan significantly increased its arms imports by 43 percent.

In the Middle East, three of the top 10 importers during 2018-22 were Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Egypt, the report said. Saudi Arabia was the world’s second-largest arms importer during 2018-22 and received 9.6 per cent of all arms imports in the period. Qatar’s arms imports increased by 311 per cent between 2013-17 and 2018-22, making it the world’s third-biggest arms importer during 2018-22, it added.

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