News Wrap: India Retains Place as Top Arms Importer

On March 17, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) published its latest report covering trends in international arms transfers. The report found that India remains the world’s largest arms importer. As of 2013, the country accounted for 14 percent of global arms imports, and imported almost three times as many weapons as China and Pakistan. While India became the largest foreign buyer of U.S. weapons in 2013, Russia far and away remains India’s largest arms supplier. In the period from 2009-2013, Russia supplied 75 percent of Indian arms exports and the U.S. just 7 percent.

The Wall Street Journal‘s India blog suggested that the large volume of arms imports by India is a function of its own defense industry still being in the early stages of development and quoted an expert who used China as a comparison.

“The surge in spending on imports in India compared to China highlights the difference in the two countries’ defense industries. ‘China has a very successful and vibrant indigenous defense industry, which supplies most of the equipment needs of the People’s Liberation Army,’ said Tim Huxley, executive director of the International Institute of Strategic Studies in Asia. ‘[However] India’s defense industry is really not at all successful and its problems in innovation and misuse of resources are quite widely known.’”

A commentary in The Diplomat said that the SIPRI findings could reinforce the argument that India needs to place greater focus on indigenizing defense production.

“India’s continued reliance on foreign sources for its major arms needs has been noted as a major strategic disadvantage for some time now, with several strategists calling for a robust indigenous weapons program.”

An editor for Business Standard, a leading Indian daily, developed this thought further in comments he made to the New York Times, referring specifically to the country’s $11 billion deal for 126 French fighter jets.

“With India’s economy struggling, expensive purchases like the Rafale may no longer be feasible anyway, said Ajai Shukla. ‘We are at a watershed moment, because we cannot afford to keep importing every piece of equipment we need,’ he said.”

However, Varun Gandhi, who belongs to the Nehru-Gandhi family and currently serves as a member of parliament, recently penned a piece in the Hindustan Times in which he offered a more nuanced assessment and hinted that greater importation of defense items could be used to India’s advantage.

“With India now the largest defense export market for US firms, local production will matter. Talk on joint defense research and production [could] translate into on-ground reality, as opposed to protracted negotiations on defense offsets. India will not be a long-term military cash-cow.”