India Remains World’s Largest Arms Importer: SIPRI Report

According to a report released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) on Monday, March 11, 2024, India continues to be the world’s largest arms importer, with Russia being the prime source of its procurement despite a declining share in recent years.

India’s Arms Imports

India accounted for 9.8 percent of the total global arms imports during the 2019-2023 period. The country’s arms imports increased by 4.7 percent between 2014-18 and 2019-23, despite the government’s ongoing efforts to boost domestic defence manufacturing and procurement.

Trends in Indian Imports

Russia’s share in Indian arms exports is gradually falling. During the period under review, Russia accounted for 36 percent of India’s total arms imports, marking the first time since the 1960-64 term that Russia’s share fell below the 50 percent mark. This trend is expected to continue as India turns to France and the United States for military hardware, and Russia focuses on meeting its domestic demands amidst the ongoing war in Ukraine.

France accounted for 33 percent of India’s total arms imports, while the United States contributed 13 percent. With India’s recent acquisition of 31 armed MQ-9B Sky Guardian drones from the US for $3.9 billion and 26 Rafale-M fighters from France for $6 billion, the share of these two countries is likely to increase in the current five-year period.

The China Factor

Arms imports by Japan and South Korea, two of China’s key neighbours, increased by 155 percent and 6.5 percent, respectively. Experts attribute this trend to concerns over China’s continued aggression in the Indo-Pacific region.

China’s own arms imports decreased by 44 percent, partly due to its main supplier, Russia, being tied up in the domestic market. However, the military and defence cooperation between China and Pakistan, two of India’s major rivals, deepened during the five-year period. A significant 61 percent of China’s total defence exports went to Pakistan, followed by 11 percent to Bangladesh.

Decline in India’s Arms Imports

Despite remaining the world’s top arms importer, India’s imports declined by 11 percent between 2013-17 and 2018-22, according to the SIPRI report. This decline was attributed to a complex procurement process, efforts to diversify arms suppliers, and attempts to replace imports with local designs.

Top Arms Importers and Exporters

The five largest arms importers in the world during 2018-22 were India, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Australia, and China. The five largest arms exporters were the United States, Russia, France, China, and Germany.
Pakistan, the world’s eighth-largest arms importer during 2018-22, saw a 14 percent increase in its imports, with China being its main supplier.

France’s Growing Arms Exports

France’s arms exports increased by 44 percent between 2013-17 and 2018-22, with most of these exports going to countries in Asia, Oceania, and the Middle East. India received 30 percent of France’s arms exports during 2018-22, with France displacing the US as the second-largest supplier of arms to India after Russia. France is gaining a bigger share of the global arms market as Russian arms exports decline, as seen in India, and this trend is likely to continue.

Shifts in Global Arms Exports

The report compared two five-year periods and found that the United States’ share of global arms exports increased from 33 to 40 percent, while Russia’s fell from 22 to 16 percent. Despite an overall decline in global arms transfers, those to Europe have risen sharply due to tensions between Russia and most other European states.

Middle East Arms Imports

Three of the top 10 importers during 2018-22 were in the Middle East: Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Egypt. Saudi Arabia was the world’s second-largest arms importer during this period, receiving 9.6 percent of all arms imports. Qatar’s arms imports increased by 311 percent between 2013-17 and 2018-22, making it the world’s third-biggest arms importer during 2018-22.


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