SIPRI report shows India no longer world's biggest arms importer, says its imports from Russia fell to 58 per cent in 2014–18 from 76 per cent in 2009–13

by Snehesh Alex Philip

New Delhi: India may have seen a strategic tilt towards the US in the last decade, but Russia continues to be the biggest supplier of defence equipment to the Indian military, accounting for 58 per cent of its arms imports in 2014–18, a leading Stockholm-based think-tank said in its latest report.

India’s imports from Russia, however, fell from 76 per cent in the 2009–13 period, said the latest Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) report that measures weapons imports over five-year periods.

The report said India is no longer the world’s largest importer of weapons, a position it held for over a decade. The top spot on the list was taken by Saudi Arabia.

The SIPRI report which goes by actual deliveries does not take into account the slew of multi-billion-dollar deals — S-400 Triumf air defence system, lease of a nuclear submarine, manufacturing of frigates and AK 203 — signed between India and Russia in the last three years, deliveries of which are yet to start.

Some of India’s big ticket defence programmes, including purchase of helicopters and submarines for the Indian Navy and new fighters for the Indian Air Force, are yet to be decided upon.

The SIPRI report also does not take into account that Saudi Arabia has committed to buy defence equipment from US worth billions of dollars.

Numbers From Report

The SIPRI report said India accounted for 9.5 per cent of the global arms imports.

India’s total arms imports decreased by 24 per cent between 2009–13 and 2014–18, partly due to delays in deliveries of arms produced under licence from foreign suppliers, such as combat aircraft ordered from Russia in 2001 and submarines ordered from France in 2008.

Israel, US and France, however, increased their arms exports to India in 2014–18, said the report.

And although India remained the chief recipient of Russian arms in 2014–18, Russian arms exports to India fell by 42 per cent between 2014–18 and 2009–13.

From being completely dependent on Russia, France and the UK, India has slowly widened its basket when it comes to arms purchase.

US and Israel have found a place, with India looking for specialised weaponry and the choice of the country largely driven by life cycle costs, the uniqueness of the product and aim to maintain a strategic relationship across the spectrum.

However, the fall in India’s imports don’t suggest a boost to the Make in India initiative, said Yusuf T. Unjhawala, editor of Defence Forum India and a commentator on defence and strategic affairs.

“There are number of big tickets deals that are to be signed. Tight budget and delays in new acquisition has meant reduction in imports. Not a good sign for defence preparedness,” said Unjhawala.