Sales of combat jets and their related components accounted for 34 percent of the global arms market from 2005-09, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute said in a study released Wednesday.
"Combat aircraft dominate international arms transfers," writes Siemon Wezeman, the author of the study. It comes shortly before Air Show China 2010 opens next week in Zhuhai and as Saudi Arabia, Brazil and India are all looking to complete major aircraft purchases.
The study warns that an increase in combat jet deals can have a destabilizing effect on the regions where they're deployed in large numbers.
"While combat aircraft are often presented as one of the most important weapons needed for defense, these same aircraft give countries possessing them the potential to easily and with little warning strike deep into neighboring countries," he said in a statement.
SIPRI didn't specify the total sales volumes of the combat aircraft market. It noted that prices for advanced combat aircraft start at around $40 million per plane, with jet sales usually accounting for a significant share of a country's arms exports.
However, it's hard to pin down an exact sales price. SIPRI cited a Jane's Defense Weekly report showing that as Norway calculated a price of $54 million for each American-made F-35 fighter, the U.S. Defense Department reported a price of $97 million per unit.
For the buyers, large-scale contracts meanwhile tend to weigh heavy on national budgets.
"Even for rich countries, the acquisition of such expensive systems may shape the direction of defense policy and doctrine for many years -- once bought, countries are unlikely to dispose of such high-value assets quickly," the report said.
India, the United Arab Emirates and Israel were the three largest importers of combat jets from 2005 until 2009, SIPRI said.
Russia and the United States were the most successful suppliers, with about two-thirds of all combat jets delivered by those two countries. Only nine other countries are currently producing combat jets. China, France, India, Japan and Sweden build them nationally, while Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom have teamed up for the production of the Eurofighter Typhoon.
SIPRI says Saudi Arabia paid $6 billion-$7 billion for 72 Eurofighter jets, with Australia handing the United States an estimated $4.8 billion for 24 F/A-18E planes.
Meanwhile, other lucrative contracts are up for grabs: France's Dassault Rafale, Sweden's Gripen NG by Saab and the U.S.-made F/A-18 Super Hornet by Boeing are all competing for a major contract to outfit the Brazilian armed forces with 36 new fighter jets.