India becomes world's largest arms buyer

March 16, 2011 at 12:31 PM
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STOCKHOLM, Sweden, March 16 (UPI) -- India has overtaken China as the world's largest arms importer, a Swedish defense industry watchdog said.

Arms sales to India accounted for 9 percent of the international trade in the period from 2006-10, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute said in a study released this week. China, South Korea and Pakistan were the runners-up in the Sipri study.

India spent around $37 billion on its armed forces in 2009, Sipri data show. Russian-made weapons accounted for 82 percent of the Indian imports. Neighboring Pakistan and China also saw its arms imports increase over the past five years.

Sipri arms expert Siemon Wezeman said conflicts with Pakistan and China as well as internal security challenges have fueled Indian arms buys.

"As an importer, India is demanding offsets and transfers of technology to boost its own arms industry, and, in order to secure orders, major suppliers are agreeing to such demands," Wezeman said in a statement.

The United States remains the world's largest exporter of conventional arms with a 30 percent market share, followed by Russia (23 percent) and Germany (11 percent), which roughly doubled its sales during the past decade.

The total volume of global arms deals increased 24 percent in 2006-10 compared to the previous five years. The Asia-Oceania region led the world with 43 percent of arms imports, followed by Europe (21 percent) and the Middle East (17 percent).

The Indian arms buying spree was driven mainly by a desire to modernize the country's air force. Fighter jets accounted for 71 percent of Indian imports, Sipri said.

Russia last year delivered 35 Sukhoi Su-30MKI two-seat fighter jets jointly developed with India's Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, and 10 Mikoyan MiG-29SMT.

European and U.S. arms firms are competing for yet another Indian order for 126 fighter plans, a contract estimated to be worth more than $10 billion.

Planes in the running are the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet from Boeing, the Rafale by French firm Dassault, the Eurofighter Typhoon from Europe's EADS, Lockheed Martin's F-16, the Russian-made MiG-35 and the Gripen from Swedish firm Saab.

"European producers in particular are seeking export opportunities and are benefiting from government assistance with export promotion activities," Sipri's European arms trade expert Mark Bromley said in a statement.

Sipri has been compiling data on the international arms trade since the 1950s. It says its online database is the most extensive collection of such information available to the public.

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