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India remains top weapons importer: Sipri report

India’s arms imports fell 11% between 2013-17 and 2018-22, but the country is still the world’s top importer of military hardware, a report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri) said on Monday. The report comes at a time when India has sharpened its focus on achieving self-reliance in defence manufacturing.

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India’s share of the global arms imports was the highest in the past five years at 11%, followed by Saudi Arabia (9.6%), Qatar (6.4%), Australia (4.7%) and China (4.7%), according to data published by the think tank that measures weapons imports over five-year periods.

The latest report is in line with what last year’s Sipri report said. In 2022, it said India’s imports fell 21% between 2012-16 and 2017-21, but that the country was still the world’s biggest arms importer. The new report said the reasons for the decline in India’s imports included attempts to replace imports with local makes and a complex procurement process.

India has taken a raft of measures over the past four to five years to boost self-reliance in defence. These include creating a separate budget for buying locally made military hardware, increasing foreign direct investment from 49% to 74%, and notifying hundreds of weapons and systems that cannot be imported and are planned to be indigenised over the next five to six years.

Around 1 lakh crore was set aside for domestic procurement in this year’s defence budget, compared to 84,598 crore, 70,221 crore and 51,000 crore in the three previous years.

“The Indian military is large and will continue to import weapons and systems for some more years. The decline in India’s arms imports is a significant achievement. Imports will drop further as indigenisation efforts succeed,” said Air Marshal Anil Chopra (retd), director general, Centre for Air Power Studies.

The ranking system is dynamic as it depends on how orders are placed in a particular year. For instance, the 2019 Sipri report said India was no longer the world’s largest importer of weapons, a position it held for decades, with Saudi Arabia topping the global share of arms imports between 2014 and 2018. Saudi Arabia accounted for 12% of the global share of arms imports in that period, followed by India in second place with a 9.5% share.

According to new Sipri data, the US was the world’s topmost military exporter in the past five years, accounting for 40% of global exports, followed by Russia (16%), France (11%), China (5.2%) and Germany (4.2%). US arms exports jumped 14% between 2013-17 and 2018-22, while Russia’s fell 31% during the same period. Russia’s imports to India fell 37%.

“It is likely that the invasion of Ukraine will further limit Russia’s arms exports. This is because Russia will prioritise supplying its armed forces and demand from other states will remain low due to trade sanctions on Russia and increasing pressure from the USA and its allies not to buy Russian arms,” said Siemon T Wezeman, senior researcher with the SIPRI Arms Transfers Programme.

On March 3, chief of defence staff General Anil Chauhan said self-reliance in defence manufacturing was one of the biggest lessons for India from the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict, and the three services will have to be the driving force for the campaign to succeed.

“We can’t be dependent on military supplies from outside. We have taken some baby steps towards self-reliance in the last two to three years. The government has taken a large number of initiatives to boost it. I think for this campaign to succeed, the three services will have to be the driving force,” Chauhan said at the Raisina Dialogue.

Ukraine was the third biggest importer of major arms in 2022, and the 14th biggest during 2018-22, Sipri said.

France’s arms exports jumped 44% between 2013-17 and 2018-22, with India receiving 30% of its exports during the past five years, the report said, adding that France had displaced 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,” said Wezeman.

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