As per the latest data on international arms transfers released by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the volume of Indian imports of major weapons rose by 111% between 2004-08 and 2009-13, and its share of the volume of international arms imports increased from 7% to 14%.
The major suppliers of arms to India in 2009-13 were Russia (accounting for 75% of imports) and the US (7%), which for the first time became the second largest arms supplier to India, said SIPRI. As per the earlier report, the US has already bagged defence deals close to $10 billion over the last decade in the lucrative Indian defence market, with the latest being the $1.01 billion one for six additional C-130J “Super Hercules” aircraft.
The other deals on the anvil are the ones for 22 Apache attack helicopters, 15 Chinook heavy-lift helicopters, four P-8I maritime patrol aircraft and 145 M-777 ultra-light howitzers, together worth another $4 billion or so.
SIPRI, on its part, said the USA’s share of Pakistani imports in the same period was 27%. China was also a major supplier in the region, accounting for 54% of Pakistani arms imports and 82% of Bangladeshi imports.
“Chinese, Russian and US arms supplies to South Asia are driven by both economic and political considerations,” said Siemon Wezeman of SIPRI. In particular, China and the US appear to be using arms deliveries to Asia to strengthen their influence in the region, he added.
The five largest suppliers of major weapons during the five-year period 2009-13 were the United States (29% of global arms exports), Russia (27%), Germany (7%), China (6%) and France (5%).
Despite India’s emergence as the world’s largest arms importer over the last decade, the modernisation of its armed forces continues to take place in a haphazard manner due to the lack of concrete strategic planning in tune with the country’s long-term geopolitical objectives.
The Indian armed forces are still grappling with critical shortages in fighter jets, submarines, helicopters, howitzers, night-fighting capabilities and the like. The IAF, for instance, is down to just 34 fighter squadrons when it requires at least 44 to be “comfortable” against the twin-challenge posed by Pakistan and China.
A K Antony, who has been India’s longest-serving defence minister, may have often chanted the mantra of “indigenisation” during his seven-and-a-half year tenure, especially after defence scams erupted one after the other, but failed to deliver meaningful systemic reforms on the ground.
There was, for instance, no concrete revamping of the DRDO and its 50 establishments as well as the five defence PSUs, four shipyards and 39 ordnance factories to ensure they deliver weapon systems without huge cost and time overruns.
Similarly, MoD has continued with its flip-flops over promoting the entry of the private sector, pushing for JVs and technology transfers in a jumbled manner, even as foreign direct investment (FDI) is still restricted to only 26% in the defence production sector.
India has only managed to attract a measly $5 million as FDI in the last 14 years. It also junked innovative steps like nominating private sector companies as Raksha Udyog Ratnas to ensure they got a level playing field with the defence PSUs after first identifying 13 of them for that status.
The lack of a strong DIB, unlike China, means India still continues to import over 65% of its military hardware and software, which also makes it vulnerable to supply lines being choked in times of emergency.
China, meanwhile, has emerged as one of the fastest growing arms exporter around the globe after assiduously building a strong DIB. It’s now hawking fighter jets, warships, missiles and smaller arms to countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Bolivia and Zambia.