The latest data on international arms transfers released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) on Monday shows Russia remains the largest weapons supplier to India, with 45% of the total imports in the 2018-2022 timeframe, though its share is declining.
France accounts for 29%, displacing the US from the second position by riding on deals like the Rs 59,000 crore one for 36 Rafale fighters. The US, in turn, notched up 11% of the total weapon sales to India.
India is followed by Saudi Arabia (9.6%), Qatar (6.4%), Australia (4.7%), China (4.6%), Egypt (4.5%), South Korea (3.7%) and Pakistan (3.7%) among the top 10 arms importers.
The top 10 arms exporters, in turn, are the US (40%), Russia (16%), France (11%), China (5.2%), Germany (4.2%), Italy (3.8%), UK (3.2%), Spain (2.6%), South Korea (2.4%) and Israel (2.3%). China, incidentally, accounts for 77% of the arms supplies to Pakistan.
India, which is the world’s third largest military spender after the US and China, has taken a series of steps towards achieving `atmanirbharta’ (self-reliance) in defence production. These range from the notification of four “positive indigenisation lists” and increase in the FDI limit to creating “a favourable environment” for Indian vendors and earmarking a record 75% of the defence capital procurement budget for the domestic industry in 2023-24.
On Monday, junior defence minister Ajay Bhatt told Rajya Sabha the expenditure on defence procurement from foreign sources has reduced from 46% of the overall expenditure in 2018-19 to 36.7% as per data till December 2022 due to the various policy initiatives.
But a lot more clearly needs to be done if India has to meet its oft-repeated ambitious target of achieving a domestic turnover of Rs 1,75,000 crore in the defence and aerospace sector, including exports of Rs 35,000 crore, by 2024-25.
As per SIPRI data, India has been the world’s largest arms importer since 1993. This underlines India’s persisting failure to build a strong defence-industrial base with much larger private sector participation as well as the poor performance by the DRDO, defence PSUs and ordnance factories over the years.
The lack of concrete long-term plans to systematically build military capabilities, with proper inter-Service prioritization, also remains a major problem. This is reflected in existing major operational shortages in fighter jets, submarines, helicopters, anti-tank guided missiles, night-fighting capabilities and the like.
The SIPRI data does show India’s arms imports dropped by 11% between 2013-2017 and 2018-2022. “The decrease can be attributed to several factors including India’s slow and complex arms procurement process, efforts to diversify its arms suppliers, and attempts to replace imports with major arms that are designed and produced domestically,” it said.
Russia was the largest supplier of arms to India in both the 2013–2017 and 2018–2022 timeframes, but its share of total Indian arms imports fell from 64% to 45%. “Russia’s position as India’s main arms supplier is under pressure due to strong competition from other supplier states, increased Indian arms production and, since 2022, the constraints on Russia’s arms exports related to its invasion of Ukraine,” SIPRI said.