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US becomes India's biggest arms supplier

US overtook Russia to grab the spot as India imported $1.9 bn worth of US equipment in 2013

Ajai Shukla  |  New Delhi 

For over four decades, Russia has been India's largest arms supplier by a comfortable margin. Last year, the US overtook Russia to grab that spot.

According to the defence and security analysis group, IHS Jane's, India has also supplanted Saudi Arabia as the world's biggest buyer of American weaponry. In 2013, India imported $1.9 billion worth of US equipment, including the C-17 Globemaster III and the P-8I multi-mission aircraft.

Defence equipment imports from the US have shot up from just $237 million in 2009, to eight times that figure last year. And, with several high-value US contracts in the procurement pipeline - including a $600-700 million purchase of 145 M777 guns; additional C-130J Super Hercules and C-17 Globemaster III aircraft; and a possible billion-dollar buy of 8,400 Javelin anti-tank missiles - this is poised to rise even higher.

According to Indian analysts, the defence ministry in New Delhi is increasingly comfortable buying weaponry directly from the US department of defence (the Pentagon), partly because of the perception that this provides no space for corruption and arms agents. An increasing number of US contracts, such as those for C-17 aircraft and the M777 gun, are being routed through America's foreign military sales programme, in which the Pentagon negotiates the rates and supply schedule with the vendor, on behalf of the buyer.

In 2010, India had overtaken China as the world's biggest importer of defence equipment, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). Last year, total arms deliveries to India (as opposed to the value of contracts signed) touched $5.9 billion. Almost half of India's $13.4 billion budget for equipment modernisation was spent on foreign weaponry.

Saudi Arabia was second with $5.4 billion in arms imports.

For decades, India's Russian-equipped military had continued their reliance on Russian spares, upgrades and maintenance. But now, a new generation of equipment is entering service with the Indian military, and Russia is winning only a limited share of those contracts.

According to IHS Jane's, the US narrowly beat Russia as the world's biggest arms exporter in 2013. It exported $25.2 billion worth of defence equipment last year, compared to $24.9 billion exported by Russia.

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First Published: Tue, February 25 2014. 00:36 IST
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