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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, has been India's largest by a comfortable margin. Last year, the overtook 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 equipment, including the and the multi-mission aircraft.

imports from the 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 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 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 last year, compared to $24.9 billion exported by Russia.

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