India accounted for 15 per cent of the volume of global arms imports in the last five years, more than three times as much as China, according to new data on international arms transfers published by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). Between 2005 and 2009, India accounted for 7 per cent of global arms imports.

The SIPRI data, showing New Delhi to be the world’s top arms importer, comes after a claim by IHS Jane’s last month that Saudi Arabia has replaced India as the world’s largest importer of defence equipment over the last one year. As per Jane’s, Saudi arms imports in 2014 stood at $ 6.46 billion, while India imported $ 5.57 billion worth of military hardware.

Unlike Jane’s, SIPRI data reflects the volume of deliveries of arms, not the financial value of the deals. By presenting data for five-year periods, SIPRI intends to provide a more stable measure of trends over the longer term.

Chinese exports of major arms increased by 143 per cent between 2010 and 2014, making it the third largest global supplier in this period. India’s neighbours Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar accounted for 68 per cent of Beijing’s exports.

However, at 5 per cent of the total global arms exports, China was still significantly behind the USA and Russia, whose shares were 31 per cent and 27 per cent respectively between 2010 and 2014. Having failed to produce competitive indigenously designed weapons, India did not figure in the top 10 exporters of arms, where Germany, France, UK, Spain, Italy, Ukraine and Israel followed the USA, Russia and China.

Comparison between SIPRI data for the five-year periods 2005-2009 and 2010-2014 shows Indian arms imports rising by 140 per cent. In 2010-2014, India’s imports were three times larger than those of either China or Pakistan. This contrasts with the period 2005-2009, when India’s imports were 23 per cent below China’s, and just over double that of Pakistan’s. Pakistan, the fifth largest global weapons importer, got 51 per cent of its imports from China, 30 per cent from the US and 5 per cent from Sweden.

In the last five years, Russia supplied 70 per cent of India’s arms imports, the USA 12 per cent and Israel 7 per cent. India received 90 of the 222 Su-30 MKI combat aircraft and 27 of 45 MiG-29K combat aircraft for use on its aircraft carrier from Russia during this period. It also has 62 Russian MiG29SMT and 49 French Mirage 2000-5 combat aircraft on order, SIPRI said. For Russia and Israel, India was the biggest importers of their weapons and military platforms during the last five years.

Even though New Delhi is still not one of the top three importers from the USA, India’s acquisitions from the USA have seen an upswing in the last decade. Prior to 2005, when the two countries signed the 10-year Defence Cooperation Framework, India barely acquired any major weapons from the USA. However, there now appears to be an upward trend in arms imports from the USA. Imports in the last five years were 15 times higher than in the period 2005 to 2009, and included advanced systems such as the C-130J Hercules, C-17 Globemaster and P-8I aircraft.

India and the USA signed the Defence Trade and Technology Initiative (DTTI) in 2012 to serve as the springboard for American investment in the Indian defence sector and for the transfer of technology. But it is only after the recent visit of President Barack Obama that the two countries have agreed to proceed on four items under the DTTI. If this model of defence cooperation succeeds, India will eventually not remain merely a buyer of foreign military equipment and platforms, but will become a producer of lucrative big-ticket items. This is likely to fit in well with the Indian government’s ‘Make in India’ initiative.

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar has promised a detailed policy on ‘Make in India’ in the defence sector by later this month.