India now world’s largest arms importer

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New Delhi: In its race to join the club of international powers, India has reached another milestone — it’s now the world’s largest weapons importer.

A Swedish think-tank that monitors global arms sales said on March 14 that India’s weapons imports had overtaken China’s, as the South Asian nation pushes ahead with plans to modernize its military, counter Beijing’s influence and gain international clout.

“India has ambitions to become first a continental and (then) a regional power,” said Rahul Bedi, a South Asia analyst with London-based Jane’s Defense Weekly. “To become a big boy, you need to project your power.”

According to the report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, India accounted for 9 percent of all international arms imports in the period from 2006 to 2010, and it is expected to keep the top spot for the foreseeable future.

The United States was the largest arms exporter, followed by Russia and Germany, according to the report.

It is spending billions of dollars on fighter jets and aircraft carriers to modernize its air force and navy. Tensions also linger over unresolved border issues with China which led to war in 1962.

India also remains in its traditional faceoff with neighboring Pakistan, with which it has fought three wars.

India’s defense budget for the coming year is Rs.1.5 trillion ($32.5 billion), a 40 percent increase from two years before. It imports more than 70 percent of its arms.

During British Prime Minister David Cameron’s July visit, the two countries announced a nearly $1.1 billion deal for India to buy 57 Hawk advanced trainer jets. During President Barack Obama’s November visit, a $4.1-billion sale of 10 C-17 transport aircraft was announced.

France and India moved closer to finalizing a $2.-billion Mirage 2000 fighter aircraft upgrade deal during President Nicolas Sarkozy’s December visit, and a few weeks later India and Russia agreed to jointly develop a fifth generation fighter aircraft during President Dmitry Medvedev’s visit.

India is awaiting delivery of a $2.3-billion rebuilt aircraft carrier from Russia — as it builds another carrier itself — and has ordered six submarines worth $4.5 billion from France.

With India expected to spend $80 billion over the next decade to upgrade its military, more plums await.

India is in the market to buy 126 fighter jets, a deal worth  $11 billion, and about 200  helicopters worth another  $4 billion. It also has plans to buy large amphibious landing ships at $ 300 million to $500 million each and is discussing another $10 billion submarine order, Wezeman said.

“The kind of purchases that India is making, no country in the world buys,” Bedi said. “What is in the pipeline is huge.”

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