Sunday, June 23, 2024

US, Russia & France Vying For Indian Arms Market As India Moves Towards Strategic Self-Reliance

By Aritra Banerjee

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) has released new data on global arms transfers, which has critical implications for India’s indigenous defence industry, procurement planners, and strategic aspirations in the international arms trade. SIPRI’s analysis reveals that despite an 11% decline in India’s arms imports from 2013-17 to 2018-22, the country remains the world’s largest importer of major arms, with an 11% share of the total global imports. This underscores India’s dubious distinction of leading the global arms import market for nearly three decades (1993-2022).

The data indicates that India’s demand for arms imports is driven primarily by the country’s tensions with Pakistan and China. The report further highlights India’s attempts to reduce dependency on a single supplier and produce major arms domestically have led to declining arms imports. Additionally, SIPRI notes that the country’s cumbersome and time-consuming arms procurement process, as stipulated in the Defence Procurement Procedure 2020 (DAP 2020), has hindered its ability to import arms.

SIPRI’s report also highlights the changing dynamics of India’s arms import market. While Russia has historically been India’s leading supplier of arms, its share of Indian arms imports fell from 64% to 45% in 2018-22, mainly due to increased competition from other suppliers and the impact of its invasion of Ukraine. On the other hand, France saw a substantial increase in its arms imports to India from 2013-17 to 2018-22, with a whopping 489% increase. France replaced the United States of America (USA) as the second-largest arms supplier to India in 2018-22, with most imports comprising 62 combat aircraft and four submarines.

The growing relationship between India and France has led to speculation that France may replace Russia as India’s primary defence partner. French Ambassador to New Delhi Emmanuel Lenin recently stated that France is willing to partner with India on critical projects, including the potential development of nuclear-powered submarines. Furthermore, France has already delivered 36 Rafale fighter jets and other systems to India and is looking to develop a national-level defence industrial base.

However, sources in India’s defence and security establishment argue that as India seeks to diversify its suppliers, it will also keep Russia’s interests in mind, as 85% of the Indian armed forces currently work with Russian equipment. Despite a 37% fall in Russian arms exports to India, Russian arms exports increased by 39% to India’s geopolitical arch-rival, China.

The SIPRI report underscores India’s continuing dominance of the global arms import market and its efforts to diversify its suppliers. France’s rising influence in India’s arms imports market presents a potent third contender apart from the competing US and Russia, who have consistently been the largest and second-largest arms exporters for the past three decades. Meanwhile, China’s increasing prowess in weapons exports and its supply of arms to India’s regional rival Pakistan has raised concerns in India’s defence and security establishment.

Over three-quarters (77%) of Pakistan’s arms imports in 2018-22 came from China. Furthermore saw a rise of 14% in its arms imports between 2013-17 and 2018-22, accounting for 3.7% of the global total. The data signifies shifts in the balance of power globally and in India’s neighbourhood.

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