NEW DELHI – Global arms sales over the last five years reached their highest level since 1990, with India continuing to top the charts as the world's largest defense importer, a report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute has found.
Between 2012 and 2016, India accounted for 13 percent of global arms imports, followed by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, China and Algeria, said SIPRI, which tracks global arms purchases. Between 2007 and 2011, India accounted for 9.7 percent of global imports, still more than any other country, the group's data shows.
Most Gulf Arab states are involved in armed conflicts in Yemen, Syria or on their own territory and have tense relations with Iran, the report noted. In 2012-16, Saudi Arabia's arms imports increased by 212 percent compared with the previous five years, accounting for 8.2 percent of global arms imports.
India faces serious geopolitical threats from its nuclear-armed rival Pakistan and China's rising military strength. As China becomes more assertive across Asia and invests billions of dollars in strategic infrastructure projects in Pakistan — including in contested territory claimed by India — New Delhi has tried to deepen defense cooperation with the United States and other countries in the region, such as Vietnam.
Despite rising threats and a "Make in India" program to encourage local arms production, India's domestic defense sector is not capable of meeting New Delhi's growing requirements, said Siemon Wezeman, a senior researcher with SIPRI.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has pledged $250 billion to modernize the country's aging military equipment — from fighter jets to guns and submarines. The government wants to award contracts to companies, such as Lockheed Martin and Saab, which have promised to build products in India. But Wezeman said red tape, a historic reliance on state-owned companies and constant delays hinder the country's ability to supplant imports with domestically produced weapons.