Why is India the world’s top arms buyer?

Published: February 26, 2016
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PHOTO: Reuters

PHOTO: Reuters

This year Modi’s India is proposing the country’s union budget on leap day. It’s no mean feat as Delhi earmarks $51 billion (INR3.5 trillion) for the defence sector alone. The 13% increase in military budget is only going to ascend further for at least an entire decade till Delhi achieves its ‘Made-in-India dream’. Thanks to its habit of biting more than it can chew, India’s defence ministry will be surrendering 16% of its 2015-2016 budget after failing to procure a deal envisaged in the plan.

Notwithstanding significant military superiority over Pakistan and marginal threat from China, India has been arming its military to the teeth. The so-called ‘modernisation’ plan feeds into India’s aspirations to have a blue-water navy and become a global military power with a permanent seat at the UN Security Council.

India’s defence build-up will disturb stability in region: FO

With a per capita income of $1,581 (as per The 2014 World Bank report) India is in a neck and neck contest with Saudi Arabia (with per capita income of $24,161) for the world’s largest arms importer. In 2014, India topped as the world’s largest arms importers with a whopping bill of $3.1 billion, even surpassing the world’s top oil exporter Saudi Arabia. India’s archrivals, China (spending $1.2 billion) and Pakistan (spending $735 million), ranked seventh and tenth on the arms import matrix, respectively.

As part of its strategic submarine acquisition plan which was initiated in the early 1970s, India is in the third and final stage of producing the vessels. In 2015, India entered the elite club of countries boasting indigenous nuclear-powered submarine after it cleared all sea trials. The INS Arihant is a 6,000-tonne displacement submarine capable of carrying 12 K-15 Sagarika missiles with a range of 700kms or four long range K-4 ballistic missiles.

Based predominantly on Russian technology, the $3 billion strategic vessel is India’s insurance policy for second-strike capability in case of a nuclear war. Its 80-megawatt pressurised water reactor can submerge her for long while making it capable to launch a retaliatory nuclear punch. Two more variants are under construction in Andhra Pradesh and the Indian Navy is expecting another six nuclear-powered, nuclear-armed attack submarines, which are likely to be improved versions of the already leased Russian Akula vessel, registered as INS Chakra.

India’s assured second-strike capability has already sent Pakistan looking for quick fixes and a long-term solution to enhance its submarine detection capability. Islamabad’s ‘all-spectrum deterrence’ can’t be assured minus second-strike capability with the navy.

India is buying 36 Rafael fighter jets from France after prolonged negotiations. French President Francis Hollande recently branded the deal with India as “part of our strategic partnership, based on trust, a very strong trust between both our countries.”

Already, Pakistan’s eastern neighbour is acquiring 272 Russian Su-30MKI fighters in total. Since 2007, Russia has delivered 50 aircraft in flyaway condition. India’s Hindustan Aeronautics Limited Corporation (HAL) has assembled 134 licensed fighters. The IAF plans to deploy 14 Su-30MKI squadrons by 2018.

Russia and India are back on the negotiating table with joint Sukhoi/HAL Fifth-Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) project on the agenda. Moscow has offered India to pay $3.7 billion, instead of $6 billion, for the technological know-how and three prototypes of PAK-FA fighters, its answer to F-35.

Besides requirements of land-air bases, India needs multiple squadrons of fourth and fifth generation jets to feed into its maritime dreams of having aircraft carriers – carrier battle group formation – till 2029. To keep one carrier war-ready, a country needs three, i.e. one for training, the other in routine maintenance and a third in operations.

India’s first so-called indigenous aircraft carrier, Vikrant, is slated for delivery by the end of 2018 but with four gas turbine General Electric engines. The second (Vishal) and the third (name not announced yet) are said to be nuclear powered and planned for service in 2029. For now, India has Russia-supplied INS Vikramaditya since 2013, with a likely service life of three decades.

The massive program of modernising the Indian army is already underfoot with tanks, artillery: gunship helicopters et al under production and in process of acquisition. India has raised two mountain divisions of soldiers for high-altitude warfare. Though it postures that their deployment is for Arunachal Pradesh state, which China claims as part of its territory, the force has been raised for warfare in disputed Jammu and Kashmir.

Besides sparing $3.33 billion for the final phase of equipping and raising the special forces, other mega deals being sped up under the Modi government include “new regiments of BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles, Pinaka multi-barrel rocket launchers, 10,000 Konkurs-M anti-tank guided missiles and 25,000 Invar missiles to arm the T-90S tanks,” according to Indian media reports.

Pakistan spent $735 million on arms imports in 2015

There’s never a limit to upgrades given the breakneck evolution of technology. Thus, to keep India’s hawkish plans for regional domination and global influence, the country has already raised a firewall of Internet trolls, which attack foreign and local commentators and news sources. Learning from the Soviet Russia, India is developing a multipronged toolbox to fight psychological warfare too.

Naveed Ahmad is a Pakistani investigative journalist and academic with extensive reporting experience in the Middle East and North Africa. He is based in Doha and Istanbul. He tweets @naveed360

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Reader Comments (36)

  • Sam
    Feb 26, 2016 - 6:21PM

    India has it’s own fund and resources to maintain decent defence budget, unlike those who depends on borrowed money and loansRecommend

  • Vicky
    Feb 26, 2016 - 6:25PM

    Not only defence, but India has increased its education, agricultural and infrastructure budget also….
    you see India as top arms importer, but you never see India is also top exporter of software, pharma, and space mission servicesRecommend

  • Rao
    Feb 26, 2016 - 6:35PM

    The author who is supposedly an”investigative” reporter ( whatever it mean! , still does not offer an explanation as to why!Recommend

  • Mahesh
    Feb 26, 2016 - 6:48PM

    Hmm… I was seriously reading till ‘internet trolls’ and ‘psychological warfare’, and then I read ‘investigative journalist’. LoL. I know what that means. (Makhdum Babar, anyone?)Recommend

  • G. Din
    Feb 26, 2016 - 6:53PM

    “Why is India the world’s top arms buyer?”
    Short answer: Because it has the money.
    Bonus: it gives excruciating bellyache and terrifying nightmares to its enemies.Recommend

  • Feb 26, 2016 - 7:00PM

    Reading this very factual and detailed analysis of India’s surging military power I am convinced of one thing that this massive armament plan is certainly not against Pakistan and it has bigger connotations and aims. Yes it seems writer has rightly analysed that “The so-called ‘modernisation’ plan feeds into India’s aspirations to have a blue-water navy and become a global military power with a permanent seat at the UN Security Council.” And if so Pakistan should relax as being the largest democracy of the world India should aspire to be a global military power with a permanent seat at the UN Security Council. Nothing wrong in that.Recommend

  • Ryan Wahl
    Feb 26, 2016 - 7:22PM

    Why are Pakistanis OBSESSING with India’s defense plans???? India is a much bigger nation with very complex issues. So, its defense capabilities will be significantly LARGER and COMPREHENSIVE than a much smaller and regional country like Pakistan. Recommend

  • parveen
    Feb 26, 2016 - 8:08PM

    Pakistan should retaliate by increasing its spending on arms too. Pakistan should keep in step and match the numbers of airplanes and submarines and increase its spending on nuclear arsenals and the size of the army should be made 3 million strong. Then, there will be nothing to complain.Recommend

  • Raheem
    Feb 26, 2016 - 8:10PM

    On the other hand India has World’s largest poor population living under extreme poverty. India is victim of its misplaced priorities.Recommend

  • Tyggar
    Feb 26, 2016 - 8:17PM

    Why is Pakistan with a per capita income and literacy rate much lower than India spending 60% of its GDP on defence instead of spending on education and building toiletsRecommend

  • curious2
    Feb 26, 2016 - 8:20PM

    Lots of statistics but author doesn’t actually explore the Why in the article title. I would have been more interested in the Why than regurgitating statistics.Recommend

  • Atheist
    Feb 26, 2016 - 8:26PM

    What we do with our money is our business, stay the eff out! Recommend

  • saif
    Feb 26, 2016 - 9:15PM

    well they have surpassed china as the fastest growing economy so ofcoz they wld want to be as strong as China militarily ..just stop competing with them they dont compete against Pakistan anymore …it has been left behind India wants to match China ultimately !Recommend

  • someone
    Feb 26, 2016 - 9:30PM

    Few reasons

    1. Pakistan attacked India in 1965.
    2. China attacked India in 1962.
    3. Pakistan started mini war in Kargill which could have gone out of control.
    4. China and Pakistan are eyeing Indian territory and might do something foolish to jeopardize regional peace hence deterrence is required.Recommend

  • Fahad Raza
    Feb 26, 2016 - 9:35PM

    $51 billion is such a humungus amount considering more than half of the population is under poverty line, access of basic hygiene is a dream farmers commiting suicides. You cant expect any better when a person at helm is mass murderer of Innocents leading one of the most Racist nation of the world. However flip side is when one exterme is achieved the pendulum swings to neutralise. Keeping a fact in check that since over 10000 years no Indian civilisations has spread away from its peninsula militarily. Reason being one, the religious epicenter is in middle of the peninsula and other a lack of propagation of the religious ideology. On top of that since India is fertile enough to be self sufficient the masses never scavanged like other nations like mongols, desert Arabs or spice craving Europeans. Therefore any expansion in military would result in depletion of foreign reserves since increase taxes hike and public uproar eventually will sober up their senselessness. Recommend

  • kdp
    Feb 26, 2016 - 9:46PM

    Why is India the world’s top arms buyer?
    It is because it will be very difficult to fight if Pakistan and China (their evergreen friend) decide to attack at the same time. China has attacked India when it never expected it to and Pakistan has attacked India 4 times without any reason.Recommend

  • HZR
    Feb 26, 2016 - 10:17PM

    Pakistan is not the only reason for India to spend on arms.it has other friends in the region and should be prepared.Recommend

  • OSD
    Feb 26, 2016 - 10:37PM

    The article ended abruptly. I was reading for the “why” analysis.Recommend

  • whatever
    Feb 26, 2016 - 11:26PM

    why youtube and Haider was banned in Pakistan?Recommend

  • Shaukat ali
    Feb 26, 2016 - 11:30PM

    Just like India brushes aside Pakistan when we try to compare us with them, similarly China brushes aside India with little more than a headache. India will never be as strong as China. They are not just sitting idle letting India surpass them in technology! Pakistan for its size needs to spend a lot less compared to India to modernize its military. Winning a war against India is never Pakistan’s objective but to be able to inflict major damage in retaliation such that any adventurism on India’s part becomes unpalatable. Having said that there is no possibility of Pakistan attacking India, the opposite could happen, and there in lies the tragedy and loss of millions of lives!Recommend

  • ares
    Feb 27, 2016 - 12:45AM

    What do these ‘investigative journalist’ smoke? Asking a question and writing a page without answering needs real talent. Firewall of trolls seriously!! Waste of space.Recommend

  • Jai
    Feb 27, 2016 - 12:51AM

    @Raheem:
    Whether we largest number of poor people in the world or not – its none of your business how we spend our money. Pakistanis seem to count better than anyone else in the world about the number of poor in India some say 90% some say 80%. If that was true then how on earth are we able to spend ? and if we are so poor definitely we do not have education and health so therefore we should all have died by now. We are not asking for loans and aid are we ? If you can go ahead and spend as much as you can on your defense. Recommend

  • Jai
    Feb 27, 2016 - 12:52AM

    @Fahad Raza:
    So whats your problem if we are poor ? are we asking money from you? or are we going around with a begging bowl ?Recommend

  • ajeet
    Feb 27, 2016 - 1:31AM

    @Shaukat ali:
    The Chinese don’t trust their companies for infant formula and its the rich Chinese who are escaping from the country. There is no way China can continue its growth without political freedom.Recommend

  • S
    Feb 27, 2016 - 1:44AM

    @Atheist:
    Really? Then why does it bother your Govt if we buy just 8 fighter jets? You can raise objection but we can’t? Indian defence capability is a matter of concern for us as it is our enemy and has threatened us many times. You guys have misplaced priorities. Rather than empowering your people and ending poverty, you guys are more interested in buying arms and ammunition. By all means, keep doing it at your own peril. Recommend

  • An Indian
    Feb 27, 2016 - 1:50AM

    @Shaukat ali: “Having said that there is no possibility of Pakistan attacking India, the opposite could happen, and there in lies the tragedy and loss of millions of lives!”

    However, history proves otherwise (1965, Kargil etc). It’s India’s misfortune that Pakistan is next door.Recommend

  • someone
    Feb 27, 2016 - 2:43AM

    @Shaukat ali:
    I think Pakistanis need to eat more almonds for memory improvement. Remember 1965? 1948? Kagill? They were all started by Pakistan. If you don’t trust me, at least listen to your own ex Air Force Chief , Asghar Khan. His interview is on youtube.Recommend

  • a_writer
    Feb 27, 2016 - 4:02AM

    The title “Why is India world’s top arms buyer?” is addressed nowhere in the article. Recommend

  • IndianDude
    Feb 27, 2016 - 4:47AM

    The Indian defense budget is larger than than entire GDP of Pakistan!!Recommend

  • Asian
    Feb 27, 2016 - 5:59AM

    India has legitimate defense needs. In fact, India must increase spending on hi-tech border fences.Recommend

  • Faisal
    Feb 27, 2016 - 7:30AM

    What I don’t understand is… Despite having more on every front than Pakistan, why are India so threatened by Pakistan. We just want be friends.Recommend

  • AKBOB
    Feb 27, 2016 - 8:47AM

    Why ? because we have Pakistan and China as neighbors !!!Recommend

  • kashif
    Feb 27, 2016 - 9:22AM

    should be spending money on toilets rather than weapons.Recommend

  • Aman
    Feb 27, 2016 - 12:14PM

    What is the point of this article? India has to spend according to India’s defence needs. India is not dependent on IMF and can well afford the money. As a percentage of GDP, Indian defence spending is much lesser than Pakistan so keep your lecturing to yourself. How India spends its money is none of your business. Our economy is doing well and we are already a middle income countryRecommend

  • A.K.
    Feb 27, 2016 - 9:50PM

    @Tyggar:
    60% GDP? India spends 1.74% on military against Pak’s 3%. Moreover, if India has a large poor population, it has many times larger “non-poor” population as well.Recommend

  • Feb 28, 2016 - 7:59PM

    Atleast the author is correct about his one find:
    “The country has already raised a firewall of Internet trolls, which attack foreign and local commentators and news sources”
    Just go through the comments section :DRecommend

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