India remains world’s largest arms importer between 2018-22, Ukraine conflict boosts global arms trade

Russian weapons exports to eight of its ten largest customers dropped, while exports to India, the largest receiver of Russian armaments, declined by 37%, while exports to the other seven countries fell by an average of 59%.

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Girish Linganna
Girish Linganna
Girish Linganna is a Defence & Aerospace analyst and is the Director of ADD Engineering Components (India) Pvt Ltd, a subsidiary of ADD Engineering GmbH, Germany with manufacturing units in Russia. He is Consulting Editor Industry and Defense at Frontier India.

From 2013-17 and 2018-22, European states boosted their imports of major weaponry by 47%, while the world level of international arms transfers declined by 5.1%. Weapons imports declined overall in Africa (-40%), the Americas (-21%), Asia and Oceania (-7.5%), and the Middle East (-8.8%), although imports to East Asia and some states in other geopolitical hotspots increased dramatically. According to the latest data on global arms transfers published on March 13 by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the United States share of global arms exports climbed from 33% to 40%, while Russia’s part decreased from 22% to 16%. (SIPRI).

Even while global arms transfers have decreased, those to Europe have increased dramatically due to tensions between Russia and most other European countries, according to Pieter D. Wezeman, Senior Researcher with the SIPRI Arms Transfers Programme. Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, European countries want to buy more weaponry as soon as possible. He said strategic competition remains abroad, with arms imports to East Asia increasing and those to the Middle East remaining high.

The United States and France weapons exports are increasing, while Russian exports are decreasing

The United States and Russia have long dominated global armaments exports (consistently the largest and second-largest arms exporters for the past three decades). Yet, the distance between the two has grown dramatically, while the gap between Russia and the third largest supplier, France, has shrunk. From 2013-17 and 2018-22, American arms exports climbed by 14%, and the US accounted for 40% of worldwide arms exports. Russia’s arms exports declined by 31% between 2013-17 and 2018-22, and its proportion of global arms exports fell from 22% to 16%, while France’s part climbed from 7.1% to 11%.

From 2013-17 and 2018-22, Russian weapons exports to eight of its ten largest customers dropped. Exports to India, the largest receiver of Russian armaments, declined by 37%, while exports to the other seven countries fell by an average of 59%. Nonetheless, Russian weapons exports to China (+39%) and Egypt (+44%) grew, making them Russia’s second and third-largest recipients.

Russia’s weapons shipments are expected to be further restricted due to the invasion of Ukraine. According to Siemon T. Wezeman, Senior Researcher with the SIPRI Arms Transfers Programme, this is because Russia will prioritise supplying its armed forces, while demand from other states will remain low due to trade sanctions on Russia and increasing pressure from the US and its allies not to buy Russian arms.

French weapons exports high on Indian sales

During 2013-17 and 2018-22, France’s armaments exports climbed by 44 per cent. Most of these exports went to countries in Asia, Oceania, and the Middle East. In 2018-22, India received 30% of France’s arms shipments, and France surpassed the United States as the second-largest exporter of weaponry to India after Russia.

According to Pieter D. Wezeman, Senior Researcher with the SIPRI Arms Transfers Project, France obtains a larger proportion of the global arms market as Russian military shipments drop, as shown in India. This seems to continue, as France had significantly more outstanding orders for arms exports than Russia at the end of 2022.

Ukraine’s arms imports rise

In 2022, Ukraine will be the world’s third-largest armaments importer.

Ukraine bought a few large armaments from 1991 through the end of 2021. Due to military assistance from the United States and numerous European countries following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Ukraine became the third-largest importer of significant weaponry in 2022 (after Qatar and India) and the fourteenth-largest in 2018-22. Ukraine accounted for 2.0% of worldwide arms imports throughout the five-year period.

NATO states refused Ukraine’s demands for combat aircraft and long-range missiles in 2022 due to concerns that they might intensify the war in Ukraine. At the same time, they provided such weapons to other conflict-affected regimes, mainly in the Middle East and South Asia, according to Pieter D. Wezeman, Senior Researcher with the SIPRI Arms Transfers Programme.

Asia and Oceania remain the leading importing regions

In 2018-22, Asia and Oceania received 41% of large arms shipments, a little lower share than in 2013-17. Despite a general fall in transfers to the region, there were significant gains in some states and significant decreases in others. In 2018-22, six countries in the area were among the top ten worldwide importers: India, Australia, China, South Korea, Pakistan, and Japan.

East Asian arms imports surged by 21% during 2013-17 and 2018-22. China’s arms imports increased by 4.1%, with the majority coming from Russia. Nonetheless, the largest rises in East Asia were recorded by US treaty allies South Korea (+61%) and Japan (+171%). Australia, Oceania’s largest weaponry importer, boosted its purchases by 23%.

According to Siemon T. Wezeman, Senior Researcher with the SIPRI Arms Transfers Programme, increased perceptions of threats from China, and North Korea have fueled rising demand for arms imports by Japan, South Korea, and Australia, particularly for long-range attack weapons. The United States is the primary source for all three, he noted.

India is still the biggest arms importer, exports low

India remains the world’s largest arms importer; however, its imports fell by 11% between 2013-17 and 2018-22. This drop was attributed to a complicated procurement process, efforts to diversify arms vendors, and replacing imports with domestic designs. Pakistan, the world’s ninth largest arms importer in 2018-22, boosted its imports by 14%, with China as its primary source.

India is not even among the top 25 global armament exporters. In 2018-22, the top 25 arms exporters accounted for 98% of global arms exports. India accounts for only 0.18% of total worldwide armament sales. India is now ranked 26th among arms exporters.

The Middle East is receiving high-end US and European weapons

Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Egypt were three of the top ten imports in 2018-22. In 2018-22, Saudi Arabia was the world’s second-largest arms importer, accounting for 9.6 per cent of total arms imports. From 2013-17 and 2018-22, Qatar’s arms imports surged by 311%, making it the world’s third largest arms importer.

The United States (54%) supplied the vast majority of armaments to the Middle East, followed by France (12%), Russia (8.6%), and Italy (8.4 per cent). About 260 modern combat aircraft, 516 new tanks, and 13 frigates were among them. More than 180 combat aircraft have been ordered by Arab states in the Gulf region alone, while Iran has ordered 24 from Russia (which received virtually no major arms during 2018–22).

Drop in South East Asia

Some noteworthy changes include a 42% drop in South East Asian arms shipments between 2013-17 and 2018-22. This drop was caused, at least in part, by states continuing to absorb equipment provided before 2018. The Philippines defied this trend, increasing its arms imports by 64%.

Other interesting trends

European NATO member states upped their arms imports by 65% in response to a perceived increased threat from Russia.

Due to bilateral difficulties, the United States arms exports to Turkey declined considerably between 2013-17 and 2018-22. Turkey dropped from seventh to 27th in terms of American weaponry purchases.

Sub-Saharan African states’ arms imports plummeted by 23%, with Angola, Nigeria, and Mali receiving the most. Russia has surpassed China as the subregion’s leading armaments supplier.

Three countries in the Americas increased their imports of arms significantly: the United States (+31%), Brazil (+48%), and Chile (+56%).

China (-23%), Germany (-35%), the United Kingdom (-35%), Spain (-4.4%), and Israel (-15%) were among the top seven arms exporters behind the United States, Russia, and France, but Italy (+45%) and South Korea (+74%) witnessed significant gains.


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