India second biggest arms buyer

A report commissioned by the United States (US) Congress has placed India as the second largest arms buyer among developing nations, and the claim looked vindicated on Wednesday when outgoing Indian Air Force chief Arup Raha said the country needed 200 Rafale-type war planes instead of the 36 the country had purchased from France.

“Saudi Arabia was the leading developing world arms purchaser from 2008-2015, with agreements totalling USD 93.5 billion. India was the second largest developing world arms purchaser from 2008 to 2015, making arms transfer agreements totaling USD 34 billion during these years [in current dollars],” the report prepared by the Congressional Research Service was quoted by Press Trust of India as saying.

Titled ‘Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations 2008-2015’, the CRS report reflects the military modernisation efforts by India. CRS reports are not considered official reports of the US Congress.

The report highlights recent Indian efforts to diversify its procurement of arms, of which the US has been a major beneficiary.

“It is notable that India, while the principal Russian arms customer, during recent years has sought to diversify its weapons supplier base, purchasing the Phalcon early warning defence system aircraft in 2004 from Israel and numerous items from France in 2005, in particular six Scorpene diesel attack submarines.

In 2008, India purchased six C130J cargo aircraft from the United States,” CRS said.

In 2010, the UK sold India 57 Hawk jet trainers for USD 1 billion. In 2010, Italy also sold India 12 AW101 helicopters.

In 2011, France secured a USD 2.4 billion contract with India to upgrade 51 of its Mirage-2000 combat fighters, and the US agreed to sell India 10 C-17 Globemaster III aircraft for USD 4.1 billion, it said.

“This pattern of Indian arms purchases indicates that Russia will likely face strong new competition from other major weapons suppliers for the India arms market, and it can no longer be assured that India will consistently purchase its major combat systems,” CRS said.

Indeed, India in 2011 had eliminated Russia from the international competition to supply a new-generation combat fighter aircraft, a competition won by France.

In 2015, Russia and India agreed to a contract in which India would procure at least 200 Ka-226T helicopter, the report said.

With India reducing its reliance on Russia on arms purchase, Moscow is looking for other options, it added.

Raha told a media briefing on Wednesday that the 36 Rafale warplanes ordered from France for $8.7 billion were not enough and India needed to buy at least 200 such fighter jets to sharpen its military edge.

Raha, who retires on Dec 31, also said the IAF’s Russian-origin Ilyushin-78 tanker fleet was plagued by maintenance problems and more midair refuellers were a “strategic requirement” to extend the range of fighter planes.

He said the IAF would require the 200 medium-weight fighters in the next five to 10 years, stressing the need for setting up a new production line in the country.

“The Rafale is an excellent aircraft and it will prove its worth in any campaign. We have signed only 36 … we require more aircraft in the medium-weight category,” The Hindustan Times quoted Raha as saying in his last media briefing as IAF chief.

India and France signed the Rafale deal on Sept 23, 2016, ending long-drawn-out negotiations that began after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the deal during a Paris visit in April 2015.

The paper said that the planes, equipped with latest weapons and tailored for Indian needs, will be delivered to the IAF between September 2019 and April 2022.

The IAF has admitted it doesn’t have enough fighters to respond to a joint threat from China and Pakistan, the paper said. It has 33 fighter squadrons, against the sanctioned 42.

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