India rises as world's biggest weapons buyer

Eager to plug gaps in its capabilities and catch up with China, India is set for a military modernisation drive

Published: 10th November 2013 09:02 AM  |   Last Updated: 10th November 2013 09:02 AM   |  A+A-


With nations, including the US and UK, effecting defence budget cuts, India will emerge as the world’s biggest market for weapons over the next two decades. And vying for a share of the pie will be Russian, American, Israeli, French and British firms.

Despite forays by the Americans and Israelis into the Indian defence market with Rs 40,000 crore and Rs 50,000 crore worth of supplies respectively, Russia still bags a major chunk of orders with over Rs 4 lakh crore supplies made since the beginning of this century.

According to senior defence officers, including Indian Air Force (IAF) Director General (Inspection and Safety) Air Marshal P P Reddy, the force could be spending close to Rs 9 lakh crore in the next 15 years.

The news has come as a major boost to global arms companies that have been scrambling for orders following the cuts in domestic procurements in their respective countries.

The Indian phenomenon has been validated by the Stockholm-based think-tank, SIPRI, which has listed India as the world’s top arms importer for three years in a row now, on the basis of purchases made over the previous five years.

The Indian armed forces’ buying spree over the next two decades will be dictated by its desire to emerge as a modern military, plugging yawning gaps in its present capabilities.

It is also driven by the need to catch up with neighbour China, a possible adversary up north that has powered ahead with its own military modernisation drive on the strength of its booming economy.

Fortunately for India, its defence budget has been steadily increasing, with the 2013-14 budget crossing Rs 2.04 lakh crore, of which over Rs 86,741 crore was earmarked for capital expenditure.

Among the biggest of purchases that is waiting to happen in India is the 126 Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA), described as the ‘mother of all deals’, estimated to be worth Rs 1 lakh crore.

Key to bolstering the IAF’s falling fighter aircraft squadron numbers, the 126 planes would add to the 20-tonne category of planes in the IAF fleet, bringing in the needed balance in the fleet of 12-tonne Light Combat Aircraft and 25-tonne Sukhois.

IAF will also spend another `2 lakh crore on buying 300 Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA), jointly developed by India and Russia, from the middle of next decade.

With nearly 650 combat jets in the fleet, the IAF at present has 34 of the sanctioned 42 squadrons operational, but this will go down further in the next decade due to phasing out of the 250-odd MiG-series combat planes from the fleet, before it grows again and reaches optimal levels after 2030. China, on the other hand, has over 1,600 combat planes in its fleet, while Pakistan has only about 450.

Among the more critical gaps that India intends to plug is the one in its conventional submarine fleet. At present, the Indian Navy is saddled with an aging fleet of 13 submarines of which nine are the Russian Kilo class and rest are the German HDW Type 209 class.

 The six Project 75 Scorpene submarines under construction in the Mumbai-based Mazagon Docks is delayed by over three years now and will be inducted beginning 2018 at a revised cost of `23,562 crore, nearly a `5,000 crore increase from the originally approved Rs 18,798 crore. This has resulted in the late 1990s plan of having 24 new submarines before 2030 going for a toss.

Only now, the Indian Navy has got clearance from the government to issue a Rs 50,000-crore tender for six new conventional diesel-electric submarines, under a project named 75I.

China, on the other hand, has over 60 conventional submarines and 10 nuclear-powered submarines, whereas India is only now building its first nuclear-powered submarine, INS Arihant, and intends to have two more in the next decade or so.

These apart, the Navy already has 42 warships of various types—Destroyers, Frigates, Corvettes and Mine Sweepers—on order with Indian shipyards, including the 45,000-tonne Indigenous Aircraft Carrier Vikrant, which is likely to be ready by 2018. Two more of the Vikrant-class will be built over the next decade or so, while the Russian-built INS Vikramaditya, for which `12,000 crore has been paid by India, will join the Indian fleet in a week.

Among the other purchases lined up by the armed forces are 22 attack helicopters for Rs 7,500 crore, 15 heavy cargo helicopters for Rs 5,000 crore, 16 naval multi-role helicopters for Rs 5,000 crore, 384 light utility helicopters, 45 medium transport aircraft that could cost Rs 20,000 crore, several unmanned aerial vehicles, and many more.


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