Ambitious India now world's largest arms importer

The Associated Press
Sunday, March 13, 2011; 8:35 PM

NEW DELHI -- In its race to join the club of international powers, India has reached another milestone - it's now the world's largest weapons importer.

A Swedish think tank that monitors global arms sales said Monday that India's weapons imports had overtaken China's, as the South Asian nation pushes ahead with plans to modernize its military, counter Beijing's influence and gain international clout.

"India has ambitions to become first a continental and (then) a regional power," said Rahul Bedi, a South Asia analyst with London-based Jane's Defense Weekly. "To become a big boy, you need to project your power."

According to the report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, India accounted for 9 percent of all international arms imports in the period from 2006 to 2010, and it is expected to keep the top spot for the foreseeable future.

"Just from what they have already ordered, we know that in the coming few years India will be the top importer," said Siemon Wezeman, a senior fellow at the institute.

Indian Defense Ministry spokesman Sitanshu Kar declined to comment on the report before he had a chance to read it.

China dropped to second place, with 6 percent of global imports, as it continued to build up its domestic arms industry, something India has so far failed to do, Wezeman said.

The United States was the largest arms exporter, followed by Russia and Germany, according to the report.

The institute measures arms transactions over a five-year period to take into account the long time lag between orders and delivery of arms.

India's investment comes amid its rising concerns about China's regional power and its designs over vital Indian Ocean shipping lanes, which New Delhi sees as part of its sphere of influence.

It is spending billions of dollars on fighter jets and aircraft carriers to modernize its air force and navy. Tensions also linger over unresolved border issues with China which led to war in 1962.

India also remains in its traditional faceoff with neighboring Pakistan, with which it has fought three wars.

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