India has maintained its position as the world’s leading arms importer for the third year in a row, ahead of China, which moved up a spot as one of the world’s five largest weapons exporters, a Swedish-based research institute says.

India replaced China as the world’s leading importer of weapons in 2011 and has retained the spot ever since, accounting for 12% of global arms imports, almost twice as much as China, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri) says.

During 2008-2012, India’s arms imports rose 59% from 2003-07 and were 109% higher than that of China — the second largest weapons importer. India’s main suppliers were Russia, which accounted for 79% of India’s imports, Britain and Uzbekistan.

Experts say the basic difference between India and China has been that while the latter has invested years of imports to build a booming domestic defense industrial base and become the world’s fifth-largest exporter of weapons, India’s domestic defense industry remains a public sector monopoly and government policies keep the private sector out.

Defense officials feel India needs to develop indigenous weapons systems in order to become a weapons exporter.

Meanwhile, China has surpassed the U.K. as the world’s fifth-largest arms exporter for the first time in more than 60 years, Sipri says. China’s exports of major conventional weapons increased by 162% between 2008 and 2012 compared with the previous five-year period.

The leading buyer of Chinese weapons was Pakistan, which accounted for 55% of the country’s exports, followed by Myanmar with 8% and Bangladesh with 7%, the report says.

Ranking above China, the top five arms suppliers were the U.S. — the world’s top arms exporter with 30% of the global volume – followed by Russia with 26%, Germany with 7% and France with 6%.

The Swedish think tank report also highlights the rising interest in drones used for surveillance and military attacks. Nearly 12 countries supplied drones to 31 countries from 2008 to 2012, compared to 20 countries that took deliveries from eight countries from 2003-2007.

The U.S., Israel and Italy were chief suppliers of drones, while Pakistan and the UAE were top importers.

Heron photo: IAI