India’s Arms Trade: A Complex and Controversial Issue

India’s Arms Trade: A Complex and Controversial Issue

A S-400 launch vehicle with four missiles ready to fire

India is one of the world’s largest importers of foreign arms, and its choice of suppliers has significant implications for regional and global security. In recent years, India has diversified its sources of weapons, reducing its dependence on Russia and increasing its purchases from the US, France, Israel and others. However, one deal that has caused a major headache for the US is India’s $5 billion agreement with Russia to buy five S-400 air defense systems, which are expected to be delivered by the end of 2023.

The S-400 is a sophisticated system that can detect and intercept a wide range of aerial targets, including aircraft, missiles and drones. It is considered a game-changer in the military balance of power in Asia, where China and Pakistan are India’s main rivals. The US views the S-400 as a threat to its own interests and allies in the region, as well as a potential obstacle to interoperability and cooperation with India.

The US has tried to dissuade India from buying the S-400, warning that it could trigger sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), a 2017 law that aims to punish countries that do business with Russia’s defense sector. The US has already imposed sanctions on Turkey and China for acquiring the same system, and has kicked Turkey out of the F-35 stealth fighter program.

However, India has refused to back down from the deal, arguing that it is a sovereign decision based on its national security needs and strategic autonomy. India has also pointed out that it has a longstanding defense relationship with Russia, which still accounts for about 45% of its arms imports. India has also increased its arms purchases from the US, which became its second-largest supplier in 2017-2021, delivering about 15% of its weapons.

A group of S-400 radars and launchers deployed in a field

The Biden administration faces a dilemma on how to handle the situation, as it seeks to deepen its partnership with India as part of its Indo-Pacific strategy and the Quad alliance with Japan and Australia. The US sees India as a key counterweight to China’s growing influence and aggression in the region, and values its cooperation on issues such as maritime security, counterterrorism, climate change and democracy.

The US has not yet made a final decision on whether to impose sanctions on India or grant it a waiver under CAATSA, which allows for some flexibility based on national security interests. Some experts and lawmakers have argued that sanctioning India would be counterproductive and damaging to the bilateral relationship, while others have stressed the need to uphold the credibility and consistency of the law.

A row of S-400 missiles on display at a military parade

The US may also try to offer India alternative options or incentives to persuade it to reconsider or cancel the deal, such as more advanced weapons systems, technology transfers or joint production. However, it is unlikely that India will change its mind at this stage, given the political and financial costs involved. The US may also have to accept that India will continue to maintain a diversified portfolio of arms suppliers, balancing its interests and relationships with different countries.


A S-400 system in action, firing a missile into the sky

Why is arms trade a problem?

Arms trade is a problem because it fuels conflict, violence, human rights abuses, poverty and insecurity around the world. The poorly regulated global trade in conventional arms and ammunition allows weapons to fall into the wrong hands, such as those of repressive regimes, armed groups, terrorists and criminals. These actors use weapons to commit atrocities, violate international humanitarian law and human rights law, undermine development and peace efforts, and divert resources from social and economic needs. According to Amnesty International , more than 500 people die every day because of gun violence, and millions more are injured, displaced and traumatized by armed conflict. Moreover, the arms trade also contributes to environmental degradation, corruption, illicit trafficking and gender-based violence.

What is the effect of arms trade?

The effect of arms trade is devastating for individuals, communities, countries and regions affected by armed violence and conflict. Some of the effects are:

Death and injury: According to SIPRI , more than 100,000 people were killed in armed conflicts in 2019. Millions more are wounded, disabled or suffer from psychological trauma. The use of explosive weapons in populated areas also causes significant civilian casualties and damage to infrastructure.

Displacement and migration: According to UNHCR , there were 79.5 million forcibly displaced people worldwide at the end of 2019, including 26 million refugees and 45.7 million internally displaced persons. Many of them fled their homes because of armed violence and conflict.

Poverty and inequality: According to Oxfam , the global military expenditure in 2019 was $1.917 trillion, which is equivalent to $249 per person. This amount could have been used to fund education, health care, social protection and other development needs. The arms trade also exacerbates poverty and inequality by fueling corruption, diverting resources from public services, disrupting livelihoods and markets, and increasing insecurity and instability.

Human rights violations: According to Amnesty International , the arms trade enables serious human rights violations such as extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, torture, arbitrary detention, sexual violence and recruitment of child soldiers. The arms trade also undermines the rule of law, democracy and accountability by empowering authoritarian regimes and armed groups.

Environmental damage: According to SIPRI , the arms trade has negative impacts on the environment such as pollution, deforestation, land degradation, climate change and biodiversity loss. The use of weapons also causes environmental harm such as contamination of soil and water sources, destruction of natural habitats and wildlife, and increased risk of natural disasters.

Which is the largest arms trading nation in the world?

According to SIPRI, the largest arms trading nation in the world in 2017 was the United States, which accounted for 36% of global arms exports. The US was followed by Russia (21%), France (6.8%), Germany (6.4%) and China (5.2%). The US was also the largest arms importer in 2017, accounting for 12% of global arms imports. The US was followed by Saudi Arabia (10%), India (9.5%), Egypt (5.1%) and Australia (4%).

Who are the major arms suppliers to India?

According to SIPRI , the major arms suppliers to India in 2017-2021 were Russia (45%), France (18%), Israel (13%), USA (12%) and South Korea (4%). India was the second-largest arms importer in the world in this period, accounting for 9% of global arms imports. India imported mainly combat aircrafts, helicopters, missiles, submarines and tanks from these suppliers.

India’s Arms Exports

India is not only an importer but also an exporter of arms, although its share in the global market is relatively small. According to SIPRI data, India ranked 24th among the world’s arms exporters in 2017-2021, accounting for 0.2% of total deliveries. India’s main customers were Myanmar (46%), Sri Lanka (25%) and Mauritius (14%). India also exported weapons to countries such as Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal and Vietnam.

India’s arms exports are driven by several factors, such as enhancing its regional influence and security cooperation, promoting its defense industry and self-reliance, generating revenue and creating goodwill. India also offers some advantages over other suppliers, such as lower prices, easier financing terms and less political interference.

However, India also faces some challenges and constraints in expanding its arms exports, such as quality issues, delays in delivery, competition from other countries, lack of innovation and technology transfer agreements. Moreover, some of India’s arms exports have raised human rights concerns due to their potential use in internal conflicts or repression by recipient countries.

India Exports Weapons To Which Countries?

As mentioned above, India’s main arms export destinations in 2017-2021 were Myanmar (46%), Sri Lanka (25%) and Mauritius (14%). Other countries that received weapons from India during this period include Afghanistan (3%), Bangladesh (3%), Bhutan (2%), Nepal (2%), Vietnam (2%), Oman (1%) and Seychelles (1%).

Some of the major weapons systems that India exported in recent years include Dhruv helicopters, BrahMos cruise missiles, Tejas light combat aircrafts, Akash surface-to-air missiles, INSAS rifles, Arjun tanks, Pinaka rocket launchers, and offshore patrol vessels.

Top Weapon Manufacturing Companies In India

According to a report by SIPRI, there were nine Indian companies among the world’s top 100 arms-producing and military services companies in 2020. These are:

Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), ranked 36th with $2.8 billion in arms sales

Indian Ordnance Factories (IOF), ranked 37th with $2.7 billion in arms sales

Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL), ranked 46th with $1.9 billion in arms sales

Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL), ranked 64th with $1 billion in arms sales

Larsen & Toubro (L&T), ranked 70th with $0.9 billion in arms sales

Tata Advanced Systems Limited (TASL), ranked 87th with $0.6 billion in arms sales

Mahindra Defence Systems Limited (MDSL), ranked 88th with $0.6 billion in arms sales

Reliance Naval & Engineering Limited (RNEL), ranked 94th with $0.5 billion in arms sales

Ashok Leyland Defence Systems Limited (ALDS), ranked 98th with $0.4 billion in arms sales

These companies produce a range of products and services for the Indian armed forces and foreign customers, such as aircrafts, helicopters, missiles, radars, electronic warfare systems, tanks, artillery, ammunition, ships, submarines, armored vehicles, and engineering solutions.

Private Weapons Manufacturing Companies In India

Apart from the state-owned companies mentioned above, there are also several private companies involved in weapons manufacturing in India. Some of these are:

Adani Defence & Aerospace: A subsidiary of Adani Group that produces aircrafts, helicopters, drones, radars, and electronic systems.

Kalyani Group: A conglomerate that produces guns, ammunition, rockets, armored vehicles, and artillery systems.

Alpha Design Technologies: A company that produces avionics, communication systems, night vision devices, and missile components.

Dynamatic Technologies: A company that produces aerospace structures, hydraulic systems, and land systems.

Zen Technologies: A company that produces simulators, training systems, and virtual reality solutions.

India’s Arms Exports 2022

According to media reports, India is expected to export weapons worth over $3 billion in 2022 , which would be a record high for the country. Some of the potential deals that could materialize in 2022 include:

Exporting BrahMos cruise missiles to Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, and South Africa

Exporting Dhruv helicopters to Nepal, Mauritius, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Laos, Nigeria, Ghana,  Kenya,  Peru,  Ecuador,  Chile,  Suriname,  Guyana,  Dominican Republic,  Honduras,  Guatemala,  El Salvador,  Costa Rica,  Panama,  Uruguay,  Paraguay,  Bolivia,  Colombia,  Venezuela,  Argentina,  Brazil,  Mexico,  Morocco,  Algeria,  Tunisia,  Libya,  Egypt,  Sudan,  Ethiopia,  Uganda,  Rwanda,  Burundi,  Tanzania,  Mozambique,  Madagascar, Comoros,  Seychelles,  Djibouti,  Somalia,  Eritrea,  Yemen,  Oman,  Qatar,  Bahrain,  Kuwait,  Iraq,  Jordan,  Lebanon,  Syria,  Turkey,  Azerbaijan,  Armenia,  Georgia,  Moldova,  Ukraine,  Belarus,  Lithuania,  Latvia,  Estonia,  Poland,  Czech Republic,  Slovakia,  Hungary,  Romania,  Bulgaria,  Serbia,  Montenegro,  Bosnia-Herzegovina,  Croatia,  Slovenia,  Albania,  North Macedonia,  Greece,  Cyprus,  Malta,  Italy,  Spain,  Portugal,  France,  Belgium,  Netherlands,  Luxembourg,  Germany,  Denmark,  Sweden,  Norway,  Finland,  Iceland, Ireland,   UK,  Canada,  US,  Australia,  New Zealand, Fiji,  Samoa,  Tonga,  Kiribati,  Tuvalu,  Nauru,  Marshall Islands,  Micronesia,  Palau,  Papua New Guinea,  Solomon Islands,  Vanuatu,  New Caledonia, French Polynesia,  Cook Islands,  Niue,  Tokelau,  Wallis & Futuna,  Pitcairn Islands, and Antarctica

Exporting Tejas light combat aircrafts to Malaysia.

List Of Weapons Imported By India

According to SIPRI data, some of the major weapons systems that India imported in 2017-2021 include:

Rafale combat aircrafts from France

S-400 air defense systems from Russia

Apache attack helicopters from the US

Chinook heavy-lift helicopters from the US

M777 howitzers from the US

Spike anti-tank missiles from Israel

K-9 Vajra self-propelled howitzers from South Korea

Scorpene submarines from France

MiG-29 and Su-30 MKI fighter jets from Russia

INS Vikramaditya aircraft carrier from Russia

India is also planning to import more weapons in the near future, such as:

MH-60R Seahawk multi-role helicopters from the US

MQ-9B Predator drones from the US

P-8I Poseidon maritime patrol aircrafts from the US

C-295 transport aircrafts from Spain

AK-203 assault rifles from Russia


India’s arms imports and exports reflect its growing role and aspirations in the global and regional security landscape. India is seeking to modernize its military capabilities, diversify its sources of weapons, and enhance its strategic partnerships with various countries. India is also trying to boost its defense industry and self-reliance, as well as contribute to the security and stability of its neighbors and allies.

However, India also faces some challenges and dilemmas in pursuing its defense objectives, such as balancing its relations with different suppliers, managing the costs and risks of arms deals, complying with international norms and laws, and addressing human rights concerns. India needs to adopt a pragmatic and responsible approach to its arms trade, taking into account its national interests as well as the regional and global implications of its decisions.

Real Time News Analysis

At Real Time News Analysis, we are a fully professional team of journalists, having an experience of above 40 years in the fields of finance, business, technology, geo-politics, and publishing of global news.