Asian nations beef up their
arsenals By Thalif Deen
China, India and South Korea - three of
the most vibrant economies in Asia - are also
beefing up their military arsenals with new
weapons systems from the United States, Russia,
Germany, France and the United Kingdom.
According to the latest figures released
Monday by the Stockholm International Peace
Research Institute (SIPRI), the
world's five largest arms
importers in 2007-2011 were all Asian states,
beating out the traditional frontrunners - the
rich, oil-blessed Middle Eastern countries.
India was the world's single largest
recipient of arms, accounting for 10% of global
arms imports, followed by South Korea (6% of arms
transfers), Pakistan (5%), China (5%) and
The five biggest arms
suppliers in 2007-2011 were the United States,
Russia, Germany, France and the United Kingdom.
With the exception of Germany, the four
other suppliers are veto-wielding permanent
members of the UN Security Council.
top five suppliers accounted for 75% of all
international arms transfers.
most significant purchase in 2011, and the largest
arms deal for at least two decades, was Saudi
Arabia's order for 84 new and 70 rebuilt F-15SG
fighter planes from the United States.
Pieter Wezeman, a senior researcher with
the SIPRI's Arms Transfers Programme, says that
major Asian importing states are seeking to
develop their own arms industries and decrease
their reliance on external sources of supply.
A large share of arms deliveries, he said,
is due to licensed production of weapons spawning
Asked if he expects
any of the Asian countries to reach
self-sufficiency in arms in the near future,
Wezeman told IPS: "The answer is no."
goal of total independence from imports of weapons
or key major components seems very unlikely to be
achievable, he said.
Even the United
States - with by far the largest arms industry and
the highest military research and development
(R&D) budget - is importing major weapons,
sometimes because that is more convenient than
domestic production, but in some cases because the
technology is not available in the US, he pointed
Considering that the development of
major weapons such as combat aircraft or missile
systems has become more and more costly - in real
terms - above the inflation rate - most countries
cannot afford to develop the full scale of weapons
and other military technologies on their own, he
While some may choose to fully
develop for example their own combat aircraft or
submarines, they will still remain dependent on
imports of other weapons.
India is a good example of how difficult it is to
increase self-sufficiency. For decades, the aim of
successive Indian governments has been to be able
to produce 70% of the military equipment that
India needs locally, instead of the 30% level that
India achieved decades ago.
expressed aim, and despite having established a
larger military R&D sector, India is today not
much nearer the 70% self-sufficiency mark than it
was decades ago.
He said other Asian
countries, like Japan, South Korea and China, have
been more successful in increasing indigenous
development and production, but all three are
still dependent on imports of complete weapons or
of key components.
According to the SIPRI
study, China, which was the largest recipient of
arms exports in 2002-2006, fell to fourth place in
The decline in the volume of
Chinese imports coincides with the improvements in
China's arms industry and rising arms exports.
Between 2002-2006 and 2007-2011, the volume of
Chinese arms exports increased by 95%.
China now ranks as the sixth largest
supplier of arms in the world, narrowly trailing
the United Kingdom.
While the volume of
China's arms exports is increasing, this is
largely a result of Pakistan importing more arms
from China, says Paul Holtom, director of the
SIPRI Arms Transfers Programme.
Pakistan, China has not yet achieved a major
breakthrough in any other significant market.
Meanwhile, despite significant progress in
its arms industry, China continues to rely on the
import of engines from Russia for its fighter
planes, and other key components and designs from
Russia, France, Switzerland, the UK, Ukraine and
Asked about the increase in
licensed production of weapons, Wezeman told IPS
there are many examples in Asia.
produces T-90S tanks, Su-30MKI combat aircraft and
anti-tank missiles under Russian licenses;
Scorpene submarines under a French license; Jaguar
combat aircraft and Hawk trainer aircraft under a
British license; and naval radars under Dutch
Pakistan produces JF-17 combat
aircraft and MBT-2000 tanks under Chinese licenses
and RBS-70 surface-to-air missiles and MFI-17
trainer aircraft (as Mushshak and Super Mushshak)
under Swedish licenses.
produces Type-214 submarines under a German
license, and Vietnam produces Project-12418 (or
Tarantul-5) fast attack craft under a Russian
These, Wezeman pointed out, are
just some examples from a long list of cases where
the final production of weapons purchased from
abroad takes place in the country that has bought
According to SIPRI, although the
volume of arms deliveries to Middle Eastern
countries decreased by 8% between 2002-2006 and
2007-2011, "there are signs that this trend will
soon be reversed".