March 12, 2019

According to new data on arms transfers published today by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Saudi Arabia has replaced India as the world’s largest arms importer from 2014-18. 

Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI): 

  • Location: SIPRI is an international institute based in Stockholm, Sweden. 

  • Established in: 1966. 

  • Purpose: 
    • It is dedicated to research into conflict, armaments, arms control and disarmament. 

    • It provides data, analysis and recommendations, based on open sources, to policymakers, researchers, media and the interested public. 

SIPRI Arms Transfers Database: 

  • The SIPRI Arms Transfers Database contains information on all international transfers of major arms (including sales, gifts and production licences) to states, international organizations and armed non-state groups from 1950 to the most recent full calendar year, 2018. 

  • SIPRI data reflects the volume of deliveries of arms, not the financial value of the deals. 

  • As the volume of deliveries can fluctuate significantly year-on-year, SIPRI presents data for five-year periods, giving a more stable measure of trends. 

Major Trends: 

  • The volume of international transfers of major arms in 2014–18 was 7.8 % higher than in 2009–13 and 23 % higher than in 2004–2008. 

  • The five largest exporters in 2014–18 were the United States, Russia, France, Germany and China. Together, they accounted for 75 % of the total volume of arms exports in 2014–18.

  • The five largest importers in 2014–18 were the Saudi Arabia, India, Egypt, Australia and Algeria. Together they received 35 % of all arms imports. 

  • The main recipient region in 2014–18 was Asia and Oceania (accounting for 40 % of global imports), followed by the Middle East (35 %), Europe (11 %), Africa (7.8 %) and the Americas (6.2 %). 

  • The imports of arms increased to the Middle East between 2009–13 and 2014–18, while there was a decrease in imports to all other regions. 

United States: 

  • The gap between the USA and other arms exporters has widened. US arms exports grew by 29 % between 2009–13 and 2014–18, and the US share of total global exports rose from 30 % to 36 %. 

  • The gap between the top two arms-exporting states also increased: US exports of major arms were 75 % higher than Russia’s in 2014–18, while they were only 12 % higher in 2009–13. 

  • More than half (52 %) of US arms exports went to the Middle East in 2014–18. 

Middle East: 

  • Middle Eastern arms imports almost doubled in the past five years as conflicts and tensions are rife in the region. 

  • Arms imports by states in the Middle East increased by 87 % between 2009–13 and 2014–18 and accounted for 35 % of global arms imports in 2014–18. 

  • Saudi Arabia became the world’s largest arms importer in 2014–18, with an increase of 192 % compared with 2009–13. 

  • Arms imports by Egypt, the third largest arms importer in 2014–18, tripled (206 %) between 2009–13 and 2014–18. Arms imports by Israel (354 %), Qatar (225 %) and Iraq (139 %) also rose between 2009–13 and 2014–18. 


  • Exports: 
    • China was the fifth largest arms exporter in 2014–18. Chinese arms exports increased by 2.7 % between 2009–13 and 2014–18. 

    • China delivered major arms to 53 countries in 2014–18, compared with 41 in 2009–13. Pakistan was the main recipient (37 %) in 2014–18 followed by Bangladesh. 

    • China’s arms exports are limited by the fact that many countries—including 4 of the top 10 arms importers in 2014–18 (India, Australia, South Korea and Vietnam) will not procure Chinese arms for political reasons. 

  • Imports: 
    • Chinese arms imports decreased because China has been more successful in designing and producing its own modern weaponry. But it was still the world’s sixth largest arms importer in 2014–18. 

    • China remains reliant on imports for certain arms technologies such as engines for combat aircraft and large ships as well as long-range air and missile defence systems as its own arms industry has yet to develop the technological capability. 


  • India was the world’s second-largest arms importer from 2014-18 (accounting for 9.5% of the global imports), ceding the long-held tag as largest importer to Saudi Arabia (12 %).

  • Indian arms imports decreased by 24 % between 2009–13 and 2014–18, partly due to delays in deliveries of arms produced under licence from foreign suppliers, such as combat aircraft ordered from Russia in 2001 and submarines ordered from France in 2008. 

India and Russia: 

  • Russia accounted for 58% of Indian arms imports in 2014–18, compared with 76% in 2009-13. On the other hand, Israel, the U.S. and France all increased their arms exports to India in 2014-18. 

  • Arms exports by Russia decreased by 17 % between 2009–13 and 2014–18, in particular due to the reduction in arms imports by India and Venezuela. 

  • However, the Russian share in Indian imports is likely to go up sharply during the next five-year period as India signed several big-ticket deals recently, and more are in the pipeline. These include
    • S-400 air defence systems, AK-203 assault rifles, 

    • four stealth frigates, a second nuclear attack submarine on lease, 

    • and deals for Kamov-226T utility helicopters, Mi-17 helicopters and short-range air defence systems. 


  • Pakistan stood at the 11th position, accounting for 2.7% of all global imports. 

  • Its biggest source was China, from which 70% of arms were sourced, followed by the U.S. at 8.9% and, interestingly, Russia at 6%. 

  • Despite the long-standing conflict between India and Pakistan, arms imports decreased for both countries in 2014-18 compared with 2009-13.