India is expected to spend an estimated $80bn over the next 10 years to modernise its military [EPA]

India has overtaken China to become the world's largest importer of weapons, according to a Swedish think-tank that monitors global arms sales.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute report said India was pushing ahead with plans to modernise its military in an effort to counter China's influence and gain international clout.

India's defence budget for the coming year is 1.5 trillion rupees ($32.5bn), a 40 per cent increase from two years ago. It imports more than 70 per cent of its weapons.

The report said the vast majority of those imports – 82 per cent – come from Russia, which has long been India's supplier of choice.

"The kind of purchases that India is buying, no country in the world buys. What is in the pipeline is huge"

Rahul Bedi, analyst, Jane's Defence Weekly

Its investment comes amid 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.

The government is reportedly spending billions of dollars on fighter jets and aircraft carriers to modernise its air force and navy.

Siemon Wezeman, a senior fellow at the institute, said on Monday China dropped to second place with six per cent of global imports as it continued to build up its domestic arms industry, something India has so far failed to do.

"Just from what they have already ordered, we know that in the coming few years India will be the top importer," he added.

Weapons club

On the dealers' side, the United States remains the largest arms exporter, followed by Russia and Germany, according to the report.

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

There are lingering tensions over unresolved border issues between India and China, which led to war in 1962.

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

"India has ambitions to become first a continental and [then] a regional power," Rahul Bedi, a South Asia analyst with London-based Jane's Defence Weekly, told The Associated Press. "To become a big boy, you need to project your power."

India is expected to spend $80bn over the next decade to upgrade its military.

Besides Russia, other countries pushing for a chunk of the lucrative market include Britain, the United States and France who have finalised deals worth billions of dollars for trainer and fighter jets, transport aircraft, an aircraft carrier and submarines.

"The kind of purchases that India is buying, no country in the world buys," added Bedi of Jane's Defence Weekly. "What is in the pipeline is huge."

Source: Agencies