This has been going on for quite a while now that Indian PM, Mr. Narendara Modi, is periodically visiting Russia, USA, Japan, EU, and Canada to sign contracts of multi-billion dollars of defense purchase deals.

What is the reason behind these deals?

Is it because India wants to engage all big guns by throwing money at them or is it India struggling to develop its own defense techs?

For instance, I never saw any Chinese PM/pres to fly around the globe round his tenure and sign so many billions of dollars of defense procurement deals.

  • All of the answers below would benefit from sources, however, since one has been chosen, I do realize it's not going to happen.
    – CGCampbell
    Commented Jul 7, 2017 at 16:08
  • But an import characteristic of modern defence technology is that military hardware can become antiquated at unbelievable speed. A slight improvement of radar technology will render F-35 as stealth as B-29. Expensive imported weapons can be turned into junks by a simple invention at the blink of an eye. If India embarks on this strategy, India's future is slow death. Commented Jul 12, 2017 at 19:23

5 Answers 5


Answer is:

  1. India struggles to develop its own defense tech. The stellar example could be their local product ("Arjun"). Admittedly, there are also very significant political and economic issues, but fact remains that current milspec production is quite demanding.
  2. China did not develop most of its tech in current use - most of the time they're locally built copies of RF and US products, and what is theirs from scratch is not that great either. Also, economic calculation on this has much lower priority than other variables for Chinese government. And even when they steal, they struggle: production of Chinese version of Blackhawk seems to be discontinued... Wonder why... This is, incidentally, the issue most countries seem not to grasp when it comes to military tech: no matter how advanced tech you steal and implement, you also have to have adequate tech culture and sufficiently evolved society to sustain that. Most glaring example of that would be 1941 Barbarossa Operation, in which technologically inferior Germans nearly defeated Soviets, who were using much newer, better equipment, which they had way more of than Germans.
  3. Completely different circumstances for Russia, India and China in terms of geopolitics and internal sociopolitics. Russia is an exporter of goods and arms, so they concentrate on that and doing quite well, internal politics are extremely oligarchical so not many people complain. China is similarly stable politically (communist morphed to oligarchy) and being still officially communist state no one publicly questions either their military industry (not an oxymoron: Chinese army owns quite a lot of factories etc), and any issue with that at top levels is (still) resolved quietly by ritual suicide by multiple shots in the back. India is much more open politically with democracy in way higher state of development (even if still struggling mightily), so financial considerations are important.

Of course, above is just a highlight of the issues, really, as the topic is very complex and involves a lot of other variables...


Why India imports weapons:

  • India is still a developing country and doesn't have the infrastructure to support a military industrial complex that can produce goods on par with what they can buy from others for similar amounts of money.
  • Buying weapons from other countries helps with creating strategic alliances and can get other countries to invest in development projects India feels are more critical to their development.
  • India is involved in a semi active conflict with Pakistan which makes having updated and effective weaponry a higher priority. Some level of conflict is also likely with China in the near future.

Why China doesn't buy as many weapons from other countries:

  • Despite being a developing country by most standards, China's massive economy and position on the UN security council makes them a significant power.
  • China has a lot of advanced factories and fabrication facilities thanks largely to foreign investment which makes the transition to creating their own military industrial complex easier.
  • China is willing to steal intellectual property from other countries which makes development costs of their own weapons cheaper.
  • Other countries that produce weapons on a scale for China to buy them are in direct or indirect competition with them on some level, which makes selling weapons to China a bad idea, especially when it's likely they'll copy the design and make their own version of anything you give them.

In addition to the other answers, there is the fact that India is seeking to develop its industrial-military complex to provide more indigenous support for military programs. As mentioned elsewhere, India currently has major issues with trying to develop its industrial complex to handle these types of projects.

One way that many nations seek to address this situation is to import systems but tie in local support. This allows them to get the hardware they want, but helps to develop their own industrial complex, gives it something to do, and keeps some of the project investment inside the borders. Examples are:

  • Licensed production. Here, a license is purchased to manufacture a foreign item. This includes the technical information required to produce the item.
  • Co-production. The item is divided up and parts are made in both the foreign nation and at home. Often in these cases, final assembly is in the host nation but parts may have been purchased from the foreign nation.
  • Technology transfer. Technology is purchased from abroad and applied to local projects, or maybe applied to a co-production or license arrangement as well.
  • Offsets of an industrial or economic type, where a type of quid-pro-quo occurs where a foreign item is purchased and is coupled with some type of reinvestment in the domestic economy.

India's recent major defense contracts have leaned heavily on these tactics to both get good hardware faster, to acquire useful knowledge and to develop itself to handle such projects on its own in the future. Examples include:

  • French Dassault Rafale. Dassault and GoI have apparently gone back and forth about how much technology would be transferred as part of this acquisition.
  • Possible deals with the American Lockheed-Martin F-16. Rumors have swirled about what may happen here, including a LM production line being installed in India.
  • HAL Tejas. This is a large project that has been going on since the 1980s to develop a mostly indigenous light attack fighter. It has gone through years of development, whereas the core strength of the Indian Air Force is built on imported hardware. I believe the strategic purpose of Tejas is to develop the industrial-military complex with a second-rate capability aircraft program, thereby preventing development delays and shortcomings from hurting the front line capabilities.
  • The Arjun tank. According to Wikipedia, this project imports 69% of its components and has suffered from development delays. This shows that India is working on some local development combined with significant foreign hardware to accomplish this project and has had quite a lot of issues with it.
  • Couldn't summerize what this answer is trying to say.
    – user4514
    Commented Jul 7, 2017 at 18:37
  • Please write some form of conclusion or a TLDR Commented Jul 7, 2017 at 18:58

It is difficult to explain anyone that doesn't understand geo-political history. IMHO, OP doesn't do any research on such issues.

  1. India is in a rivalry with China over border issues.
  2. India is in a rivalry with Pakistan, which Pakistan buy billions of dollars of weapons from China since 70's.

China is one of the world top arm exporter. China weapon is known to be kind of a league among notorious arms industries. For example, a good example is thesilworm missiles. Another fun fact is the AK47 licensed to China, which China improve it for tropical weather(the USSR made AK47 is mean for cold weather). China arms technology get a complete technology revamps after USSR collapse: many Russia technology exchange hands during the period.

OTH. India also licenses USSR technology. However, the rampant graft and corruption of India bureaucracy seal the fates of India abilities to grasp the idea of arms industries.

  • 1
    This is a useless answer.
    – user4514
    Commented Jul 7, 2017 at 18:17

China would buy if anyone cares to sell, but there is no urgent need to use her bread money to buy guns because China is able to settle disputes by negotiation and by compromise, as is shown by the cessation of outer Mongolia, Outer Manchuria, Tuva and Outer Xinjiang. Fortunately most of China's neighbours are highly reasonable. This is a curious paradox: the brains that developed advanced weaponry also settled disputes by negotiation and made weapons redundant, whereas those who cannot settle border dispute by peaceful means also have difficulties developing domestic industry.

The following remark was made by Bertrand Russell in 1962 towards the end of Sino-Inidan war:

I was impressed by the facts both that China had been able to settle all her other border disputes by negotiation and had already, before this last and disastrous flare-up, offered to negotiate with India the border questions which were in dispute between them. In fact, I was beginning to feel that China has behaved more reasonably than had India. In view of this, on November 19 I wrote to Prime Minister Chou En-lai suggesting a step which I should previously have thought it useless to suggest, involving as it did an obvious sacrifice on the part of China who was victorious and militarily stronger than India.

Russell, Bertrand. Unarmed Victory. New York: Simon And Schuster, 1963. 102. Print.


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