Falling: China’s Share of Global Arms Imports

While China’s military budget will rise above $100bn for the first time in 2012, and double by 2015, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) claims that less and less of that budget is used to import weapons as the local arms industry expands. From Bloomberg:

China received 5 percent of the volume of international transfers of “major conventional weapons” from 2007 to 2011, Sipri said in a report released today. The total was half that of India, which last year overtook China as the world’s largest recipient of arms, and less than South Korea and Pakistan.

“In certain sectors such as combat aircraft, with the exception of certain parts like engines, China is able to put together these systems largely from their own indigenous base now,” Paul Holtom, director of Sipri’s arms transfer program, said by phone. “India is still struggling there.”

China’s arms exports nearly doubled in 2007 to 2011 from five years earlier, Sipri said, making it the world’s sixth biggest supplier after the United Kingdom. About two-thirds of China’s weapons were sold to neighboring Pakistan, it said, including 50 JF-17 combat aircraft, 203 tanks and three warships.

Even as China boosts its domestic production of arms, however, Harry Kasianis writes in The Diplomat that an imminent purchase of advanced fighter aircraft from Russia may provide insight into the limits China still faces in building up its own military capabilities from within:

So what would be China’s motivation to purchase new planes from Russia now? Some have argued that maybe all is not well with China’s cloned craft. Vasily Kashin, an expert at the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies speaking with Kommersant, felt the “willingness to buy such a large batch of fighter jets indicates that the Chinese are faced with serious technical problems during the work on the modification of its aircraft that are based on the Su-27.”

One must also consider China’s highly touted and much-debated J-20 fifth generation fighter might suffer from one major problem – the Chinese have struggled with the domestic production of strong jet engines. Reports have surfaced that at least one of the J-20 prototypes uses a Russian borrowed engine. Access to Russian engine technology may therefore be one of the driving factors behind Beijing’s interest in the Su-35. As regular Diplomat contributors Andrew Erickson and Gabe Collins have noted, “China’s inability to domestically mass-produce modern high-performance jet engines at a consistently high-quality standard is an enduring Achilles heel of the Chinese military aerospace sector and is likely a headwind that has slowed development and production of the J-15, J-20, and other late-generation tactical aircraft.”

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