NEW YORK - India has overtaken China as the world’s largest arms importer, a Swedish defence industry watchdog said Monday.

Arms sales to India accounted for 9 per cent of the international trade in the period from 2006-10, while the United States and Russia are responsible for about half of the globe’s arms exports, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) said in a study. China, South Korea and Pakistan were the runners-up in the (SIPRI) study released in Stockholm.

India spent around $37 billion on its armed forces in 2009, SIPRI data show. Russian-made weapons accounted for 82 per cent of the Indian imports. Neighbouring Pakistan and China arms imports also increased over the past five years.

SIPRI arms expert Siemon Wezeman claimed conflicts with Pakistan and China as well as internal security challenges have fuelled Indian arms buys - a standard line fed by the Indians to the international community. “As an importer, India is demanding offsets and transfers of technology to boost its own arms industry, and, in order to secure orders, major suppliers are agreeing to such demands,” Wezeman said in a statement.

The US remains the world’s largest exporter of conventional arms with a 30pc market share, followed by Russia (23pc) and Germany (11pc), which roughly doubled its sales during the past decade, according to the study.

The total volume of global arms deals increased 24 per cent in 2006-10 compared to the previous five years. The Asia-Oceania region led the world with 43 per cent of arms imports, followed by Europe (21pc) and the Middle East (17pc).

The Indian arms buying spree was driven mainly by a desire to modernise the country’s air force. Fighter jets accounted for 71 per cent of Indian imports, SIPRI said. Russia last year delivered 35 Sukhoi Su-30MKI two-seat fighter jets jointly developed with India’s Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, and 10 Mikoyan MiG-29SMT.

European and US arms firms are competing for yet another Indian order for 126 fighter plans, a contract estimated to be worth more than $10 billion.

Planes in the running are the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet from Boeing, the Rafale by French firm Dassault, the Eurofighter Typhoon from Europe’s EADS, Lockheed Martin’s F-16, the Russian-made MiG-35 and the Gripen from Swedish firm Saab.

“European producers in particular are seeking export opportunities and are benefiting from government assistance with export promotion activities,” SIPRI’s European arms trade expert Mark Bromley said in a statement.

SIPRI has been compiling data on the international arms trade since the 1950s. It says its online database is the most extensive collection of such information available to the public.

SIPRI said Syria’s arms imports increased by almost 600 per cent between 2007 and 2011, compared with the previous five-year period, and said longtime Damascus ally Russia supplied 72 per cent of Syrian arms purchases.

The report says Russian arms sales to Syria between 2007 and 2011 included air-defence systems and anti-ship missiles. Although the study points out that such systems and missiles have no use in the current conflict between the Syrian regime and opposition forces, it does say the arms have improved the regime’s ability to defend itself against foreign intervention.