Trends in International Arms Transfers

On 22nd February 2016, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) issued its Fact Sheet entitled “Trends in International Arms Transfers, 2015” which includes new information on arms transfers in 2015 and updated information for 1950-2014. This Fact Sheet highlights key trends and issues in arms transfers that are revealed by the new data. It lists the main exporters and importers in 2011-15 and describes the regional trends. Here are the findings presented in the document.

The volume of international transfers of major weapons in 2011-15 was 14% higher than in 2006-10. The five biggest exporters in 2011-15 were the United States, Russia, China, France and Germany, and the five biggest importers were India, Saudi Arabia, China, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Australia. Of the 10 largest importers in 2011-15, six were in Asia and Oceania: India, China, Australia, Pakistan, Vietnam and South Korea.

The flow of arms to Africa, Asia and Oceania and the Middle East increased between 2006-10 and 2011-15, while there was a sharp fall in the flow to Europe and a minor decrease in the flow to the Americas.


SIPRI has identified 58 countries as exporters of major weapons in 2011-15. The 5 largest suppliers of arms during that period were responsible for 74% of all arms exports. The composition and order of the top 5 suppliers changed between 2006-10 and 2011-15. While the USA and Russia remained by far the largest exporters, China’s arms exports increased from a level well below France, Germany and the United Kingdom to third position.

The top 5 exported 15% more arms in 2011-15 than the top 5 in 2006-10.

The United States

With a 33% share of total arms exports, the USA was the top arms exporter in 2011-15. Its exports of major weapons increased by 27% compared with 2006-10. The country delivered major weapons to at least 96 states in 2011-15, a significantly higher number of export destinations than any other supplier. The largest recipients were Saudi Arabia, accounting for 9.7% of US arms exports, and the UAE (9.1%). At the regional level, the Middle East was the largest recipient of US weapons, accounting for 41% of arms exports. Asia and Oceania received 40% and Europe 9.9%.

At the end of 2015, the US had numerous outstanding large arms export contracts, including contracts to supply a total of 611 of its new generation F-35 combat aircraft to 9 states.


Russian exports of major weapons increased by 28% between 2006-10 and 2011-15. However, exports in 2014 and 2015 were substantially lower than in 2011, 2012 and 2013. In 2011-15 Russia delivered weapons to 50 states and to rebel forces in Ukraine. Three states accounted for a significant proportion of Russia’s arms exports: India (39%), China (11%) and Vietnam (11%). At the regional level, Asia and Oceania remained the biggest importer with 68% of Russian arms exports in 2011-15 followed by Africa (11%), the Middle East (8.2%) and Europe (6.4%).


Chinese exports of major arms increased by 88% between 2006-10 and 2011-15, and China’s share of global arms exports rose from 3.6 to 5.9%. China supplied major arms to 37 states in 2011-15, but the majority of these exports (75%) were to states in Asia and Oceania.

Chinese exports of major arms to states in Asia and Oceania in 2011-15 were 139% higher than in 2006-10. Pakistan was the main recipient of Chinese exports, accounting for 35%, followed by Bangladesh and Myanmar, accounting for 20% and 16% respectively.

Western European Countries

Trends in International Arms Transfers 1The top five Western European suppliers — France, Germany, the UK, Spain and Italy — together accounted for 21% of global arms transfers in 2011-15.

French arms exports decreased by 9.8% between 2006-10 and 2011-15. France exported arms to 78 states in 2011-15. A total of 28% of French arms exports went to states in Asia and Oceania, 27% to the Middle East, 18% to Africa and 15% to other states in Europe.

Germany’s exports of major weapons decreased by 51% between 2006-10 and 2011-15. Germany supplied major arms to 57 states in 2011-15. The main recipients were other European states (29%). The next highest recipients at the regional level were the Americas, Asia and Oceania, and the Middle East — each receiving 23% of Germany’s arms exports.

Between 2006-10 and 2011-15, arms exports increased by 26% for the UK, 55% for Spain and 48% for Italy.

The Importers, 2011-15

In 2011-15, 153 countries imported major weapons. The top 5 recipients accounted for 34% of the total arms imports during the period. India, China and the UAE were among the top 5 importers in both 2006-10 and 2011-15. At the regional level, Asia and Oceania accounted for 46% of imports in 2011-15, followed by the Middle East, Europe, the Americas and Africa. SIPRI also identified eight rebel forces as importers of major weapons in 2011-15, but none of these accounted for more than 0.02% of total deliveries.


Between 2006-10 and 2011-15 imports by states in Africa increased by 19%. The three largest importers were Algeria (30% of imports), Morocco (26%) and Uganda (6.2%). Russia accounted for 34% of arms exports to the region, France for 13%, China for 13% and the USA for 11%.

States in sub-Saharan Africa received 41% of total African imports. Uganda, Sudan and Nigeria were the largest importers in the subregion, accounting for 15%, 12% and 11% of the subregional total respectively. Russia accounted for 27% of arms exports to the subregion and China for 22%.

Algeria and Morocco

Algeria’s arms imports fell by 18% in 2011-15 compared with 2006-10. However, under the known contracts, a number of significant deliveries are scheduled for the next five years, including 2 frigates from China, 2 frigates from Germany, and 190 tanks, 42 combat helicopters, 14 combat air craft and 2 submarines from Russia.

The Americas

Imports of major weapons by states in the Americas decreased by 6.0% between 2006-10 and 2011-15. The USA was the largest importer in 2011-15. Arms imports by South American states fell by 19% between 2006-10 and 2011-15. Russia accounted for 32% of deliveries to South America, followed by the USA with 16% and Germany with 10%.

Venezuela and Brazil

Venezuela was the largest importer in South America during 2011-15. Its imports increased 13% between 2006-10 and 2011-15. However, most of the deliveries in 2011-15 related to contracts signed before 2010. In contrast, Brazil — the third largest importer in the Americas — is the only South American state with major outstanding orders for arms, including 36 combat aircraft from Sweden ordered in 2015 and 5 submarines from France.

Brazil’s arms imports increased by 35% between 2006-10 and 2011-15.


Mexican arms imports increased by 331% during 2011-15 compared with 2006-10. This significant increase is mainly connected to the Mexican Government’s war against drug cartels. The USA accounted for 52% of deliveries to Mexico during 2011-15, followed by Spain with 19% and France with 10%.

Asia and Oceania

Arms imports by states in Asia and Oceania increased by 26% between 2006-10 and 2011-15. States in the region received 46% of global imports in 2011-15, up from 42% in 2006-10. States in South Asia accounted for 44% of the regional total, with North East Asia and Southeast Asia each accounting for 23%, Oceania for 8.2% and Central Asia for 2.3%.


India was the largest importer of major arms in 2011-15, accounting for 14% of the global total. Between 2006-10 and 2011-15, imports increased by 90%. In 2011-15, India’s imports were three times greater than those of either of its regional rivals: China and Pakistan. A major reason for the high level of imports is that India’s arms industry has so far largely failed to produce competitive, indigenously designed weapons. In 2011-15, Russia supplied 70% of India’s arms imports, the USA 14% and Israel 4.5%. The emergence of the USA as a major supplier to India is a recent development and US imports are growing; they were 11 times higher in 2011-15 than in 2006-10.


China is increasingly capable of producing its own advanced weapons and has become less dependent on arms imports, which decreased by 25% between 2006-10 and 2011-15. While in the early-2000s China was by far the largest importer, it dropped to third place in 2011-15. However, China remains partly dependent on imports for some key weapons and components, including large transport aircraft and helicopters, and engines for aircraft, vehicles and ships. Engines accounted for 30% of China’s imports in 2011-15. China’s largest supplier was Russia, which accounted for 59% of Chinese imports, followed by France (15%) and Ukraine (14%).


Vietnam jumped from being the 43rd largest importer in 2006-10 to the 8th largest in 2011-15, with arms imports increasing by 699%. This was the highest growth rate among the top 10 importers in 2011-15. Russia accounted for 93% of the deliveries, which included 8 combat aircraft, 4 fast attack craft and 4 submarines armed with land-attack missiles. Vietnam’s arms acquisitions (surface ships and submarines made up 44% and aircraft 37% of total acquisitions) are aimed at strengthening its capabilities in the South China Sea area, where its territorial claims collide with China’s.


Trends in International Arms Transfers 2Imports by states in Europe decreased by 41% between 2006-10 and 2011-15; with the region accounting for 11% of total global imports. The fall is partly the result of economic pressures forcing states such as Greece and Spain to greatly reduce their arms purchases. Azerbaijan was the largest importer of major weapons in Europe, with deliveries increasing by 217% between 2006-10 and 2011-15.


Deliveries to Greece in 2011-15 were down by 77% compared with 2006-10. However, while Greece remained in deep economic crisis in 2015, its arms imports increased steeply that year due to the delivery of 2 submarines from Germany ordered in 2000.
Poland and the Baltic States

Poland’s arms imports fell by 65% in 2011-15 compared with 2006-10. However, partly in reaction to Russia’s foreign policy, but also in line with previous armament plans, in 2013 Poland embarked on a major 10-year military modernization programme.

As part of this programme, in 2015, it ordered long-range air-to-surface missiles from the USA and selected a US system to meet its air defence requirements.

Also linked to the perceived growing threat from Russia, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have started arms import programmes, albeit on a much smaller scale than Poland. All three are investing in armoured vehicles and short range air defence systems

The Middle East

Arms imports by states in the Middle East increased by 61% between 2006-10 and 2011-15. During 2011-15, 27% of arms transfers to the region went to Saudi Arabia, 18% to the UAE and 14% to Turkey. The USA accounted for 53% of total arms supplies to the region, the UK for 9.6% and Russia for 8.2%.

States intervening in Yemen

The military intervention in Yemen by a coalition of Arab states, which began in 2015, was facilitated by high levels of arms imports to several of the states leading the intervention. These states include Egypt, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

In 2011-15, Saudi Arabia’s arms imports increased by 275% compared with 2006-10. Although concerns have been raised in arms-supplying states over Saudi air attacks in Yemen, Saudi Arabia is expected to continue to receive large numbers of major arms from those states in the next five years. Arms on order include 150 combat aircraft and thousands of air-to-surface missiles and anti-tank missiles from the USA, 14 combat aircraft from the UK and an undisclosed but large number of armoured vehicles from Canada with turrets from Belgium.

The UAE has continuously had high levels of arms imports since 2001. Its arms imports increased by 35% between 2006-10 and 2011-15. Qatari arms imports rose by 279% between 2006-10 and 2011-15. These imports included the first deliveries of a number of large arms contracts that will substantially increase the size of Qatar’s military arsenal. Outstanding deliveries include 24 combat helicopters, 9 air defence systems and 3 airborne early warning aircraft from the USA, 24 combat aircraft from France and 52 tanks from Germany.

Arms imports by Egypt grew by 37% between 2006-10 and 2011-15. Egyptian arms imports rose particularly steeply in 2015. The USA lifted a partial suspension of arms supplies to Egypt and delivered 12 combat aircraft, and France delivered a frigate within months of a deal being signed. In 2014 and 2015, Egypt signed a number of large deals for weapons from France, Germany and Russia.
Arms imports by Iraq increased by 83% between 2006-10 and 2011-15. Although the Islamic State captured or destroyed many weapons of the Iraqi armed forces in 2014, the flow of weapons to Iraq that started in 2003 continued in 2015. This included the supply of hundreds of armoured vehicles from the USA. Iraq’s air power increased significantly in 2014-15 with the delivery of 18 combat aircraft from the USA and 21 combat helicopters from Russia.

Courtesy SIPRI

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