Barack Obama will be the guest of honor at India’s Republic Day parade on Jan. 26. The celebrations will feature child acrobats, marching bands, and colorful floats representing India’s states and territories. Also on display will be the country’s military hardware, much of which dates from the Soviet era. One of the topics of discussion when Obama meets with Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be how to upgrade India’s defense capabilities.
India, the world’s largest importer of weapons and defense systems, spent $5.6 billion in 2013, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Modi wants to spend more: Since taking power in May, he’s signed off on $20 billion in arms procurement proposals, about double the amount spent in the prior fiscal year. Harsh Pant, a professor at the India Institute of King’s College London, estimates the costs of modernizing India’s weaponry will run to $130 billion over the next seven years. “A lot of Western arms exporters would be interested in that,” he says.
The U.S. displaced Russia as India’s top supplier of armaments in 2013—a major coup, considering that just four years earlier sales by American defense contractors to the country amounted to only $237 million. The Modi administration’s shopping list includes everything from heavy guns to submarines. Boeing is close to winning a $2.5 billion order for 22 Apache helicopters and 15 Chinook heavy-lift transport aircraft. During Obama’s visit, the two countries are expected to discuss plans to develop and produce weapons. “It will be more than a buyer-seller relationship,” says Tanvi Madan, an India specialist at the Brookings Institution.