WASHINGTON (Reuters) - India ordered $5.7 billion (3.2 billion pounds) in weapons last year, overtaking Saudi Arabia and China to become the developing world's leading buyer, a study sent to the U.S. Congress this week showed.
Likewise, with $15.7 billion in orders, India edged out China, with $15.3 billion, to become the developing world's biggest weapons buyer for the eight-year period up to 2004 reviewed by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.
The figures are contained in an annual study, dated Monday, of conventional arms transfers that is widely considered the most authoritative of its kind available publicly.
The report illustrates how global arms-trade patterns have changed in the post-Cold War and post-Persian Gulf War years, wrote Richard Grimmett, the study's author.
"India's ongoing defence modernisation program reflects its desire to become a significant political-military force in Asia," he added in a telephone interview.
U.S. willingness to consider selling advanced military items to India suggests it may view India as a potential regional counterweight to growing Chinese military power, Grimmett added.
The United States once again topped the trade with developing states with deals worth $6.9 billion in 2004, or 31.6 percent of world-wide contracts, down from a 43.1 percent share in 2003, the survey showed.
Russia was second with $5.9 billion in such arms deals, up from $4.3 billion in 2003. Russia's share of all developing world arms transfer agreements ebbed to 27.1 percent in 2004 from 28.1 percent in 2003.
Russia remained the chief supplier to both India and China, but India has expanded its base, the report said. In 2004, for instance, it purchased Phalcon early warning defence system aircraft from Israel for $1.1 billion.
Saudi Arabia ranked second among developing world arms buyers last year, with deals valued at $2.9 billion, and China was third, with $2.2 billion in agreements.
Asia accounted for the lion's share of Russia's arms-sale agreements in the period surveyed, rising to nearly 82 percent of its total deals worldwide from 2001 to 2004, the study showed.
By contrast, only 26 percent of U.S. arms deals were in Asia during the same period. The bulk of U.S. deals, 66 percent, were in the Near East, including sales to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Oman, Israel and the United Arab Emirates.