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In the Asian Arms Race, the Prize Is India

Indians made kites to celebrate Obama’s visit.

Indians made kites to celebrate Obama’s visit.

Photographer: Indranil Mukherjee/AFP/Getty Images

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.