Combat planes account for one third of all global arms transfers, with the United States topping the list of sellers and India, the United Arab Emirates and Israel the biggest buyers, according to the think tank.
In a report published Wednesday, just a week before China opens its massive
airshow in Zhuhai, the independent Swedish institute cautioned that increased sales of combat aircraft could have a destabilising effect in many parts of the world.
Between 2005 and 2009, according to the report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the United States had sold 341 fighter jets, up from 286 planes sold during the previous five-year period, while Russia sold 219 planes, down from 331, and France sold 75, up from 58.
Only 11 of the world’s countries figure on the list of combat aircraft producers: the United States, Russia, China, France, Sweden, India and Japan on their own, and Germany, Italy, Spain and Britain as part of the Eurofighter consortium.
However, the list of buyers is far longer.
During the five-year period, more than 50 countries, including Algeria (32), Bangladesh (16), Israel (82), Jordan (36), Pakistan (23), Syria (33), Venezuela (24), Chile (28), Poland (48), China (45) and Yemen (37), purchased a total of 995 new and second-hand fighter planes.
Not to mention the producer countries themselves, with India buying most combat aircraft during the period with 115 planes and the United States purchasing 33.
On their own, India, the United Arab Emirates and Israel accounted for nearly a third of all fighter jet purchases, and SIPRI cautions, “many other importers of combat aircraft lie in regions of serious international tensions.”
“While combat aircraft are often presented as one of the most important weapons needed for defence, these same aircraft give countries possessing them the potential to easily and with little warning strike deep into neighbouring countries,” said Siemon Wezeman, a senior fellow at the SIPRI Arms Transfers Programme and the author of the study.
Clear examples of this, according to SIPRI, were the Israeli air attack on Syria in September 2007 and the Russian air strike on Georgia in August 2008.
“Acquisitions of combat aircraft thus clearly can have a major destabilising effect on regions,” Wezeman said.
Ironically, the report stressed, “while the transfer of ballistic and cruise missiles and their technology has been high on the arms control and export control agendas in part because of their capability to carry nuclear and other mass destruction weapons, the transfer of advanced combat aircraft and air-to-ground missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads is not.”
For producer countries, the economic gains from the planes are significant: “the more advanced aircraft cost over $40 million dollars each and often substantially more,” according to SIPRI, adding however that the actual price of such a plane is difficult to estimate.
In fact, the Swedish institute quoted the September 16, 2009 edition of Jane’s Defence Weekly showing that while Norway calculated it paid $54 million for each of its American F35 fighters, the Pentagon estimates it pulled in $97 million for the exact same planes.
In any case, “producers promote sales because they lead to substantial income and employment,” said SIPRI.
For instance, the Eurofighter consortium cashed in six and seven billion dollars by selling 72 planes to Saudi Arabia, while Australia paid the United States $4.8 billion for 24 F/A-18E planes and India dished out $1.5-1.6 billion for 40 Russian Su-30MKI planes.
The astronomical sums help explain the cut-throat competition to win deals like Brasilia’s long-running tender to buy 36 new fighter jets.
France’s Rafale by Dassault, Sweden’s Gripen NG by Saa, and the US-made F/A-18 Super Hornet by Boeing are all vying for the lucrative contract, estimated to be worth up to seven billion dollars.