US Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel
US Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel was in India last week to engage with the Modi governmentReuters

The United States has beaten Russia, India's long-standing defence partner, to become the largest supplier of arms to India in the last three years.

Defence Minister Arun Jaitley laid down the new figures in the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday, stating that of the ₹83,458 crore expenditure on import of weapons over the last three years, ₹32,615 crore was on US arms, followed by ₹25, 364 crore on Russia. India also purchased arms from France for ₹12,047 crore and from Israel for ₹3,389 crore in the same period.

This is the first time that the United States has emerged as the largest arms supplier to India, displacing Russia, though the latter still remains the largest arms supplier to India overall.

India bought several defence equipment from the US in the last three years, including the C130J Super Hercules aircraft, Harpoon anti-submarine missiles and the C-17 Heavylift transport aircraft.

The news comes in the light of US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel's visit to India last week and at a time when India is set to close in on $2.5 billion deal with the US for 22 Apache attack helicopters and 15 Chinook choppers.

Even after decades of efforts to curb down imports of weapons and to produce them domestically, India still remains the largest arms importer in the world, and is the largest importer of weapons from the United States.

"I don't think there's another country in the world that has tried as hard as India to make weapons and failed as thoroughly," Pieter D. Wezeman, a senior researcher at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, told The New York Times earlier this year.

With the opening up of the defence sector to 49 percent foreign direct investment, India is looking to reverse this trend. Hagel himself had discussed co-production of arms such as the Javelin anti-tank guided missiles, MH-60 Romeo multi-role helicopters, spy drones, mine-scattering systems and 127mm warship guns.

The increasing US interest in India's defence sector is reflected in Hagel's offer of technology transfer and joint production of the Javelin missile, which he said, "is an unprecedented offer that we have made only to India and no one else to ensure defense industrial cooperation receives the attention it demands" according to The Wall Street Journal.

Meanwhile, Russian confidence in Indian defence sector's loyalty to it may be shaken, especially since Russian ambassador to India Alexander Kadakin had only earlier this year dismissed voices about a slowdown in Russian arms exports to India.

"It is inappropriate in my view and even incorrect to speak about Russia allegedly losing its leading positions in the Indian market," he was quoted as saying by NYTimes.