New Delhi: India is expected to raise defence spending this year by 7-8%, roughly in line with the rate of inflation, but the modest rise is unlikely to make a dent in the long shopping list of one of the world’s largest militaries.
The urgent need to improve health care, education and infrastructure will check the ambitions of one of the world’s biggest military spenders, despite talk of an arms race with China and Pakistan, officials and analysts said.
India raised its defence budget by 7% to Rs89,000 crore for the year ending March 2007 as part of ongoing plans to modernize its 13-lakh strong military. “The increase in defence allocation is expected to be around the same levels, 7% or 8%, to keep it at around 2.4% or 2.5% of the gross domestic product (GDP),” said a defence official. “Of course, it won’t be enough, but that has been the trend.”
Slow decision-making and a lack of strategic planning mean that some of the money may not even get spent, as has been the case in the past. India has pegged its military spending at around 2.5% of GDP, which was estimated at around $920 billion (Rs41 lakh crore) in January, although the forces and defence experts have clamoured for 3% for years.
They say China and Pakistan—both of whom have fought wars with India—spend around 5% of their GDP on defence, and New Delhi needs to keep pace despite peace on both frontiers. Pakistan has been on its own modernization spree, particularly of its air force, and is eyeing more F-16 fighters from the US, and JF-17 Thunders and J-10 aircraft from China.
Despite booming economic ties between the countries, Beijing remains a worry for India as it boosts defence spending and flexes its muscle with next-generation weapons such as the anti-satellite missile, they say.
“Unless adequate provisions are made for defence, no state will be able to pursue its developmental agenda,” said Harsh Pant, who teaches defence studies at King’s College, London. “This is much more important for a country like India ... with two of its ‘adversaries’ straddling it on two sides of its borders and problems on all sides of its periphery,” he said. “Given that, its defence expenditure remains rather modest.”
India, the world’s fourth largest military, embarked on an ambitious plan to modernize its largely Soviet-era arms in the late 1990s as it began to assert its political and military power in South Asia and the Indian Ocean region.
Over the last three years, it has bought fighter and trainer jets, an aircraft carrier, submarines, missiles, radars and electronic warfare systems, making it the developing world’s biggest arms buyer in 2004 and 2005. Its shopping list, however, is not yet exhausted and includes one of the world’s biggest orders for fighter jets, helicopters, cargo planes, more missiles, missile launchers and radars, naval patrol aircraft and artillery.
However, purchases have been slow and staggered as running costs account for about 60% of the defence budget, which is expected to be hit this year by high inflation which is hovering close to 7%.
“I call this the ad hoc arming of India,” said Rahul Bedi, the New Delhi-based expert of Jane’s Defence Weekly. “Whatever comes into the market, India wants to buy.”