− In 2008, Indian defense spending has increased by 10 percent
− India’s determination to modernize its military has attracted foreign companies from all over the world
− The United States believes India can be an important stabilizing force in South Asia and plausible counterweight to China
India has announced that defense spending will increase by 10 percent, the steepest hike since partition of the subcontinent. According to Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, expenditure for the fiscal year ending in March 2009 would reach US$26.4 billion.
An Emerging Military Force
Citing security has a top priority India plans to spend at least US$30 billion until 2012 to modernize its military. India is expected to make an immediate purchase of 126 fighter aircraft costing US$12 billion, followed by ships, submarines, artillery, and other military hardware in the coming years.
Finance Minister Chidambaram committed US$1.85 billion to the Indian navy, which is shopping for six submarines in addition to the six it purchased in 2007 from foreign defense companies. India’s 137-ship navy is currently involved in advanced negotiations to purchase eight long-range reconnaissance planes from Boeing or the European consortium EADS for US$2 billion.
The Indian government is allotting US$2.71 billion for its air force, which is still flying aging Russian MiG fighter jets. India has just awarded a US$965 million contract to upgrade its fleet of MiG-29 fighter jets. Under the contract, Russia will re-arm the MiG-29s with air-to-air missiles, modern bombs, increased fuel capacity, and the latest avionics.
Lastly, the country’s 1.23 million-strong army will receive US$9 billion to help modernize mechanized divisions, artillery, and air defense units.
A Militarized India
Security analysts are predicting that India’s spending for weapons could reach as much as US$40 billion in the years ahead. As India is focused on upgrading its air fleet, tanks, and arsenal of submarines, several countries around the world are trying to benefit from New Delhi’s spending spree.
However, countries like the United States, are also interested in forming strategic relationships with New Delhi. While American companies, Lockheed Martin and Boeing, are competing for contracts to supply the Indian government, Washington is looking at New Delhi as a major strategic partner in South Asia. Beyond the economic benefits of Indian military modernization, American officials believe that India can be an important stabilizing force in Asia, and also a critical counterweight to China’s potential regional ambitions.
In February 2008, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates traveled to India in an effort to strengthen ties, with the issue of China specifically in mind. Gates hopes to deepen military ties and pave the way for future arms transactions with not only India, but also Indonesia and Australia. China’s drastic increase in military spending has Pentagon officials concerned and looking to other potential Asian partners to possibly counter China’s regional ambitions.
As China ramps up its military spending, India’s arms budget is also likely to continue growing. The increase will likely be closely monitored in Pakistan, which accuses its nuclear rival of sparking a regional arms race.
China’s growing military budget and modernization is a potential threat to India’s security in more ways than one. The United States is also wary of China’s future intentions and is more than eager to seek a regional counterweight to Beijing.