India has overtaken the United Kingdom in defence spending and broken into the top five, but faces considerable lag in comparison to China, which is increasingly challenging Western dominance, a new report on military balance said on Wednesday.
The annual report by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) sees China and Russia challenging the global dominance of the United States and its allies. IISS director-general John Chipman said while great-power war is not inevitable, the three leading military powers are “systematically preparing for the possibility of conflict”.
India has the fifth largest defence budget in the world, at $52.5 billion in 2017 ($51.1 billion in 2016), overtaking the UK whose defence budget fell from $52.5 billion in 2016 to $50.7 billion in 2017.
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, which compiles authoritative reports on annual military spending, India’s expenditure on defence was greater than that of the UK in 2016.
Titled Military Balance 2018, the IISS report details China’s growing military prowess, particularly at sea, adding that Beijing was on track to begin operating the Chengdu J-20 low-observable combat aircraft in frontline squadrons by 2020. “If this happens, the US would lose its monopoly on operational stealthy combat aircraft,” the report said.
Rahul Roy-Chaudhury, senior fellow for South Asia at IISS, said: “India’s defence budget is still only a third of its neighbour, China. Post-Doklam, China continues to develop advanced airborne and land capabilities.”
He was referring to last year’s standoff between Indian and Chinese border troops at Doklam near the Sikkim border that lasted more than 70 days.
“These technologies do not simply seek to catch up with the West, but to challenge traditional Western military dominance. India’s traditional influence over the Indian Ocean is also being challenged by China’s shipbuilding. Since 2000, China has built more submarines, destroyers, frigates and corvettes than India, Japan and South Korea combined,” Roy-Chaudhury said.
On India overtaking the UK in defence spending, Roy-Chaudhury said: “This indicates a shift in the India-UK military power balance in the transition towards Brexit, whereby India is focusing more on developing military resources regionally than the UK is globally.”
The report noted that a new Indian joint armed forces doctrine was issued in 2017, much of which was consistent with similar US and NATO doctrines. It sets out the joint doctrine for Indian nuclear command and control, and sees an “emerging triad” of space, cyber and special operations capabilities complementing conventional land, sea and air capabilities.
“A defence space agency, defence cyber agency and special operations division are to be formed,” it said, but added the Indian Army’s overall capability is limited by inadequate logistics and shortages of ammunition and spare parts.
“Development and procurement programmes across the services are aimed at replacing ageing equipment, but many projects have experienced significant delays and cost overruns, particularly indigenous systems,” the report added.
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