NEW DELHI • India has joined the United States and China as one of the world's five biggest military spenders, reflecting geopolitical tensions as well as the country's reliance on imported weapons and sprawling personnel costs.
New Delhi's defence spending rose by 5.5 per cent to US$63.9 billion (S$85.3 billion) in 2017 and has now passed France, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) said in a report released yesterday. Worldwide military spending rose marginally last year to US$1.73 trillion, or roughly 2.2 per cent of global gross domestic product, the think-tank said.
"The Indian government plans to expand, modernise and enhance the operational capability of its armed forces, motivated at least partially by tensions with China and Pakistan," the report read.
The list of the world's biggest military spenders has remained consistent in recent years, dominated by the US and China, which spent US$610 billion and US$228 billion, respectively last year, according to SIPRI, which researches global arms spending.
However, the group said the balance of military spending is "clearly shifting" towards Asia, Oceania and the Middle East, driven largely by spending increases in China, India and Saudi Arabia.
China spends far more on its military than any other power in Asia. Beijing's share of worldwide military expenditure rose to 13 per cent in 2017 from just 5.8 per cent in 2008, according to SIPRI.
The Indian government plans to expand, modernise and enhance the operational capability of its armed forces, motivated at least partially by tensions with China and Pakistan.
STOCKHOLM INTERNATIONAL PEACE RESEARCH INSTITUTE.
The Chinese government has raised spending 8.5 per cent per year between 2007 and 2016 and its leaders "seem committed to increases in defence spending for the foreseeable future, even as China's economic growth slows", according to a US Department of Defence report on China's military.
In India's case, however, increased spending does not mean the armed forces are deploying state-of-the-art equipment. The rise in defence spending mostly goes towards salaries and pensions for roughly 1.4 million serving personnel and more than two million veterans, said Mr Laxman Kumar Behera, a research fellow with New Delhi's Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses.
"Because so much money is consumed by manpower costs, there isn't enough left over to buy equipment," Mr Behera said.
India's own army echoes that sentiment. Vice-Chief of Army Staff Lieutenant-General Sarath Chand told a parliamentary committee in March that the current budget barely accounts for inflation and tax payments. Only 14 per cent goes towards military modernisation compared to 63 per cent for salaries, Lt-Gen Chand said.
SIPRI previously ranked India as the world's largest arms importer because its domestic defence manufacturing industry remains curtailed by red tape, a reliance on state-owned defence companies and procurement delays.
Faced with geopolitical threats from Pakistan and China, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has tried to boost domestic defence production with his "Make in India" programme.
Yet Ministry of Defence data released in response to a parliamentary question shows that procurement from Indian vendors has declined since 2014 - when Mr Modi came to power - while procurement from foreign vendors increased slightly.
Overall equipment procurement also dipped, the data shows.