NEW DELHI: India remains ahead of Russia and the United Kingdom as the third largest military spender in the world, but far behind China that spends four times and the United States, which spends 10 times its defence budget.
The total global military expenditure rose to $2,113 billion in 2021, surpassing the two-trillion-USD mark for the first time despite the economic shocks of the Covid-19 pandemic, as per the latest data released by global think-tank Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) on Monday.
The five largest spenders were the US ($801 billion), which accounted for 38% of the world military spending, China (estimated $293 billion), India ($77 billion), the UK ($68 billion) and Russia ($66 billion). Pakistan was placed at the 23 spot with $11 billion.
While China’s actual military expenditure remains shrouded in secrecy, SIPRI noted it has steadily grown for 27 consecutive years, the longest uninterrupted sequence of hikes by any country in its database.
“India’s spending was up by 0.9% from 2020 and by 33% from 2012. Amid ongoing tensions and border disputes with China and Pakistan that occasionally spill over into armed clashes, India has prioritised the modernisation of its armed forces and self-reliance in arms production,” said SIPRI.
While SIPRI does not go into details, India certainly does not get the requisite bang for its buck. The country’s military modernisation continues to be hampered by a ballooning revenue expenditure for day-to-day running costs and salaries for the 15-lakh strong armed forces as well as a massive pension bill.
India’s Rs 5.2 lakh crore defence budget for 2022-2023, for instance, includes the huge Rs 1.2 lakh crore pension bill for the over 33 lakh retired military and defence civilians. Moreover, the Rs 2.3 lakh crore revenue expenditure dwarfs the Rs 1.5 lakh crore capital allocation for overall modernisation and new weapon systems.
Then, the lack of concrete long-term plans to systematically build military capabilities with proper inter-service prioritisation as well as the weak domestic defence industrial base compounds the problem.
Consequently, the armed forces continue to grapple with critical shortages on several fronts, ranging from fighters, submarines and helicopters to drones, anti-tank guided missiles and night-fighting capabilities.
The two-year-long military confrontation with China in eastern Ladakh, as with other border crises in the past, has led to a flurry of emergency procurements by the Army, Navy and IAF from abroad.
The government has taken some steps to get India out of its strategically vulnerable position as the world’s largest arms importer, accounting for 11% of the global weapons imports, but they are yet to take off in any substantial manner.
There is also the need for the 12-lakh strong Army to slash its non-operational flab for a better teeth-to-tail ratio, though the requirement for adequate `boots on the ground’ will continue for the two long unresolved borders with China and Pakistan. Genuine integration among the three services, along with unified theatre commands, also remains a work in progress.