By Sajjad Shaukat
While the world is rapidly moving towards the idea of one world as in the cyber age, economic development has replaced the shrewd politics of the past. In these terms, states prefer welfare of their people at the cost of undue defence expenditures. Europe which learnt a drastic lesson from the two world wars, presents an ideal model by integrating the continent through the European Union.
On the other side, despite criticism from various circles that India is not investing more to tackle development issues as millions remain mired in poverty; the Indian government’s unlimited defence purchases are in full swing.
In this regard, on November 2 this year, the United States agreed to sell India the most expensive—the new F-35 fighter jets. In a report to the US Congress, the Pentagon said, “We believe US aircraft such as the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF)…to be the best in the world”, referring to the radar-evading F-35 jet.
The US also promised to provide more information on the JSF and its requirements… to support India’s future planning. India was a vital partner and that Washington wanted to bolster security cooperation with New Delhi.
The US report noted that India is working with Russia on developing a fifth-generation fighter aircraft. The Pentagon touts the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter as the premier fifth-generation fighter equipped with stealth technology, but the program faces rising costs, with a price tag of nearly $150 million each.
In this respect, on November 3, CNN TV channel pointed out, “The Pentagon is portraying India as a major customer for US military arsenal, worth an estimated $6 billion in the past decade, even as U.S. companies are shut out of a multibillion dollar bid for fighter jets that India is starting presently.” It further said, “Recently, India also decided a major purchase of US F-16 and F-18 fighters… is a reminder of the vast sums in play.”
James Hardy, Asia Pacific Editor of Jane’s Defence Weekly stated, “With a potential contract price of US$9 billion to US$14 billion, this is the single biggest competition in the global defence aviation industry.”
It is notable that the Pentagon’s government-to-government program of foreign military sales to India have included C-17 and C-130 aircraft, radar systems, Harpoon weapons and specialised tactical equipments.
India has decided to purchase Northrop Grumman E-2D Advanced Hawkeye—the latest version of the E-2 Hawkeye aircraft which has a powerful and advanced radar system that will increase approximately 300% the range of territory. It will cost 232 million dollars.
However, Indian defence expenditures have no bounds. In the past decade, India has spent billions of dollars on purchases of arms, planes, radars and ships from the US, Russia, Britain, Germany, Israel and France, making it the biggest arms importer in the developing world.
America has emerged as a potential military supplier to India since the two countries signed a deal of civil energy technology in 2008, which lifted sanctions on New Delhi in order to import nuclear technology.
In recent years, India has bought reconnaissance aircraft from US aerospace major Boeing of worth 2.1 billion-dollars, medium range missiles for 1.4 billion dollars from Israeli Aerospace Industries, and signed a contract with the Russian Aircraft Corporation to upgrade its MiG 29 squadrons for 965 million dollars. Several deals are planned for the near future including one of the largest arms contracts of recent times—a 11-billion-dollar project to acquire 126 multi-role combat aircraft.
As regards New Delhi’s purchases from Israel, India’s ‘The Tribune’ wrote, “Tel Aviv “agreed to share its expertise with India in various fields such as surveillance satellites and space exploration.” With the support of Israel, New Delhi has been acquiring an element of strategic depth by setting up logistical bases in the Indian Ocean for its navy.
In February, 2010, Indian Defence Minister A.K. Antony disclosed that India’s defence expenditure which is 2.5 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) is going to increase. Antony explained that our government is committed to rapid modernisation of armed forces.
Nevertheless, over the next 12 years, India is set to spend a whopping US$200 billion on defence acquisitions to replace its outdated inventory. In this respect, on February 15, 2010, a report of the Indian strategic defense magazine (India Strategic’s DefExpo) had pointed out that 70 per cent of the inventory of the Indian armed forces is 20-plus years old, and needs to be replaced with the modern technology. It explained that nearly half of this funding ($100b) will go to the Indian Air Force (IAF), which would need to replace more than half of its combat jet fleet as well as the entire transport aircraft and helicopter fleet. The army needs new guns, tanks, rocket launchers, multi-terrain vehicles, while the navy needs ships, aircraft carriers and new range of nuclear submarines.
Notably, in three years from 1994 to 1997 India’s defence budget was increased from 20 percent to 24.4 percent. For the financial year 2001-2002 defence had been allocated Rs 620,000.00 million. This amount shows an increase of Rs 75,000 million as compared to previous year’s revised estimates of Rs 544,610 million. In 2009, India increased its defense budget by a whopping 28.2 percent or Rs 130,000.00 million. Some experts estimate that military spending will increase further, totaling as much as 200 billion dollars over the period to 2022.
While exposing India’s ambitious defence policy, Washington-based Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) has revealed in its report of April 2011, “India’s defence budget has roughly quadrupled (in real terms) since 2001—reaching $36.3 billion in the 2011–2012 budget—and enabled the implementation of long-term acquisition plans. Of the total defence budget, approximately 40 percent (some $14.5 billion) is allocated to the defence capital outlay budget.”
It is mentionable that India is planning to raise its military budget by 50% to almost $40 billion, making military expenditure 3% of the annual GDP.
Nonetheless, currently, more than half of India’s budget is allocated for armed forces, but its major portion is being expended on defence purchases and debt servicing, which leaves less than half for everything else including infrastructure development projects, education, healthcare, poverty alleviation, and various human services. New Delhi’ s latest arms purchases will leave even less for what India needs most to lift hundreds of millions of its citizens from abject poverty, hunger, illiteracy and disease.
Indian defence analyst Ravinder Pal Singh, while calling New Delhi’s unending defence spending at the cost of poverty-alleviation—with security requirements competing with socio-economic concerns for money calls it guns-versus-butter question.
In this connection, a report of United Nations pointed out that India ranks 134th of 182 countries on the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Index. It estimated that 50 per cent of the world’s undernourished population lives in India. Nearly 31 per cent of the billion-plus Indians earn less than a dollar a day.
Secretary General of the Control Arms Foundation of India Binalakshmi Nepram remarks, “When people are dying of poverty and bad sanitation, what protection will arms provide them?”
Indian civil society organisations, while complaining of excessive defence spending on buying, indicated that the defence budget for 2009-2010 is 29 billion dollars, up 34 percent over the previous one, and rapidly increasing every year because of India’s unending defence imports.
Setting aside regional problems and resolution of Indo-Pak issues-especially thorny dispute of Kashmir, Indian rulers claim that they do not have any aggressive designs. But it becomes a big joke of the 21st century, reminding a maxim, “armed to the teeth, but no enemy”, if we take cognisance of India’s unlimited defence purchases.
Sajjad Shaukat writes on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power: Dangerous Shift in International Relations