Rising Dragon, Slumbering Elephant: Chinese and Indian Defense Planning


Tihar Jail
Oct 2, 2009
NEW DELHI -- Recently, both China and India increased their official defense budgets for fiscal year 2010, to $78 billion and $32 billion, respectively (although according to Western observers, China's actual military spending is up to three times the official figures). In doing so, Beijing raised its defense allocation by 7.5 percent, and New Delhi by just under 4 percent.

Besides the differences in absolute budget and percentage growth, the two countries also demonstrate contrasting approaches to achieving their overall military objectives. For China, defense spending is a means toward achieving long-term power ambitions and military supremacy, while India is caught in an exercise of resource allocation, devoid of long-term goals. The result, visible in the two countries' military capabilities, is distinctly favorable to China.

Before this year, China's official defense spending witnessed double-digit growth for the last 20 years. The sustained increase in spending was calibrated to support Beijing's strategy of achieving Comprehensive National Power (CNP), which includes both soft and hard power. As Beijing's biennial defense White Paper shows, spending grew at an annual average of 14.5 percent between 1988 and 1997. Allocations during this period were meant to "make up for the inadequacy of defense development" that existed in earlier years, when defense spending was subordinated to economic development. Once the initial deficiency was addressed, China then stepped up its spending by an annual average of 15.9 percent per year for the next 10 years to 2007, and by nearly 18 percent in both 2008 and 2009. Much of the post-1997 allocation was directed to achieving mastery of network-centric and precision-guided modern warfare, paying close attention to lessons learned from the overwhelming U.S. military supremacy in the first Gulf War.

Chinese defense spending is noteworthy in that investments in capabilities have gone hand in hand with organizational and doctrinal reforms in the People's Liberation Army, increased sophistication of the domestic defense industry, and special emphasis on research and development (R&D). At no point did China let money become a constraint on its modernization and reform drives. For instance, when the global financial crisis spread to the Chinese defense industry, Beijing quickly responded by infusing it with a $60 billion stimulus package.

The decades-long effort has paid rich dividends for China, in terms of enhanced military capability with a reach beyond its immediate neighborhood. As the U.S. Defense Department's 2009 annual report, "Military Power of the People's Republic of China," states, the combined investments and reforms over the years have resulted in military capabilities "that are changing regional military balances . . . with implications beyond the Asia-Pacific region." The deployment of advanced weaponry, such as indigenously designed and built nuclear-powered submarines, and the successful tests of an anti-satellite (ASAT) weapon and anti-ballistic missile capability are a few telling examples of Beijing's efforts.

By contrast, there is hardly a consistent pattern in India's defense spending over the last two decades. In some years, the defense budget registered growth of as high as 34 percent, and in others, as low as half a percent. This lack of linear growth in defense expenditures is indicative of deficiencies in the existing planning process. While China produces a biennial defense white paper delineating its national security objectives, India undertakes no such exercise. In its absence, India's armed forces are left to compile their own wish-lists into short-, medium- and long-term planning documents. However, these documents are often contested due to lack of rigor, inter-service competition over priorities, or the absence of linkage to self-reliance and national security goals. As a result, they are seldom approved by higher political authorities. The annual defense budget that emerges from such a process is ultimately decided by the availability of resources, competing demands from other ministries, and broader fiscal conditions, with scant regard to the country's long-term military requirements.

The absence of a long-term vision for strategic planning is perhaps most visible in India's lack of progress in its indigenous defense industry, a key component of New Delhi's -- or, for that matter, any country's -- cherished hard power. It is noteworthy that India long ago announced a goal of progressively enhancing its self-reliance in defense production to 70 percent by 2005. But today, it still struggles to reach from 30 percent to 35 percent. As a consequence, the country is paying nearly $5 billion to $6 billion per year to foreign suppliers, who are quite happy to profit at the cost of the indigenous Indian defense industry's progress.

Both China and India exercise overwhelming state control over their defense enterprises, but here again the contrast is revealing. Beijing has tried to infuse greater competitiveness in its industry by focusing on fundamental reforms, based on the "Four Mechanisms" of competition, evaluation, supervision, and encouragement. Meanwhile, India continues to subsidize the inefficiencies of its public-sector production and R&D entities, with reform measures recommended by various committees -- most notably the Kelkar Committee of 2005 -- pursued in neither letter nor spirit. Private sector contractors, who were allowed to participate in defense production beginning in 2001, continue to be discriminated against by the Defense Ministry compared to their state-owned counterparts, under cover of secrecy and protectionism.

Given the above sorry state of affairs, it is not surprising that, despite having established its first armament factory two centuries ago, India cannot claim a single company worth mentioning among the globally ranked industry leaders. It is also not surprising that while China today boasts of flying its own fighter aircraft, New Delhi is busy test-flying planes produced by six other non-Indian companies in a desperate bid to bridge the capability gap with its northern neighbor. In light of China's fast progress in expanding its military capability, New Delhi's desperation is only likely to grow more acute if it doesn't get its act together.



Senior Member
Feb 23, 2009
A few points worth considering:

  • We are not aware of the inefficiencies of China's military procurement plans given the asynchrony of information. On the other hand, judging from historical programs, they do exist and are manifold.
  • Western countries, particularly the U.S. with its Congressional procedures and deliberative imperatives, are liable to heighten the China threat because of sanctions and funding for military programmes. Rome, in the essence, was not Rome without the Barbarians. To what degree that threat may be heightened is clearly speculative, but obvious motive for it exists.
  • India's inefficiencies are easy to parade because of the profusion of un-muted media. Sometimes, as I have demonstrated in this thread, those expurgations are even concocted.
  • India's defense budget increases are smaller than their Chinese counterparts, simply because India cannot afford such increases at its present stage of development, in comparison to it's Chinese counterparts.
  • With greater progress and development, and the recent exacerbation of the Taiwan issue, as well as an increased acceptance of China's improved standing in the world, I believe the percentage of the disclosed budget relative to the cumulative (hidden + unhidden) defense budget is set to have increased.
  • One of the points made in the margins of this year's NPC session, with the 17.5% increase in the military budget, was the inadequacy of China’s fleet of civilian helicopters. Feng Peide, a member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, said that China should acquire 100 helicopters every year for its air emergency rescue system during the Twelfth Five-Year Plan (2011-2015). Feng, who is a member also of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Committee, said that helicopters have obvious advantages in rescue, transportation and detection, which played a pivotal role during the rescue work after the Sichuan earthquake. Whereas the U.S. has 15,000 civil helicopters, he claimed that by the end of 2008, China had only 300 helicopters. China has a vast land area, with a long coastline and is one country that periodically suffers the brunt of the world's natural disasters. Given the goal of expanding the civilian helicopter fleet significantly, and that China's military spending encompasses spending on civilian search & rescue rotorcraft, that may be one factor in the larger increase in the defense budget.
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Senior Member
Feb 23, 2009
India's Crippled Arms Purchase Spree

Thursday, 25 March 2010

*Sleaze, bureaucracy and other problems hobble Delhi's ambitious defense plans

Although arms monitors have been raising alarms about the buildup between India and Pakistan in South Asia and the push for strategic dominance in the Indian Ocean between India and China, the fact is that India's defense procurement and modernization plans are infamously slow, mired in red tape, corruption and lack of long-term strategic planning and teeming with backhanding middlemen.

A new Defense Procurement Policy came into effect last November that aims to bring transparency and probity into arms purchases, envisaging an enhanced role for independent monitors to inspect complaints relating to violations of the Integrity Pact. Federal defense minister AK Antony has said a review of the procurement policy "aims at promoting and facilitating Indian industry and transparency and integrity in defense acquisitions."

Indeed, reluctance for battle by an ill-prepared army may have been the reason India didn't retaliate against Pakistan in the aftermath of devastating attacks in November 2008 by terrorist commandoes in Mumbai that killed 195 people, officials say privately. India chose not to strike Pakistan, they say, because military leaders warned any battle could embarrass Indian forces given the "state-of-the-art" arsenal supplied to Islamabad by China and the US.

Pakistan, a former Cold War ally of America and now partner in its war against terror, has continued to receive military aid including "state-of-the-art" F-16 fighters. Pakistan also gets assistance from China, whose current military prowess is far ahead of India's and which is beginning to vie for supremacy in the Indian Ocean, through which critically strategic energy shipment routes run from the Arabian Gulf. In 2006 Pakistan signed import deals over US$5 billion compared to India's US$3.5 billion. China's officially declared defense budget this year is two and a half times India's.

Observers in India say the Mumbai attack, plus events such as the Kargil incursion in 1999 during which the country nearly went to war with Pakistan, have only heightened India's quest to stockpile arms, mostly from abroad. Kargill 1999, officials say, was a threshold year in terms of arms acquisitions as the prospect of an all-out conflict with Pakistan nearly became a reality.

The officials say that in the decade that has followed, deal value (from domestic state-owned armament companies and abroad) has exceeded US$50 billion, with every sign of such momentum continuing over the next decade. The purchases include jet fighters, warships, submarines, radars, tanks, missiles, weapon systems and platforms, mostly from France, Russia, Israel and America over the last couple of years.

But a discouraging example of the problems is the country's unsuccessful quest to procure aircraft carriers internationally or build indigenous ones. Delays have meant that India's sole, elderly aircraft carrier INS Viraat, built for the British Royal Navy as HMS Hermes in 1959 and transferred to India in 1987, and which was to have been junked by now, has had to be refitted to operate for five more years, by which time India hopes to get more carriers.

Earlier this month, the government's security committee finally approved a US$2.3 billion outlay after months of delay for another elderly aircraft carrier, the 28-year-old Russian Navy's Admiral Gorshkov, which was launched in 1982. It is being renamed the INS Vikramaditya and being retrofitted to go into Indian service in 2012. The retrofit was originally to cost US$750 million but has ballooned by another US$1.5 billion. The ship was out of commission for more than a year after a boiler room explosion in 1994.

Four to seven of the navy's 16 conventional submarines are to be retired by 2012 while the Indians await delivery of six Scorpene-class subs being built domestically. The first, originally due to be delivered in 2012, was minorly delayed by a series of problems. In addition, one of two Akula-II class subs on a 10-year lease from the Russians was delayed when India demanded further trials after an accident aboard the first, INS Chakra due last September, killed 20 crewmen.

While these procurement problems continue to delay the country's arms buildup, a never-ending stream of scandals continues to unspool from the military itself, including action taken in December against 41 officers who allegedly sold service weapons on the black market. In January, it was announced that four of the country's highest-ranking generals, including Lt. Gen. Avadesh Prasad, one of the country's eight highest-ranking military advisors, faced an official probe into the sale of a 30-hectare plot of Army-owned land to a builder at what was called a "throwaway price" in the Himalayan resort city of Darjeeling.

The scandal, according to Agence-France Press, "has shaken public faith in the country's massive military at a time when unprecedented sums are being spent on modernizing the armed forces." More than 7,000 courts-martial were initiated against military officials between 2000 and 2006, according to AFP, a number of them relating to what it called financial 'skullduggery'. As Asia Sentinel reported last June, India blacklisted seven military providers from Singapore and Israel in the wake of a bribery scandal. The blacklist stopped the acquisition of more than US$1 billion in modern artillery from the Singapore government-owned Singapore Technologies.

Nonetheless, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri), a respected monitor of the annual US$30 billion international arms trade, in all likelihood India will ascend to the top of next year's five-year rolling spending average, as China is building more of its own arms instead of buying overseas. India's defense modernization is mostly import-driven as the domestic armament industry remains in a state of retarded infancy, as can be seen by delays in the Scorpene subs.

India is also in the middle of a definitive turn away from Russia as its longtime supplier to other countries such as Israel and the US, although India and Russia continue to maintain about 200 joint projects including the transfer of technology for the licensed assembly of T-90 tanks in India, the production of BrahMos missiles and the purchase of Smerch multiple-launch rocket systems. The US, presently India's sixth-biggest arms supplier, will likely ascend to the top three with Israel and Russia in the next couple of years, officials say.

Indeed, the ground is being set for more major acquisitions. India's defense budget (2009-10) rose by 34 percent in the last year to US$30 billion, while officials say defense modernization expenditure should easily reach over US$100 billion between 2000 and 2020. Over US$10 billion has been set aside by the government for net capital expenditure for this fiscal year (2009-10), clearly indicating the impact of the Mumbai attacks.

Other acquisitions in the offing include the US$12 billion deal to buy 126 multi-role combat aircraft (MRCAs). Six global aerospace companies, Lockheed Martin, Boeing (American), Dassault's Rafale (French), Gripen (Sweden), MiG (Russian) and Eurofighter Typhoon (a consortium of British, German, Italian and Spanish companies), are bidding.

Other future purchases include a US$7 billion project for more new-generation submarines, US$4.5 billion artillery modernization program and US$4.5 billion to acquire 800 military and high utility helicopters. The big question is now much the billions of dollars in acquisitions will actually enhance the country's defense system, and how much money will go into the pockets of top military officials and politicians.

Siddharth Srivastava is a New Delhi-based journalist. He can be reached at [email protected]


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