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China nears military parity with West; India watchful

world Updated: Feb 15, 2017 09:37 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
China military power

China’s real-term increase in defence spending matched by its militarily technological advances has enabled it to reach near parity with the West in aspects of air power, according to Rahul Roy-Chaudhury, IISS senior fellow.(Reuters File)

China is reaching near-parity with the West in military technology and its progress highlights that western dominance in advanced weapons systems can no longer be taken for granted, an influential London-based think-tank said in a new assessment released on Tuesday.

Beijing’s growing dominance in military technology and its exports to countries that cannot afford western hardware has major implications for New Delhi and its security, London-based sources told Hindustan Times, adding India remained watchful. 

Releasing the annual Military Balance 2017, International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) director John Chipman said the balance of global military spending continued to shift towards Asia, where defence expenditure rose by 5% to 6% from 2012 to 2016, as the total global spending on military fell by 0.4%.

China featured prominently in the launch event of the publication, which, over the decades, has come to be considered one of the most definitive references for state and non-state stakeholders, including policy-makers.

Rahul Roy-Chaudhury, IISS senior fellow, told Hindustan Times: “China’s real-term increase in defence spending matched by its militarily technological advances has enabled it to reach near parity with the West in aspects of air power.

“In contrast, India’s decrease in defence spending in terms of GDP in the absence of a boost in the acquisition or development of advanced military technology results in a widening gap between Indian and Chinese military capabilities.” 

According to him, an activist Trump politico-military policy in the region could provide strategic opportunities amidst potential pitfalls for India’s military diplomacy.

Referring to the September 2016 contract for Rafale jets and the “prolonged and ultimately futile negotiations" over the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft, IISS said that given the existing security concerns related to China and Pakistan, India is likely to quickly acquire an F-16 or F/A-18 derivative to help cover the shortfall.

“Past performance, however, suggests that the IAF still faces a considerable challenge in meeting its mid-2020s target for combat aircraft squadron numbers,” the publication said, noting the “Make in India” policy to strengthen the indigenous defence-industrial base.

However, the assessment cautioned that though the Indian armed forces were capable of internal deployment for stabilisation operations, it was “not clear if they can rapidly mobilise and deploy in strength to either the border with Pakistan or with China”.

It added, “The lack of joint command and control may militate against effective tactical-level inter-service cooperation.”

IISS noted that China had recently introduced into service a short-range missile in a class only a handful of leading aerospace nations are able to develop. Called PL -10, the weapon reflects the sustained and continuing investment in air-launched guided weapons.

"Beijing will almost certainly be able to add increasingly capable air-to-air weapons to its inventory in the next few years. These systems will be close to parity with similar western weapons, while one of China's air-to-air missiles has no western equivalent," the publication noted.