Saturday, March 09, 2013

The New Measuring Stick

India's defense budget is unlikely to match China's modernization effort. Until India can strengthen their economy to get closer to China's defense budget, they'll need better diplomacy to gain allies to distract China's power from the India front.

This analyst is worried about the future India-China balance (tip to Defense Industry Daily):

Despite the long list of obsolescent weapons and equipment in service with the Indian armed forces, the present military gap with China is quantitative rather than qualitative. However, as India’s military modernization has been stagnating for several years, this gap is likely to soon become a qualitative one as well. By about 2020-25, China will complete its military modernization and will then be in a position to dictate terms on the resolution of any territorial dispute if India continues to neglect defense preparedness.

One basic problem is that until recently, India measured their military against Pakistan's threat. India easily matched that threat. Now that India recognizes China as the main threat with their own pivot to face China, the basis of judging sufficiency skyrocketed.

And frankly, corruption and inefficiency in India's domestic arms industry is a luxury that India cannot afford when the main threat is China rather than Pakistan.

Despite that change in measuring stick, the current situation isn't too bad at all, considering China's own defense needs. Once India is measuring their defense needs against China, the calculations get far more complicated and far flung in the variables to be considered.

India needs to pay attention to quality more than quantity despite the author's worries about quantity in addition to the quality trend. I know the Chinese have beefed up their transportation infrastructure on their side of the India-China border, but China's ability to send troops to that remote front can't be that great. How much air power could China base in Tibet and other nearby areas to threaten India? Further, the Chinese navy has a long way to go to secure sea lines of communication across the Indian Ocean. So quality matters more than quantity since China can't put the bulk of their forces into the fighting theaters close to India.

I still say that air power is India's most pressing need.

And until India can afford to match China's military with high quality forces in a quantity that can defeat the limited forces China can send to fight India, India will need better diplomacy to keep the many nations worried about China willing to confront China--and thus tie down Chinese power away from India.

Which means India needs to count on America being strong enough to inspire confidence in those nations that they can count on America to back them. Given India's many constituencies that are suspicious of--if not hostile to--aligning with America, that might be the biggest defense hurdle India must face to match China.

India is right to worry about their own defense quality. In the short run, India is fine. In the long run, India needs sufficient military power to divide China's growing power to make their own defense needs affordable. That requires their own power and America's power to be enough to keep small neighbors of China willing to resist China's growing power.

If either India or America falter, smaller neighbors of China will eventually conform their policies to appease China. Each nation that aligns with China will free up Chinese power and add pressure to other neighbors to similarly cut a deal with China.

And that trend will make the power gap with China more difficult for India and America to close. Keeping that gap from widening will be far cheaper than closing the gap in the future once it appears.

Or we might get lucky, I suppose, and get a China that nobody worries about. If China changes to be a nation that no neighbor worries will dismember them or dominate them in ways that hurt them, neighbors won't worry about the military balance with China.

I know, I know, we're big, bad, and evil in the view of many in the world. But the defense budgets of our only two land neighbors, Mexico and Canada--despite past wars--don't really reflect any worry that America wants to invade them, do they? We're easy to hate because it is really fairly safe to hate us. Good grief, we have trouble getting worked up to concrete actions about North Korean and Iranian threats, let alone contemplating wars against Canada or Mexico. But not everybody is lucky enough to be the neighbor of America. So I don't wonder that India worries about being the neighbor of the China they have rather than the China they'd like to have.