India's Military Buildup
China's new aircraft carrier -- actually just a refitted Gorbachev-era Soviet model purchased for $20 million from the Russians -- made international headlines when it began sea trials this year, signaling Beijing's growing military ambitions in East Asia. But it isn't the only Asian giant investing heavily in new military hardware. India has kept pace with its neighbor to the north and, in some areas, is actually exceeding it -- a development that, though much less noted, is a sign of the growing militarization of the region as a new generation of emerging powers with global ambitions jockeys for regional supremacy.
India is now the world's largest weapons importer, according to a 2011 report by arms watchdog SIPRI, accounting for 9 percent of the world's international arms transfers -- most from Russia -- between 2006 and 2010. India will spend an estimated $80 billion on military modernization programs by 2015, according to an estimate from the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.
In particular, India is focusing on sea power, a crucial new area of competition. The country is planning to spend almost $45 billion over the next 20 years on 103 new warships, including destroyers and nuclear submarines. By comparison, China's investment over the same period is projected to be around $25 billion for 135 vessels, according to data on both countries from maritime analysis firm AMI International.
On top of long-running tensions with Pakistan and festering insurgencies by Kashmiri separatists and Maoist rebels, India's military planners are increasingly concerned about the prospect of military hostilities with China -- hence the new focus on naval power. For now, the United States seems much more comfortable with India's military ambitions than China's. The Pentagon's 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review welcomed "a more influential role in global affairs" for India, including in the Indian Ocean region. But there are some troubling signs that the area might not be big enough for two rising superpowers.
In August, an unidentified Chinese warship confronted an Indian amphibious assault ship near the coast of Vietnam and demanded that it explain its presence in Chinese waters (the encounter took place in a disputed part of the South China Sea claimed by Vietnam). Thankfully, the situation resulted in nothing more than some testy public statements from officials in all three countries, but it was yet another sign of an increasingly militarized Asian seascape.
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