KARACHI,/GUWAHATI: India and Pakistan remained locked in an arms race in 2016 amid mounting diplomatic tensions, border clashes and further hikes in already inflated defense budgets.
The two nuclear-armed neighbors, who continue to be locked in a string of sea-and-land disputes, began and finished the year with several "successful" missile tests.
Taking the lead, Pakistan tested its air-launched cruise missile "Ra'ad" in January, saying it could carry nuclear warheads to a range of over 350 kilometers (over 217 miles), and had a reported payload capacity of 450 kilograms (992 pounds).
It carried out its last missile test, the "indigenously designed and enhanced" Babur cruise missile in December 2016.
In a tit-for-tat response, New Delhi test fired its "most powerful" nuclear-capable missile Agni V with Prime Minister Narendra Modi saying it would add tremendous strength to India's strategic defense.
Arms purchases: India and Pakistan made 17 per cent and 11 per cent increases, respectively, in their defense budgets in the 2015-2016 fiscal year, according to official figures. With over 30 per cent of their populations living below the poverty line, India emerged as the second-largest arms purchaser after Saudi Arabia in the world, according to a latest report by the Washington-based Congressional Research Service (CRS), a public policy research arm of the U.S. Congress.
India was the second-largest arms purchaser from 2008 to 2015 in the developing world, making arms transfer agreements worth $34 billion during these years, according to the report "Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations 2008-2015" released by CRS.
"These increases reflect the military modernization efforts by India, underway since the 1990s. It is notable that India, while the principal Russian arms customer, during recent years has sought to diversify its weapons supplier base, purchasing the Phalcon early a defense system aircraft in 2004 from Israel and numerous items from France in 2005, in particular six Scorpene diesel attack submarines," it said.
According to the report, India purchased six C130J cargo aircraft from the U.S. in 2008. In 2010, the U.K. sold India 57 Hawk jet trainers for $1 billion. In 2010, Italy also sold India 12 AW101 helicopters. In 2011, France secured a $2.4 billion contract with India to upgrade 51 of its Mirage-2000 combat fighters, and the U.S. agreed to sell India 10 C-17 Globemaster III aircraft for $4.1 billion.
Experts believe India had no choice but to buy the weapons.
"Purchase of military hardware remains the biggest drain to the Indian exchequer. But India has no choice because it has to upgrade its weapons systems.
For example, it desperately needs new fighters to replace the ageing MIG-21s. Since efforts to develop indigenous weapons systems have rarely worked, this huge drain on our economy will continue," Subir Bhaumik Bhaumik, a Guwahati-based analyst told Anadolu Agency.
Currently, New Delhi is spending $40 billion a year on defense, while Pakistan has earmarked $7.6 billion for defense expenditures this fiscal year.
India ranked eighth on the list of countries with the largest military expenditures in 2015, while Pakistan's defense budget was five times smaller.
India boasts the world's third-largest army after the U.S. and China, with an active troop-strength of over 1.3 million. Pakistan, meanwhile, stands eighth on the list with a 600,000-man army.
The two hostile neighbors have fought three wars, two of which were over disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir.
India makes almost 70 per cent of its total arms procurements from Russia, which has traditionally been New Delhi's top arms provider.
Pakistan, by comparison, spent nearly $1.5 billion on the import of military hardware in 2015, becoming the world's 10th largest weapons importer.
China represents Pakistan's largest defense partner, followed by the US-Islamabad's ally in the so-called war on terrorism. In July, Pakistan and China signed a multibillion-dollar deal by which Beijing will provide Pakistan's navy with eight submarines.
Islamabad plans to spend $12 billion from 2016 to 2024 on arms purchases, which include main battle tanks, self-propelled howitzers, armored personnel carriers, and light armored vehicles.
Also, Pakistan is scheduled to receive four Mi-35 attack helicopters from Russia for $153 million in 2017.
Nuclear powers: Pakistan and India are among a few select countries with nuclear arsenals. India joined the nuclear club long before Pakistan, in 1974, prompting Islamabad to follow suit. Pakistan silently developed its own nuclear capability in the 1980s, when it was an ally of the US in the first Afghan war against the crumbling Soviet Union.
It did not conduct any nuclear tests, however, until India carried out a series of its own tests in 1999. Only three weeks later, Pakistan conducted six successful tests in the remote Chaghi district near the Afghanistan-Iran border, stoking fears of a nuclear war between the longtime rivals.
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, India currently possesses between 80 and 100 nuclear warheads, while Pakistan holds between 90 and 110.
A number of international think tanks, meanwhile, which blame China for assisting Pakistan's nuclear programme, believe the size of Islamabad's nuclear arsenal will cross the 200-mark within the next five years.
"India will continue to expand its defense expenditures and imports, and Pakistan cannot compete with it in this connection because of the former's much bigger economy," former Lt-Gen Talat Masood, an Islamabad-based defense analyst told Anadolu Agency.
"Therefore, Pakistan has in the past and will do so in future to match the Indian heavy defense expansion through its nuclear capability," Masood said.