LONDON -- The size of Britain's military budget is set to be surpassed by India's in the next few years, a development that would see the United Kingdom spend less on defense than its former colonial subject, a defense analysis firm said Wednesday.
HIS Jane's said that projections show that Britain — once No. 4 in terms of global military spending — had fallen into fifth place behind Russia this year and is due to slip into sixth place behind in India in 2017.
"The U.K.'s standing is not a strong as the public perceive it to be," Ben Moores, an IHS Jane's analyst, said in a statement. Britain, like many other European nations, has cut defense spending in a bid to deal with burdensome debts even as developing nations boost their military budgets to catch up with Western powers.
The Sun newspaper, Britain's top-selling tabloid, said the figures make a mockery of U.K. leader David Cameron's recent assurances to the military that, "we have the fourth largest budget in the world and we have some of the finest armed forces in the world. While I'm prime minster that is the way it will always stay."
In a statement, Britain's Ministry of Defense disputed some of Jane's figures and described the prediction that India would soon overtake its former imperial master as "baseless speculation."
But independent analysis of budgets, growth forecasts, and inflation figures suggests that Jane's prediction was well founded, according to Samuel Perlo-Freeman, whose Stockholm International Peace Research Institute tracks governments' defense spending.
Perlo-Freeman confirmed that Britain had fallen behind Russia, and said his analysis showed that India's defense budget — now pegged at $46.9 billion compared to the $49.3 billion projected for Britain in 2015-16 — would only have to grow by about 6 percent in nominal dollar terms to overtake that of its former ruler.
"Given that they have projected real GDP growth rates (from the IMF) of 5.7 percent this year, 6.3 percent next year, and 6.6 percent in 2015, this would seem fairly likely," he said in an email.
Inflation, currency fluctuations, and a fall in military spending could all complicate the picture, but Perlo-Freeman said it was still reasonable to assume that the two nations' defense budgets would be neck-and-neck by 2016.
In its statement, the British military insisted it wasn't the size of a nation's defense budget that mattered.
"Ultimately defense spending can only be judged by the quality of the product, not what is suggested in a theoretical league table," it said.