Inadequate Defence Budgets the new normal. Way forward for India-specific challenges: India Budget 2020 military spending expert-view

Updated: February 04, 2020 5:58 PM

Union Budget 2020 India: Allocation of Rs 3.37 Lakh Crores constitutes nearly 1.5 per cent of the projected GDP and the Capital allocations are hardly sufficient to meet the committed liabilities.

budget 2020 india, union budget 2020 india, budget 2020-21, union budget, defence budget, nirmala sitharamanBudget 2020-21: There is thus a need to evolve guiding principles and yardsticks for yearly defence budget allocations.

By Lt Gen Anil Ahuja (Retd)

Budget 2020 India: Yet another budget has been presented by the Finance Minister. What has been allocated for defence, for the Year 2020 – 2021, figures of which are already available, constitutes less than two per cent hike over the Revised Estimates (RE) for the Year 2019-2020. Allocation of Rs 3.37 Lakh Crores constitutes nearly 1.5 per cent of the projected GDP and the Capital allocations are hardly sufficient to meet the committed liabilities. The meagre allocations get `projected better’ by adding defence pension component to overall defence allocations, quite like the NATO and other US allies mark up to justify 2% defence spending!

The clamour about these allocations being inadequate often gets clouded in the counter-dialogue on bloated revenue expenditure of the armed forces due to their manpower heavy structures (particular Army); inadequate integration of services resulting in wasteful expenditure; steeply increasing pension commitments towards veterans and then to the military brass (assumed to be the only beneficiaries of defence budget !) being unmindful of government’s financial constraints.

In fact, this pitch can get shriller this year when GDP growth rates are at 11 years low of 5 per cent! The cycle of perceived inadequacy in defence allocations against expectations pegged conceptually at 2.5 to 3 per cent of the GDP, replays year on year, perhaps now evoking little interest amongst the nation’s intelligentsia.

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The government seeks solace in figures quoted by organisations like the World Bank- placing India as the fourth largest military spending nation in the world or SIPRI branding India as the largest (occasionally second largest) importers of global arms. Equally justified are security planners and the armed forces who lament glaring inadequacies, not only in emerging areas of high technology asymmetric warfare domain but even in the basic state of weapons, munitions and equipment of the three services. It is then quite justified for both sides of this spectrum to ask as to what else are they expected to do?

Just a month back India implemented its biggest reform in the Higher Defence Organisation by appointing a CDS. His charter includes formulating Integrated Capability Development Plan and implementing five-year Defence Capital Acquisition and two years roll-on Annual Acquisition Plans. This would become `mission-impossible’ if the defence budgets continue getting (randomly) `apportioned’ every year, rather than being based on some well-considered perspective of the nature of defence and security structures that the nation aspires to create.

It is well appreciated that the institution of the CDS is still at a nascent stage. It is however important that, at its very outset, an analysis is carried out of the future security challenges that the country is likely to face in the internal, external and asymmetric domain. Our organisational structures to meet these challenges should be carved out by optimising the roles and responsibilities between the Armed forces, Para military forces, Police and other agencies. The overlap and the flab need to be trimmed. Alongside the new structures, a `doctrine’ for combating future challenges needs to be evolved with political guidance.

There would be risks involved in reducing manpower but answers will have to be found by reposing greater faith in technology and by moderating notions of victory, hitherto based solely based on yardsticks of territory and force destruction. A word of caution though! Our disputed land borders and proxy war being waged by Pakistan present peculiar challenges (3289 Ceasefire violations by Pakistan across Line of Control in J&K in 2019 and 1025 transgressions across Line of Actual Control by China during the period 2016 – 2018).

Likewise, there are increasing inroads being made into the Indian Ocean (Presence of PLA Navy submarine in Indian EEZ near Andaman & Nicobar Islands in September 2019, Chinese research vessels and hundreds of fishing boats operating in the Indian Ocean Region). These challenges need to be met in the conventional domain, without sacrificing preparations for the `leap forward’. It is this blend of peculiar India-specific challenges that call for an innovative and indigenous solution to capability development within available resources.

There is thus a need to evolve guiding principles and yardsticks for yearly defence budget allocations. This would entail a critical review of long outstanding AONs (Necessity accepted by the Defence Acquisition Council but procurements still pending) and pruning them for contemporary relevance. In addition, 10 – 15 years financially supported the perspective plan and assured budget allocations for time-bound prioritised acquisitions would need to be made.

Where necessary, G to G (Government to Government) acquisitions may be resorted to, on strategic considerations, on normal or fast track channels. In such cases, the government should not shy from making supplementary budget allocations. This process could well commence with some long-pending major acquisitions, which have now started progressing on the Strategic Partnership(SP) model. Some process-related lessons could also be drawn from the procedure adopted for the formulation of yearly NDAA (National Defence Authorisation Act) by the US Department of Defence.

Finally, a prudent defence budget manifests well beyond a few additional guns, aircraft, helicopters or ships! Defence acquisitions (trade) impact larger Strategic partnerships with friendly nations; bring defence/ dual use technology, boost indigenous manufacturing and now `assembling in India for the world’ in a big way; attract FDI; promote domestic private sector; integrate MSMEs, start-ups and innovators in global supply chains of arms majors and have the potential to create substantial number of jobs.

For an India with growing geopolitical and economics stature, enhancing defence budget allocations and reforming processes of multidomain capability development is a security imperative. In the interim, however, measures need to be adopted to most optimally utilise each Rupee that is allotted. CDS would do well to take this on, together with North Block!

(The author is Army Veteran. Views expressed are personal).

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