By Brig SK Chatterji (Retd)
The budget belies all expectations the defence forces could have had. The defence outlay is certainly not in tune with a country that’s supposed to be marching forward to be a five trillion dollar economy by 2024-25. Growth and security of a nation are synonymous functions of the state. Given the variables, there is no mathematical modelling possible that can actually predict the economy’s growth in the next few years, yet it can be safely presumed that we will not have the kind of forces required to keep the country, its core values and trade and commerce across the seas safe and secure with such defence budgets.
The Rs 3.37 lakh crore defence budget (fewer pensions), a less than six per cent increase as compared to last year, combined with the fact that Rs 2.18 lakh crore has been earmarked for Revenue expenditures, leaves barely an increase of Rs 10,306 crore for capital acquisitions as compared to last year. The Capital expenditure will include payments for acquisition projects already in the pipeline. It will barely leave any amount for new acquisitions planned. We have ambitious plans of inducting 110 fighter aircraft, an entire fleet of helicopters to include the on-going procurement of Chinooks and Apaches, the urgently required Naval Multi-Role Helicopters and replacements of our worn out fleet of Cheetahs and Chetaks. Even the early replacement of the soldier’s basic weapon, the out-dated INSAS rifle, seems to be a difficult proposition. The Navy’s plans of an early start to acquiring six additional submarines under the P75I project will possibly witness further delays.
Under the circumstances, the newly appointed Chief of Defence Staff and the three Service Chiefs have an unenviable task. They have to optimise procurements through joint planning and ensure we get the best bang for every buck. As a long-term measure, revenue expenditure needs particular attention. The most essential long-term measure for reducing the huge pension commitment Rs 1.33 lakh crore remains a parallel transfer of jawans, after attaining pensionable service to the Central Armed and Police forces, and also police forces of states. The army has already planned some manpower cuts. These need a revisit and increase in scope. A huge amount of privatisation of the logistics of the armed forces needs to be pushed. Those that remain, need to be tri-service in their functioning and reduce overall manpower commitments.
The budget is definitely not in tune with the foreign policy outreach that has been the hallmark of PM Modi’s government. Geo-political influence needs to have sound economic and military capabilities in support. Our threat perceptions have not witnessed downward graphics, either. The Pakistani intent and absolute focus on India has only sharpened. The Chinese are in the Indian Ocean more often and in greater numbers. The Chinese string of pearls around India draws greater strength with Gwadar Port on course and their base at Djibouti. In fact, the most disturbing part of the budget is the allotment for the Navy. It’s barely 13 per cent, down from 18 per cent in 2012-13. We need to focus seawards as we strive to our five trillion economy. Along the land borders, we can reasonably assume at least a holding capability, as of now. The Navy has already had to review its plans of 200 warships by 2027.
(The author is Indian Army veteran and Defence and Strategic Affairs Analyst. Views are personal)