Why India’s war fighter is wor­ried

Mail Today - - COMMENT - By Man­mo­han Ba­hadur

EX­PEN­DI­TURE on de­fence has no ma­te­rial re­turn, other than an ethe­real one of be­ing safe, felt by a na­tion’s cit­i­zens. To a per­son tasked with de­fend­ing his/her na­tion, the per­cent­age ex­pend of GDP on de­fence is just a num­ber that starts at­tract­ing his at­ten­tion in Fe­bru­ary each year; but to a war fighter, it just does not count as long as he has a gun, an air­craft or a ship to take the bat­tle to the ad­ver­sary and am­mu­ni­tion to fire at him.

Chicken feed

If he does not have these two, then he starts won­der­ing why, and wor­ry­ing where and when he would get them to dis­charge his duty. The al­lo­ca­tion of only 1.58 per cent of GDP this year has drawn a lot of com­ment; while most have felt that it is in­suf­fi­cient, there are some who feel that adding de­fence pen­sions to the al­lo­ca­tion hikes it to 2.2 per cent, and that this is the fig­ure that should be con­sid­ered as the gov­ern­ment’s com­mit­ment; sub­sumed in this ar­gu­ment is the un­stated mes­sage that this is what other coun­tries spend too, and hence “why the clam­our amongst the uni­formed com­mu­nity?”

The fact is that India’s war fighter is wor­ried! It is true that India does not have a pub­lished Na­tional Se­cu­rity Strat­egy from which should flow the Na­tional De­fence Strat­egy; but this does not mean that the Ser­vices are buy­ing their equip­ment on whims and fan­cies! They draw up equip­ment pro­cure­ment plans based on a se­cu­rity as­sess­ment given to them by the Rak­sha Mantri in his Op Di­rec­tive to the three Chiefs. Each Ser­vice makes its 15-year long term pro­cure­ment plan and HQ in­te­grated de­fence staff con­sol­i­dates the three into a long term in­te­grated pro­cure­ment plan. That this ‘con­sol­i­da­tion’ should ac­tu­ally be done af­ter due pri­ori­ti­sa­tion of the de­mands of the three Ser­vices, based on how the three Ser­vices are to fight a fu­ture war in a joint man­ner, is still work in progress – and an area that needs closer scru­tiny. But com­par­ing India’s de­fence al­lo­ca­tions to other na­tions’ is not cor­rect as the se­cu­rity sce­nario faced by each is dif­fer­ent, as also the source of de­fence pro­cure­ments— from indige­nous in­dus­try and/or im­ports.

Pay­ing pen­sions is a sov­er­eign re­spon­si­bil­ity, and will con­tinue to rise. Since there is no way out of this, the fig­ure that mat­ters for keep­ing the forces equipped for war is very much the 1.58 per cent one (one with­out pen­sions). With al­lo­ca­tions stag­nat­ing around this num­ber in the past few bud­gets, the amount left for new cap­i­tal pro­cure­ments is chicken feed.

Ad hoc pur­chases

This year, only `93,982 crores have been made avail­able for the three Ser­vices to­gether; leav­ing aside the com­mit­ted li­a­bil­i­ties (which have to be con­trac­tu­ally paid for on­go­ing schemes), a minis­cule six to seven odd thou­sand crores would only be avail­able. This fig­ure does not buy much, what with ur­gent re­quire­ments of fighter air­craft (to ar­rest de­plet­ing squadron strength) and air de­fence sys­tems for the Air Force, ar­tillery guns and tanks for the Army and ships and sub­marines for the Navy cry­ing out for pur­chase.

The sit­u­a­tion is reach­ing a crit­i­cal point and ad hoc emer­gency pur­chases, as were re­sorted to af­ter the Uri at­tack may hap­pen again af­ter the Jammu killings), are no panacea for the de­ple­tions in ca­pa­bil­ity and ca­pac­ity. One writer has sug­gested look­ing at other ‘op­tions,’ like re-vis­it­ing the No First Use pol­icy! This is just in­dica­tive of the in­com­plete un­der­stand­ing of mat­ters mil­i­tary; nu­clear weapons are only for de­ter­rence and not for war fight­ing— and they cer­tainly don’t come cheap by any yard­stick! Some feel that band­wag­o­ning with the US in a for­mal mil­i­tary al­liance would re­duce mil­i­tary ex­pen­di­ture! Let there be no doubt India would still be re­spon­si­ble for its se­cu­rity as no other coun­try will do the fight­ing for us, and for this 1.58 per cent will not get us much.

Cheaper deal

So, what are the op­tions con­sid­er­ing that both China and Pak­istan seem to be act­ing in con­cert and our se­cu­rity en­vi­ron­ment is wors­en­ing? The an­swers lie in tweak­ing poli­cies. First, en­able the pri­vate sec­tor — gen­uinely — to en­ter de­fence man­u­fac­tur­ing; for too long have suc­ces­sive govern­ments promised to de­ceive, all to the ad­van­tage of the DPSUs (De­fence Public Sec­tor Un­der­tak­ings). Sec­ond, de­mand ac­count­abil­ity in terms of qual­ity and de­liv­ery times from DPSUs and bring down their man­u­fac­tur­ing costs; it is cheaper to buy a Su-30 from Rus­sia and a Dornier from Ger­many than from HAL! Third, give R&D money into the pri­vate sec­tor as the DRDO has failed to de­liver these past seven decades lead­ing us to where we are. And fi­nally, get pro­fes­sional de­fence ac­qui­si­tion train­ing un­der­way im­me­di­ately or we would con­tinue to me­an­der along our ac­qui­si­tion ways.

Even as steps to in­crease the tooth to tail ra­tio are un­der­way, the sug­gested ac­tions will not change the sit­u­a­tion overnight. A decade or so later, the de­fence al­lo­ca­tion fig­ure would de­liver the prover­bial bang for the buck and not be­come a mat­ter of de­bate, come Fe­bru­ary of ev­ery year.

The au­thor is dis­tin­guished fel­low at Cen­tre for Air Power

Stud­ies, New Delhi

Bud­get for weapons is not much.

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