Why India’s war fighter is worried
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.
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.
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.