Army needs a fine bal­ance

Vayu Aerospace and Defence - - Commentary -

It is not sur­pris­ing to find In­dia among the world’s top five mil­i­tary spenders, given that the coun­try has been grap­pling for some time with the ur­gent re­quire­ment of modernising its armed forces to cope with a chal­leng­ing se­cu­rity en­vi­ron­ment. The Stockholm In­ter­na­tional Peace Re­search In­sti­tute (SIPRI) has placed In­dia be­hind only the US, China, Saudi Arabia and Rus­sia in terms of de­fence spend­ing. In­dia’s mil­i­tary ex­pen­di­ture last year was about $63.9 bil­lion, far less than the spend­ing of the US ($610 bil­lion) and China (an es­ti­mated $228 bil­lion) but more than the spend­ing by coun­tries widely seen as global mil­i­tary pow­ers, such as the UK ($47.2 bil­lion) and France ($57.8 bil­lion).

In­dia faces a short­age of com­bat air­craft. It also needs new war­ships, air­craft car­ri­ers, sub­marines, ar­tillery and a host of equip­ment for the army. How­ever, mil­i­tary hard­ware is not bought off the shelf. It is built and sup­plied over sev­eral years, and pay­ments too are made over an ex­tended pe­riod. There­fore, as In­dia in­ducts more new equip­ment, the out­lay for cap­i­tal ex­pen­di­ture should in­crease over the com­ing years. This will also re­quire sus­tained growth of the GDP so that ad­e­quate funds can be set aside for big ticket de­fence deals. In fact, the de­fence bud­get to GDP ra­tio for 2018-19 is 1.49%, the se­cond low­est since 1950, while most ex­perts be­lieve it should be around the 3% mark.

Re­ports on de­fence spend­ing such as the one by SIPRI do not al­ways present the com­plete pic­ture. For in­stance, a chunk of In­dia’s de­fence bud­get goes to­wards the salaries of around 1.4 mil­lion serv­ing per­son­nel and pen­sions for some two mil­lion vet­er­ans. In 2017, 67% of the de­fence bud­get went to­wards these heads and only 33% was spent on new ac­qui­si­tions of hard­ware. There is a need for a health­ier ra­tio here, which can be achieved by in­creas­ing the out­lay for cap­i­tal ex­pen­di­ture. It may be im­per­a­tive for the gov­ern­ment to hike the al­lo­ca­tion for cap­i­tal ex­pen­di­ture if it wishes to go ahead with the speedy ac­qui­si­tion of new plat­forms such as Preda­tor drones from the US. This is all the more nec­es­sary to keep the mil­i­tary pre­pared for all even­tu­al­i­ties, es­pe­cially chal­lenges from China and Pak­istan.

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