A marginal increment in the defence budget barely accounts for inflation, without assisting address the glaring imbalance between cutting-edge weaponry and old equipment in the Indian armed forces, senior military officers have told the parliamentary standing committee on defense.
A modern military should typically have 30% of its weaponry and equipment in the state-of-the-art technology category, 40% in present category and 30% in vintage category. But the over 12-lakh strong Indian Army is confronting with an alarming 8% (state-of-the-art), 24% (current) and 68% (vintage) weaponry mix while it’s engaged in daily cross-border firing duels with Pakistan and heightened tensions with China since the Doklam stand-off last year. The Army feels a two-front war scenario is a clear and present danger.
“The 2018-2019 budget has dashed our hopes … The marginal increment barely accounts for inflation and does not even cater for taxes,” Army vice-chief Lt-General Sarath Chand told the parliamentary committee on defence.
Allocated just Rs 21,338 crore for modernisation, the Army simply does not have enough money to pay instalments worth Rs 29,033 crore for 125 ongoing schemes and deals inked earlier as well as emergency procurements of ammunition made in the aftermath of the Uri terror attack and “surgical strikes” in 2016 to ensure reserves for 10 days of “intensive war-fighting”.
Similar is the case with road and infrastructure development along the China border, among other things. “We, in the Army, also identified as many as 25 projects for the `Make in India’ policy. However, there is no adequate budget to support this. As a result, many of these may end up foreclosed,” said Lt-Gen Chand.
Top officers of IAF, Navy and Coast Guard also sounded similar alarms, leading the committee to slam the government for starving the armed forces of requisite funds for both modernization and day-to-day operational sustenance.
“We are aghast to note this dismal scenario where the representatives of the Services have themselves frankly explained the negative repercussions on our defence preparedness due to inadequate fund allocations,” said the committee, chaired by BJP leader Major General B C Khanduri, in a series of reports tabled in Parliament on Tuesday.
The picture is indeed grim, with even defence secretary Sanjay Mitra admitting before the committee that the finance ministry “is not supporting the defence ministry as per its requirements”. The “net” defence budget for 2018-2019 at Rs 2.79 lakh crore works out to just 1.49% of the GDP, the lowest such figure since the 1962 war with China.
The Army, for instance, has got just 60% of its projected requirement under the capital head for modernisation and new weapon systems. The Navy and IAF, in turn, got 56% and 46%. The capital outlay shortfall is Rs 17,757 crore for Army, Rs 15,692 crore for Navy and Rs 41,925 crore for IAF.
The allocated funds are not enough to even pay for “committed liabilities or instalments” of earlier arms contracts, leaving virtually nothing for new modernisation projects. The story was similar under the revenue head for day-to-day operating costs, which in any case dwarfs the capital outlay in a skewed 67:37 ratio due to a ballooning salary bill.
Similarly, taking note of the “unsympathetic attitude” towards naval modernisation, the committee said, “A budget deficit of nearly 40% will indeed have a cascading impact on the operational preparedness and technological up-gradation of the Navy.”
Despite being the world’s largest arms importer, India does not get enough bang for its buck in the absence of concrete long-term planning to systematically build military capabilities in tune with its geopolitical objectives. Consequently, the Army has critical gaps in artillery guns, infantry weapons, light helicopters, night-fighting abilities and the like. While the IAF does not have enough fighters, mid-air refuellers, AWACS and drones, the Navy is grappling with the lack of adequate number of submarines, multi-role helicopters and minesweepers.