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NEW DELHI: India needs to go in for leaner, meaner and integrated armed forces, with drastic slashing of non-operational flab and proper inter-service prioritisation of arms procurement, in the backdrop of the government being unable to hike the defence budget in any substantial way year after year.
This is the view of an influential section of the country’s security establishment after the defence outlay last week was pegged at Rs 2.95 lakh crore, representing just a nominal 7.81% hike over the 2017-18 allocation, despite heightened tensions with China and Pakistan.
“There is simply not enough money for defence in face of competing demands for health, education, infrastructure and other civilian needs in the country. The armed forces need to take a call on integration and reducing manpower due to the ballooning revenue expenditure,” said a top official.
As things stand, the revenue expenditure to pay and maintain the manpower-intensive armed forces at 67.3% of the defence budget by far outstrips the capital one for modernisation at 33.7%. Moreover, 70-80% of the capital outlay every year goes for “committed liabilities or installments” for deals inked earlier, leaving very little for new projects.
This means the Army, Navy and IAF continue to grapple with critical operational gaps on several fronts ranging from fighters, helicopters and submarines to howitzers, minesweepers and modern infantry weapons.
“In the 2018-19 budget estimates, the defence ministry already accounts for 33.1% of the central government’s total capital expenditure pegged at Rs 3,00,441 crore. Then, around 45-48% of the revenue expenditure in the defence outlay goes towards pay and allowances,” said another official.
The urgent need to improve the teeth-to-tail ratio in the armed forces, which collectively have over 14 lakh personnel, is a no brainer. Similar is the need to go in for integrated logistics as well as more tri-Service commands, which would be more cost-effective as well as train the forces for joint land-air-sea operations. The Army and IAF, after all, have seven sprawling commands each, with the Navy having three.
Army officers, in turn, argue that India will continue to need “adequate boots on the ground” for the foreseeable future, given the long unsettled borders with China and Pakistan as well as relentless counter-insurgency operations in the hinterland.
“The 23-lakh strong Chinese People’s Liberation Army has gone in for a 3 lakh troop cut because of its major upgrade of military technologies and weapon systems. Here, in India, we don’t even have new assault rifles or enough bulletproof jackets and ballistic helmets,” said a serving major general. A small beginning, however, is being made with the phased implementation of 65 recommendations of the Shekatkar Committee report, which includes redeployment of around 57,000 posts of officers, soldiers and defence civilians as well as the closure of 39 military farms by December 2019, as was reported by TOI.
The Shekatkar Committee, incidentally, said the government could save up to Rs 25,000 crore for military modernisation if all its force-restructuring recommendations were implemented over the next five years. But much more clearly needs to be done. There is, for instance, the need to make short-service commission more attractive for officers to keep the armed forces young as well as reduce the ballooning pension bill.