Few more $ for defence but will it be spent wisely?

The first budget of the Modi Govt has been greeted with a chorus of “more of the same”. The military’s hope that aweing the PM and Arun Jaitley, finance minister-cum-defence minister, with ear-splitting shows of deck-level fly-by’s of MiG-29Ks on the carrier, Vikramaditya, and the like would fetch the armed forces much enhanced budgetary allocations last seen in the first years of the Rajiv Gandhi term, has been belied. The defence spend of Rs 2.29 lakh crores, a 12% increase (of inflation + a nominal spike) over the previous year’s allocation — is a normal annual occurrence. An additional Rs 5,000 crore has been earmarked for defence capital expenditure, enabling it to touch Rs 94,588 crores. But this will still require the Govt to make hard choices about what military acquisition deals to approve.

Hopefully, it will adopt a forward-looking metric to make its judgement. In line with the dawning recognition that Pakistan is a minor threat compared to China, any plains warfare-related programme should automatically be de-rated, including funding of mobile, tank-chassis-mounted, longrange artillery and, in the case of IAF, the Rafale MMRCA — an aircraft requirement entirely extraneous to the actual need of the country at this or any other time. This last should begin the rationalization of the force structure that presently boasts of 27 types of aircraft in the inventory and a perpetual logistics nightmare in operations.

Sensitivity to national security translates into pell-mell funding of whatever programmes the armed services pitch for. This needs desperately to change. Wise acquisition choices will necessitate the Modi regime to show guts and say NO to the military, which few govts have had the gumption to do.

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
This entry was posted in Asian geopolitics, civil-military relations, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian democracy, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Navy, Indian Politics, Military Acquisitions, Pakistan, Pakistan military, society, South Asia, Weapons. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Few more $ for defence but will it be spent wisely?

  1. RV says:

    Mr. Karnad, WRT to your statement that there is a “dawning recognition” that Pakistan is a minor threat to India as compared to China, and thus all plains fighting acquisitions should be de-rated accordingly. You are certainly aware of the drastic force depletion of the Indian forces, the spiraling costs of imported weapons (whose quality often differs from that advertised in brochures), the inability of DRDO to fulfill the requirements of the Indian armed forces, the unwillingness of the Indian armed forces to accept even the few quality weapons that DRDO is capable of producing, and the hopeless inability of the Indian private sector to step up to fill in the yawning gap,

    During this time, Pakistan has been keeping its force levels relatively steady and in some cases (say, submarines) has achieved greater levels, thereby gradually narrowing any gap with India. Given the above facts, is this “relatively minor threat” which in your opinion Pakistan poses to be neglected and/or overlooked? Have you factored in the possibility that any plains fighting acquisitions by India may well be replacement/building up of capabilities most people think/hope/dream exist, but actually which do not! Further, have you factored in the reality that many plains fighting assets could also be used in other theaters?

    What India needs is to play smart and acquire as many multi-theater weapon systems as possible. This endless and useless talk of “Transfer of Technology” needs to be stopped. There is no such thing as ToT. In essence, ToT requires that the brains and years of experience of foreign scientists be magically encapsulated and handed over to Indians. Likewise FDI in defense is not a magic bullet. it is essentially licence production – nothing more and nothing else! For example China did not require FDI in defense to learn how to manufacture. Note that this is not a negative vote against FDI, but just a reality check. India needs to master the “art” of reverse engineering” and cloning. This is a very tricky affair which requires a number of issues (technical, political/diplomatic, ;legal,…) to be taken into account, but it is certainly doable.

    Finally, many people have “wisely suggested” shutting down the DRDO. This would be one of the most foolish act India (historically a serial committer of foolish acts) could ever think of doing. Instead, DRDO should be internally corporatized. Are people aware of the level of infrastructure that has been spent and achieved in building up the DRDO labs? Is the Indian private sector capable of even comprehending the nature of such infrastructure, let alone use them and further develop them? THE ANSWER IS A RESOUNDING NO!!! The pay of the DRDO scientists should be drastically increased, and strict accountability be enforced.

    If developed countries can allow small 10-20 person companies made up of specialists to take part in critical aspects of the design process of aircraft, missiles, etc… at the very fundamental physics and engineering level and pay them very lucrative sums, then so should/can India. .

    • RV says:

      The last paragraph above should read as:

      “This post ends with the all important issue of small and highly specialized private concerns in the defense production ecosystem. The backbone of many highly sophisticated weapons manufacturers in the developed world (and in some few but growing number of cases, even China) consist of small 5-20 person companies comprising of highly trained specialists.. Such companies are encouraged and permitted to partake in critical aspects of the design process of aircraft, missiles, etc… even at the very fundamental physics, applied physics, and engineering level, and are paid very lucratively. This model should/can be adopted by India ASAP. It will create indigeneous defense IP and capabilities, help to stem the brain drain, and lastly raise the standards of Indian research.”.

  2. RV says:

    Mr. Karnad, could you please shed some light as to how the Rafale is restricted to operations in the plains? Are you trying to say the a/c cannot operate in other theaters, such as mountainous terrain, etc…? If so, do you have any credible and verifiable technical references to back up your claims?

    • I have always referred to Rafale as needless acquisition in the context of the desperate requirement for a more coherent and rational force of only a few combat aircraft types in the inventory for easier logistics and less encumbered maintenance.

      • RV says:

        Undoubtedly, the Rafale is a very fine a/c. However, as an acquisition per se, the Rafale deal at around USD 20 billion + mid-life upgrades + operational costs +… (which would/could triple the costs over the lifetime of the a/c), is pretty grotesque fiscal proposition. This money could be used in: (i) making better use of the SU 30 MKI’s and improve their availability rate, (ii) obtain more Super 30’s, and even adding Mig 29 K’s to the IAF’s inventory. As it was found out after acquisition by the IN, the MiG 29K has more in common with the Su 30’s and MiG 35 than the “plain vanilla” MiG 29, than would meet the eye, and (iii) buy more LCA 1’s (40 is a ludicrous amount)) making its production economically more feasible and in setting up proper assembly line manufacturing facilities, which could then be seamlessly converted to the LCA 2 (whenever it is ready). The above Russian a/c all have commonality with those existing in India’s stables, and the LCA is India’s own. So, the malaise of the number of a/c types in the Indian inventory, which you’ve correctly raised, is not further worsened.

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