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.