Having wasted the first budget opportunity in 2014 after BJP assumed power by staying with what may be called a continuation budget, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley did a better job the second time around. He was particularly realistic in increasing the defence allocations so marginally to Rs 2,46,727 crores (from Rs 2,29,000 crores), i.e., by a mere 7-odd % as to barely take care of inflation. Indeed, going by past patterns — inflation plus 5%-7% is the norm. Indeed, Jaitley, pointedly increased the defence capital budget not at all — staying locked in virtually at last year’s level of Rs 94,588 crores (up by a measly Rs 0.5 crores to round out the figure!). In effect, it leaves little money for the kind of procurements programmes the military has lined up. In this situation there’s a critical necessity for a high-level mechanism to determine the armed forces acquisition priorities inter se, which need I first articulated in my classified report as adviser, defence expenditure, to the 10th Finance Commission in 1995 and have been publicly iterating for the last exactly 20 years, around budget time!! With each service believing it cannot do without every last item on its wish list and always holding out the dire consequences for national security if it is not realized in full, it ends up as an unending farce.
In the circumstances, what exactly should the defence spending inter se priorities be? The principle for service-wise allocation should be urgently to meet the requirements for the China front — (1) light, air transportable, howitzers for mountain use, (2) C3 and data fusion in a nationally networked grid for the army and air force entities — tactically-deployed forward units, brigade and Division HQrs, and theatre commands to plug into, (3) accelerated equipping and positioning of the mountain strike corps for offensive ops on the Tibetan plateau, (4) 192-strong force of light utility helicopters, (5) raising of two additional Brahmos-II land cruise missile regiments, and (6) speedy augmentation of the Su-30MKI force (by ditching the Rafale for once and for all) and its massed deployment for use on the elongated front from Aksai Chin to Arunachal. These priorities to proceed along with the build-up of the nuclear and conventional submarine strength, in the main. But if past is guide, these will not be the priorities and the defence rupee will be squandered.