(Jaitley with defmin Sitharaman by his side)
India’s defence allocations in the 2018-2019 budget of Rs 2,95,511 crore, saw a meagre increase from Rs 2,74,114 crore last year, with Rs 99,563.86 crore set aside for the capital stream, 80% of which sum will be consumed by “committed liabilities”, meaning to service the procurement contracts already signed for, and Rs 1,95,947.55 crore for revenue expenditure (day-to-day running and payroll costs). (The rocketing pension allocations have a separate budgetary dispensation.) It will have the armed services twirling their collective mustachios in anger. The armed forces had hoped for a bloc commitment of Rs 26.84 lakh crore (in excess of $400 billion) for the next five years to ensure their modernization plans proceeded smoothly rather than fitfully as they are fated to do now.
The 13th Defence Plan had projected, Rs 12,88,654 crore as the capital outlay, and Rs 13,95,271 crore as the revenue spend. Both the defence five-year plans and the 15-year long-term integrated perspective plan are formulated to conform to the defmin’s “operational directives” but, as newspaper reports have noted, like the 10th (2002-07), 11th (2007-12) and 12th (2012-17) Plans, it too is unlikely to be approved by Finance Ministry.
If the armed services have a reason to feel neglected, consider what would happen if their expenditure plans are fully funded. The country will be stuck with a World War 2 vintage order-of-battle — the same old hardware — more tanks, APCs, artillery, air defence guns, tracked guns, etc. , which remains determinedly uncued to changes in the cyber regime, and in the evolution of small lethal drones that can be maneuvered in swarm to take out individual tanks — large unmissable targets, and defeat vast tank armies with equal ease, small, guided, submersible drones to sink warships, and hard-flying drone-projectiles to destroy by collision, combat aircraft. The Indian military seems completely innocent of these technology trends, and the Indian government without, apparently, a smidgeon of technology trend-spotting expertise, merrily funds or doesn’t whatever the armed services put before it.
So, the taxpayer has to ask himself: Is less harm done, less monies wasted. by not having a large defence budget than giving into “nationalistic” impulses and seeing the scarce national financial resources being grossly misused, as always, on propping up useless, dated genus of hardware?
In a sense, the Modi government has to be commended for holding its nerve and not trying to win cheap applause with increased defence spend — because surely there will now be uninformed calls from the opposition ranks led by the Congress party for surge funding of unnecessary goods the military would love to buy.
Resources are not the problem, what is is the Indian military’s mindless prioritizing of usually shortlegged weapons platforms and the like, and generally its spendthrift ways. And short of a single, integrated, command structure there will be no structural mechanism for inter se prioritization of the three Services’ demands and requirements, and the country will always be shortchanged in terms of not getting the security it pays for.
So, yes, Finmin Jaitley tripped in doing the right thing without quite knowing why! But the good that comes from even inadvertent developments is no bad thing.