India must increase defence spending, enemy eyeing opportunity

For a developing country that is committed to enhancing the quality of life of its citizens, defence is usually the last thing on the nation’s mind. Yet, no government that is committed to such a cause can ignore the existing physical and psychological security threats. These threats are more than just ordinary in India, a country located in a dangerous neighbourhood and facing both internal and external threats. Comprehensive national security helps a nation attain its aspirations, and robust security is a subset of that. India has a robust military machine. However, the lack of a national security strategy, a national strategic culture and a transformational approach towards its military capability prevent it from obtaining optimum benefit from its defence expenditure. The defence budget is increasingly looked at as a means to provide incremental resources to other sectors, since procedural delays prevent its optimum and timely expenditure. Does this mean that the resource allotment is sufficient for India’s defence spending and only mismanagement is responsible for the lack of optimisation? Far from it. In February, the Army transparently deposed before the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence and stated two pertinent things: one, 68% of its equipment was in the vintage category, and two, with the new budget allocation of 1.47% of GDP, the sustenance of at least 24 capital projects is in jeopardy. The Army received ?268.2 billion for modernisation as against its demand for ?445.7 billion. With the Doklam crisis and the necessity of mobilising the Siliguri-based Corps, along with other priority resources from many other sectors to make up existing deficiencies and optimise the Corps’ capability, the Army expended almost its entire allocation of the transportation budget.
In January, it had no money to even hire vehicles. The revenue budget amounts to a little over 80%, leaving little for capital expenditure through which modernisation is to be executed. Drawdown of a manpower-intensive Army that consumes the revenue cannot be done overnight. Thus, even as this drawdown is seriously executed, we cannot allow modernisation to languish. Military security involves the development of such capability to deter potential adversaries from undertaking inimical activities that may result in forms of adventurism or even proxy interference in a nation’s affairs. The result may never translate into immediate tangible gains. Since understanding of national security at the bureaucratic and decision-making levels remains abysmal, the focus on modernisation has suffered. With huge bureaucratic controls, and defence Ministry with no military presence, comprehension of priorities itself remains suspect. This can only be overcome if decisions are timely and procedures for acquisition are fast-tracked. Also, financial support should be sufficient with systems which do not call for a lapse of financial resources, once allotted. Without higher allocation, the armed forces may be unable to reach even the first level of transformation they seek. Management of expenditure also needs a complete revamp. Amid the focus on prevention of potential corruption, the larger picture of timely and optimum capability development has been ignored. Arguably, limited leakages could still be acceptable if timeliness of delivery is achieved even as more efficient procedures are implemented. The West’s “alarm” over emerging Chinese and Russian systems is pure drama for the sake of getting bigger budgets. The reality is that the U.S. with over 325 million people and a per capita GDP of more than $57,000, and Europe with over 510 million people and a per capita GDP of $436,000, are a bigger pool of scientifically trained talent at much higher levels of human value addition than China and Russia combined. They also produce far superior technology. While the manufacturing age required strong centralised governments, the information age requires heavy decentralisation and personal freedoms. This is why Russian and Chinese weapons remain kinetic-industrial showpieces, not the heavy information age-driven force multipliers. However, what we need to understand is that exploiting Western technology needs highly trained individuals, basic human value addition. You cannot have cannon fodder (which is what Indian soldiers are), conditioned to die without using high technology that enables each of them to become an independent, think weapon. Smart militaries require smart people to run smart equipment. India needs to invest more heavily in fewer soldiers-not in moving-talking target practice dummies. If India rationalises its suppliers, thinking and human resources, it can achieve a lot more in the resources provided. However, a budget reduction will be an important first step into jolting the military out of its sense of entitlement and intellectual laziness.

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