Budgeting India’s Military Modernisation with Myopia
Armed Forces are not meant to parade on the Raj Path on Republic Day displaying their might to impress the domestic and international audience. They are the vital instrument of implementing a nation’s will both in peace and war. To this end, the nation’s military represents the ultimate and final arbiter in projecting “National Will”. This calls for planned growth over the years based on a sound modernisation plan. This is a must to ensure that the forces retain their edge and win India‘s wars and serve as a credible deterrence during peace.
It can be proved without doubt that India’s past two wars of 1965 and 1971 were actually two front wars with China managing to tie down India forces by its pro Pakistan stance. This relation ship has only grown stronger over the years. Add to this Chinese theory of “String of Pearls“ and the picture is complete.
A country which faces threats on a two and a half fronts cannot but strengthen this instrument of state’s Comprehensive National Power. This, apart from keeping the military current and potent through tough training, requires pragmatic investments in its arming. Economics plays a crucial role here. When the potential adversaries are spending to the tune of $150 Billion on their militaries, the current Indian defence budget, which promises a mere Rs 60,000 crores for product acquisition, is grossly inadequate. If we study the numbers, we come to the conclusion that the capital budget of Rs 60,000 leaves only about one third or so for new acquisitions. The remainder being used to service the existing commitments.
For a nation with a periphery of contradictions, this is grossly inadequate. We want the military to be wired, lethal and light. This calls for right investments to be made across the three services to develop capability and threat based forces.
Our neighbours and potential adversaries merit a look here. As General Ashok Mehta comments, “If India-China relations are at the lowest today, China-Pakistan relations have climbed to new heights and there will be more than menacing sounds in the event of conflict. The speed of Chinese defence modernisation is in sharp contrast to India’s lethargic response. The PLA’s first aircraft carrier, Shi Lang, will take to sea four years ahead of schedule at the end of the year and five more will follow in a decade. China’s submarine fleet will reach 100 vessels in the next three to five years and its stealth fighter has been tested. A new anti-ship missile is also reported operational. Technology and fire power at the disposal of the PLA have grown fast and thanks to the Chinese economic miracle, the Defence Budget has been boosted five-fold in the last decade, touching nearly $90 billion though the actual figure could be as high as $150 billion. China has sent a general warning to keep off South China Sea, Taiwan and Tibet”.
Can India sharpen the Look East Policy to counter the String of Pearls? This would take the sheen off the string and enable India to concentrate on Public Diplomacy to meet its ends on this front. It will require a commitment borne out of a high degree of pragmatic application of India’s politico military diplomacy. Are we ready to use this instrument? This notwithstanding, Indian military needs to modernise despite a counter to the string of pearls through public diplomacy. A respected analyst argues:-
Cant we puzzle China by creating a counter pearl necklace around it? They seem to be becoming aware that we just might do that and are worried. Cultivate all the ASEAN countries, join them; invest in them financially, commercially, educationally, culturally, socially and you will have created a huge problem/ alternative for SEAC which wasn’t there earlier. That would be exposition of Indian jugad at its best.
This is one area where the Defence forces, MEA, Finance, Education, Oil, Industry, Commerce, Culture ministries all have a stake.
The trouble is that we have given no credence to military diplomacy else countries like Bangladesh, Myanmar, Vietnam and Indonesia would have been helping our string of pearls. Bhutan and some African countries are examples of our successful military diplomacy through organisations such as IMTRAT. The Look East is a must and we have written adequately on it but who is listening. Else Bangladesh and Myanmar would have been our friends with strong military to military contacts.
This notwithstanding, the “why” of modernising the military has unfortunately still not sunk in completely. In our earlier article we had argued for a military commission to be set up to ensure modernisation of the military lest we continue to arm without aiming. History has it that the Indian Military was found wanting in previous incidents of using hard power to meet the national interests due to its ‘unpreparedness’. Even today the situation has not changed much.
To that end, this is a populist budget and “more will be made available when needed” proves our willingness and compulsions to follow knee jerk responses to National Security.
To put the record straight, our China threat has only multiplied over the years while Pakistan continues to poke a finger at us through incidents like Kargil. Recent assertions of being capable of managing the India threat after Exercise Azm e Nau are not new. Together, the two pose a strong case for a credible military capability under the nuclear shadow. The “half front” of a full blown insurgency and naxalism requires a “third force” capable of handling threats to internal security. This article in rediff.com calls for serious introspection, “China lends us; we give to Pak; Pak makes nukes”. All the tears we expend; all the railing we do will not change the main lack/lacunae in our military thinking that we gain nothing by ruing China’s military reach over us. It has always been there; will always be there.
However, the nation has to modernise the armed forces in tune with its threats it faces and is likely to face over the next decade, China not withstanding.
Restructuring and modernising the armed forces will require political courage, military astuteness, a non parochial approach and a singularity of purpose.
With India’s defence budget now pegged at less than 2.0 per cent of the GDP, the funds available for modernisation of the armed forces are grossly inadequate. Or do we need to restructure the formula to a threat based dispensation. This way we would have the luxury to be ostrich like in relegating threats to national security. Then there is the need to build capabilities to keep India secure. Whatever the formula, the need to keep the military capable of dealing with any exigency is paramount.
The essence therefore is in instituting pragmatic approach based on our capability to meet all the threats with suitable capabilities. Till that is comprehended as a sub set of Comprehensive National Power, we shall evolve all wrong formulae with requisite myopia in place.
- Defence outlay may retain trend of steady rise (hindu.com)
- 20 years of Liberalisation, captured. (whataworldagain.wordpress.com)
- China military modernisation gathers pace – BBC News (news.google.com)
- J-20 stealth fighter: how the world’s largest military force is modernising (telegraph.co.uk)
- Chinese ‘hiding military build-up’ (theage.com.au)
- Q+A-China, India rivalry across the globe (reuters.com)
- The fourth modernisation (economist.com)