As Air Chief Marshal P.C. Lal the chief of air staff during the 1971 Indo-Pakistan war wrote in his memoirs 36 years ago, “It takes a war to make our people work together. Peace breaks them up into narrow sectional pieces. We must learn to rise above sectional interests and work for what is best for the country.”
In a democracy, the people have the right to know how the defence services are being administered and how their money is being spent. They have a right to know everything– except the war plans.
The biggest predicament before the Indian armed forces is that we are surrounded by two actively hostile neighbours on the Eastern and Western flank and much smaller ones who keep creating ‘mischief’ now and then whenever they get the opportunity.
To counter these threats the Indian military has to be prepared to fight all future wars – in all possible terrain from snow to sand.
The moot question that the Indian defence planners need to be asking is – can we fight tomorrow’s war with yesterday’s obsolete weapons and armament – tanks, arty guns, submarines and fighter aircraft.
The real dilemma as the title of the 1968 British comedy film produced by Walter Shenson suggests is: Don’t Raise the Bridge, Lower the River.
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said, “The people hadn’t expected a Budget of this kind because, in a way, the government had presented five mini-budgets earlier. Several packages were announced, of which Aatmanirbhar Bharat is also a part. It’s a superb Budget. The more it is praised, the less it is.”
Here’s what a cross-section of analysts in the defence community have to say about the Union Budget 2021:
Lt Gen NB Singh, PVSM, AVSM, VSM- Former DGEME and Former Member, Armed Forces Tribunal
This year`s allocation for the defence of Rs 478196 crores is around 6000 crores higher than last year’s allocation. As against the usual hike of 10% every year, this year’s hike is just about 1.4%. Seeing the standoff at the LAC, the general expectation was that there would be a hike in the defence spending. The revised estimate for last year has shown an increase of 20766 crores which has been spent on the purchase of ammunition, assault rifles and other hardware. The good news is that the capital expenditure is up by 19% and is pegged at 135060 crores. The higher allocation in the capital head will go a long way in operational capability development; a mammoth task after years of arming without aiming. The outgo on defence pensions is 1.13 lakh crores, lower than the capital budget.
The outlay works out to 1.63 % of the projected GDP for the year. China which spends around 1.3 % of its GDP on defence, was the second-largest spender last year after the USA with a spend of 261 billion dollars. The second-largest economy has been for the past 30 years pursuing a planned military modernization with a strong focus on multi-domain capabilities. One hopes that with the advent of a capital expenditure centric budget, a sustained modernization of the armed forces will follow where the focus will be on integrated capability development than the mere replacement of the ageing inventory. A fighting force needs to know how far it can run or how long it can jump. Like the acquisition of 83 indigenous Light Combat Aircraft, more programmes for acquisition of indigenous combat systems need to be rolled out to put Atmanirbhar Bharat in the overdrive.
Commodore Anil Jai Singh, Vice President and Head-Delhi branch, Indian Maritime Foundation I Former Co-Chairman, National Defence and Aerospace Committee
The budget has once again belied the expectations of the country’s Armed Forces for the security challenges that lie ahead. The Indian Armed Forces have been reeling under inadequate budgetary allocation for many years. This has led to critical shortages and capability gaps in our essential warfighting capability on the land, sea and in the air.
The 19% increase in the capital outlay in this year’s defence budget is the highest in the last 15 years. However, when viewed in the light of the huge committed liabilities which threaten to engulf a major chunk of this sum, very little will be left for modernization and bridging the capability gaps. Armed forces capability and capacity do not get built in a day. It requires a sustained effort and long term planning, both of which seem to be in short supply in the Ministry of Defence controlled by a generalist civilian bureaucracy with little or no knowledge of military matters. It was expected that the office of the Chief of the Defence Staff would be the first step in the right direction but regrettably, in its current form, it has little value to offer.
There is no doubt that the country faces many developmental challenges. However, national security cannot be compromised at any cost; more so when the country has two nuclear-armed neighbours constantly sniping at India’s heels. The need of the hour is not only a sustained effort to address the critical capability deficit in equipping the armed forces but optimal utilization of the budgetary allocation with good planning and efficient implementation.
Maj Gen BK Sharma – Director United Service Institution of India (USI)
This is a bold and innovative budget given the impact of COVID on our economy. The focus is more on economic development and privatization. With regards to the defence budget – the increase is marginal and barely caters to inflation. But the mere fact that the budget has not been reduced the spending on defence is a welcome step. It is promising to see that the Navy and IAF have been given priority for their modernization. This notwithstanding, given the real-time hybrid threat faced by India and the need for induction of high-end military platform, there would be the need for additional money to meet these demands.
Maj Gen Rajan Kochar – Member Centre of Joint Warfare Studies
Extremely disappointing to see the priority given to defence modernization. The security of the country cannot be compromised as we have seen in the recent conflict when the enemy had the impunity to challenge our sovereignty. Only 1.35 lakh crores have been allocated for capital acquisition. All important projects especially in the maritime domain will have to be put on hold. Most of these capital acquisitions are all ongoing and the budget will just be able to cater to that. The shopping list of the services will again get carried forward. It’s time the country thinks strategically and makes an endeavour to equip the forces with reasonable teeth to be capable enough to bite the enemy
Lt. Gen. A. B. Shivane, PVSM, AVSM, VSM, Former DG Mechanized Forces
A nation can only be strong if it can stand up and defend itself. Diplomacy without Defence has its limits. The present allocation is woefully inadequate to meet the requirements for modernization, infrastructure development, inflation, cost escalation and spending power. We cannot allow our brave and gallant soldier lives to be cannon fodder in the absence of desired levels of modernization and technology induction. Neither does an adverse equipment vintage profile or a knee jerk emergency procurement augur well for the Nation. It is however heartening to know that the government is planning to increase the number of Sainik Schools from existing 18 to 100.
Lt Gen Kapil Aggarwal, former DGEME
The best thing about the Defence Budget Planning this year is the non-lapsable corpus for Capital acquisitions, ie Equipment Purchases, thus giving a fillip to the modernization of forces, a long-felt need.
Lt Gen K J Singh – former Army Commander Western Command
The defence budget has very limited promise due to a marginal increase in capital outlay. Some of the allocations on infrastructure will help to boost infrastructure in border areas. There is a definite need to revisit allocations after economic recovery and post COVID review. There is a requirement for release of additional funds for modernization and consider non-lapsable SPV.
Brig Rumel Dahiya – defence analyst
The funds allocated in the defence budget are inadequate to meet the requirement for modernization and making up the existing voids of weapon systems, ammunition and equipment. 15th Finance Commission has made some helpful recommendations. These must be acted upon without delay. Combat power can only be enhanced with adequate financial support.
Brig Umesh Singh Bawa, VrC, SM – defence analyst
Overall, the allocation of 4.78 lakh crore defence budget works out to just 1.63% of the projected GDP for 2021-22 if the pension bill is excluded, and 2.15% if it is not. This when military experts have been demanding that India should allocate over 2.5% to the defence expenditure for building the requisite deterrence against China and Pakistan, the collusive threat from whom has only increased in the recent times. With the present allocation, the speed of modernization and infrastructure build-up will not be commensurate with the desired results. Due to persisting fund crunch, the armed forces will continue to suffer from operational deficiencies on several fronts, ranging from fighter jets, submarines, helicopters, precision-guided munitions, surveillance devices, night fighting capabilities, air defence weapon systems, assault rifles and special winter clothing and equipment.
Lt Gen Sanjeev Madhok, PVSM, AVSM, VSM, Head Defence Business, Dynamatic Technologies Ltd
Security and Development are two sides of the same coin, but for a country like ours, with adversaries across and within, there can be no development unless our national security remains strengthened, beyond the threat and reach of our physical & virtual enemies. With this in light, the Defence Budget 2021 is extremely heartening. It will not only help in the much-needed modernization process but will also take the indigenization base to a new level, through the military-industrial domain”.
Lt Gen Shokin Chauhan, AVSM, YSM, SM, VSM, former DG Assam Rifles and former Chairman, Cease-Fire Monitoring Group
We need to work at reducing Revenue Expenditure and increase Capital Budget. Look at the leasing of defence equipment instead of outright purchase especially expensive equipment. Innovative solutions needed for lateral absorption of our soldiers who retire early and monetization of military lands. Increase short term entry into the armed forces
Maj Gen SCN Jatar, former CMD of Oil India, CMD ONGC Videsh Limited, and Chairman SCOPE (apex body of the PSUs)
The US government made available a lot of bail-out funds to the Banks and for infrastructure development in the 2008 meltdown. That is the US created jobs and the Banks which had no money because the clients had been loaned large amounts which they did not return due to the bursting of the construction bubble could again make available funds to the banks so that they could give loans to industries to commence work. In other words, the idea is to make available funds either by raising from the public, by taxation or by printing money overcome the distress.
Rohit Srivastava, Editor, Indian Defence Industries
This is an interesting budget. Last FY government spent more than the allocation. The same amount has been allocated this FY. This means in case there is a requirement government can make money available. This is a better way of looking at things, in the current economic situation where the nation has other priorities. One can say with confidence that the extra allocation during last year was to meet Chinese contingency. So, one can say, in case of defence need more money will be made available
Wing Commander Praful Bakshi – defence analyst and former PRO Indian Air Force
Though the budget has been increased by approx 3000 crores, from the previous one, it falls way below the expectations of the 3 services, keeping in mind the urgent weapon and equipment requirements coupled with the rising threat of a two-front war. Keeping in mind the serious shortfall in the fighter squadron strength, the need for developing indigenization and R&D in the defence sector. The budget should be 4 to 5% of the GDP
Maj. Navjot Singh Thind AVP & Regional Head Pramerica life
Still, lots need to be desired in the defence budget. Though there has been a marginal increase in capital outlay – infrastructure, Jets and other hardware. It lacks clarity on how pension bill has been dropped. Modest hike in capital outlay in a country surrounded by not so friendly nations
Col Ashok Singh – defence analyst
There is nothing extra-ordinary about the defence budget considering the threat perception of India. Both China and Pakistan have nuclear weapons. Whatever anyone may say if they join hands it will be next to impossible to beat them and we would stand no chance. It is a waste of money. There is no point in spending – if your army cannot win wars. Instead, it would be advisable and more cost-effective in the long run to pay the USA or any other country to defend us. Countries like Singapore, Japan and South Korea pay the USA to protect themselves, India can do so too. It would work out to be more economical and save cost in the long run.