New Delhi: The Indian Air Force (IAF), which plans to acquire 200 fighter aircraft amid its depleting strength, saw a drop in capital funds allocation in Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s Union Budget 2020-21 against revised estimates for the current fiscal.
While Sitharaman had allocated Rs 39,302.64 crore for the IAF capital expenditure in her last budget in July 2019, it was increased to Rs 44,869.14 crore in the revised estimates for 2019-20.
On Saturday, Sitharaman, who has served as defence minister in the past, allocated Rs 43,281.91 crore for 2020-21 — a 3.5 per cent decrease from the revised estimates.
The move came despite the fact that the IAF’s committed liabilities — payments to be made for past orders — was around the same figure as the revised estimates, defence sources told ThePrint.
Even though the IAF officials put up a brave front saying the revised estimates for 2020-21 would be more, sources called the development saddening.
The Army and Navy were luckier with marginal increase in their outlay.
While the revised estimates for the Army was at Rs 29,666.90 crore this fiscal, the budgetary estimates for the next fiscal has been increased by 8.4 per cent to Rs 32,392.38 crore.
The Navy, which has been reeling under severe fund crunch, also saw a minor increase — the budget allocation for 2020-21 stood at Rs 26,688.28, a 2 per cent rise from the revised estimates of Rs 26,156.43 crore.
‘200 aircraft to be bought’
Last month, Defence Secretary Ajay Kumar had said that the government is in the process of acquiring around 200 aircraft to deal with the depleting aerial inventories of the IAF.
“Roughly (for) 200 aircraft, the acquisition is in process,” he said. “We are in the process of finalising the contract for 83 Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Mark 1A, which are advanced fighters to meet the urgent needs of India.”
The IAF is also in the process of issuing a tender for 114 new fighter jets.
The Air Force is down to 28 fighter squadrons against a sanctioned strength of 42. Of this, about 10 squadrons are made up of the MiG-21 Bisons and Jaguars, which ideally should have been retired long ago.
The budget revision has come just a year after the IAF was outgunned and outmatched by Pakistan, which carried out a raid on 27 February 2019 targeting Indian military installations a day after the IAF’s Balakot airstrikes.
The IAF was mechanically outgunned by Pakistan with its superior fighters, missiles and the airborne early warning and control systems.
The force’s plans for more modern mid-air refuellers and replacement of the vintage Avro transport aircraft have also been stalled for now due to paucity of funds.