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India can learn from Azerbaijan how to spend smart on military when budget is thin

Modi govt's capital budget allocation for 2021-22 is lower than the amount armed forces had sought in 2014-15. But spending more is not the answer, spending right is.

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Over the past few days, India’s defence budget has come under the spotlight all over again. Former Army chief Gen V.P. Malik (retd), in ThePrint’s Off The Cuff programme, said that India is not spending much on defence. With China’s defence budget nearly four times that of India, Malik argued that India’s defence budget should be at least 3 per cent of the GDP.

Although the capital budget for the armed forces saw a significant 19 per cent jump in the Budget 2021 presented last month, the increase in the overall allocation was only 1.5 per cent, with the total defence budget now amounting to 2.14 per cent of the GDP.

More startling, however, are the figures submitted by the Defence Ministry in Parliament, because they brought out a growing disparity between the amount allocated by the Centre and the amount sought by the armed forces for modernisation purposes. The Narendra Modi government’s capital budget allocation for 2021-22 is lower than what the armed forces had asked for seven years ago in 2014-15.

Also read: Shut down canteens, relieve sahayaks — here’s how the armed forces can really cut costs

Widening budget deficit

One might feel for the armed forces but the fact is that the money pool is limited. India has to cater to multiple demands — social, economic, infrastructural, and agricultural among others. Moreover, every armed force in the world will want to have the best, even if it may not fit their bill.

The demand of the armed forces will always be high. But can the budget accommodate it?

Take for instance the existing defence budget deficit. The Navy had projected a requirement of Rs 70,920.78 crore under the capital budget. What it got was not even half — Rs 33,253.55 crore. Similarly, the Army had sought Rs 51,492 crore for its modernisation budget, but got only Rs 36,531 crore. And the Air Force’s Rs 77,140 crore projection fetched only Rs 53,214.77, majority of which will go towards payment for the recently ordered Tejas and Rafale aircraft.

This comes in the backdrop of India burdened by its worst tension with China along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in decades.

What adds to the alarm is that, according to PRS India Legislative Research, the armed forces’ committed liabilities in 2016-17 was Rs 73,553 crore against which the budget allocation was just Rs 62,619 crore — a shortfall of 15 per cent. This drastic shortfall increased to 29 per cent in 2019-20 — when the allocation was Rs 80,959 crore against the committed liabilities of Rs 1,13, 667 crore.

Yes, under the Modi government, there has been an increased push for defence modernisation and contracts have been signed at a faster pace than the UPA era. But it is important to keep in mind that spending more is not the answer — spending right is.

And that’s why India can look at Armenia and Azerbaijan, which recently went to war against each other, to learn how to spend smartly.

Also read: India’s defence needs money. If Budget can’t provide it, we need to change how we fight

Lessons on smart spending

As per the figures of Swedish think tank Stockholm International and Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), between 2009 and 2018, Azerbaijan spent about $24 billion on defence. On the other hand, Armenia spent a little more than $4 billion during the same period. However, in terms of the share of government spending, Armenia spends much more.

In 2018, in terms of government spending, Armenia spent 21 per cent towards the military even as one-fourth of its population lives in poverty. Azerbaijan, supported by its oil revenue, spent about 11 per cent.

Another smart thing that Azerbaijan did was diversify, not just in terms of equipment but also source. Armenia focused on buying the big toys from Russia, which also supplies to Azerbaijan. But then, Azerbaijan was intelligent enough to diversify its procurement and depended on Turkey and an odd vendor – Israel.

According to the Institute of War and Peace Reporting, “Israel was Azerbaijan’s first largest military trading partner in arms imports in 2015-2019. Its share of Azerbaijan’s arms imports during that period was 60 per cent, with Russia providing 31 per cent and Turkey 3.2 per cent. The remaining 5.8 per cent was divided between Ukraine, Belarus, Pakistan and China.”

This meant that Azerbaijan diversified and it was the use of weapons such as Turkey’s weaponised drone Bayraktar TB2 and the Israeli Heron-TP drone that really swung the war in its favour.

The IWPR added, “The Azerbaijani government prefers current political allies when choosing partners for military trade. Thus Russia was its main partner in 2010-2015, Israel in 2015-2019, and Turkey in 2020.”

What is notable is that at one point of time, Armenia held the military edge over Azerbaijan. Back in 2010, Armenia’s first deputy defence minister David Tonoyan had said the country was “seeking a more efficient military at a relatively low cost in response to Azerbaijan’s growing military spending”. This even as in 2008, it was very clear that Azerbaijan wanted to build “a strong army to regain the contentious Nagorno-Karabakh either by improving its negotiating leverage with Armenia or going back to war”.

The message on the wall is very clear. It is not about spending big, but spending smart within what your pocket allows.

Views are personal.

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  1. Request the editor to hire writers with a modicum of understanding of the subject. The only takeaway was “spend right”. Neither problem nor solution was defined nor expanded on.
    And then Print asks for money to support ts journalism. This is clickbaiting of the finest order.
    5 mins of my time I’ll never get back.

  2. India never cared for its military. it always lacked in equipment, arms ammunition, facilities, pay and perks and was always on receiving end. Ad hoc measures was the way and crisis management became order of the day although India is surrounded by enemies like china, Pakistan apart from internal enemies. Tukde gangs, communists, nagas, militants in kashmir .. No miracle can be
    expected. Priorities, are different. Govt spends lot of money for welfare measures and free bees.

  3. Hum kaya andhe he Ajerbejaian ke adhi muslim mulk piche khare thee, hum agaar budget kam karde defense mei adhee muslim mulk toot pare ga hindustan par, kiu ki tum jaise, the wire, caravan, print gaddaar ki kami nahi he desh me,

  4. Well; write anything anyhow? Just one point….

    Azerbaijan: Area 86.600 sq km : Borders Land 2660 kms: Sea – negligible on the inland waterbody – Caspian Sea.

    India: Area : Area 3.287 sq km : Borders Land 14788.1 km (of different terrains) : Sea: 7516 kms: in addition we have to watch over the Indian Ocean area.

    “Quality” to cover 1 km may not be the same as “quality” to cove 100 kms… It is simplistic to presume matters of Defence from a desk.

    Tail piece: Quality is not all pervasive here. There are many variables specific to conditions, situation, terrain erc.. to determine that.

  5. No need to learn from anyone, much less from a country like Azerbaijan, which is 95% Muslim. Moreover we are VishwaGuru. It’s another thing that some people believe that we are VishwaGORU.

  6. In tamil there is a saying…dai nee ellam solralavuku nanga tharam ketupoitoma…..perfectly fits to tge author…

  7. First cut down on vote catching schemes next cut down six and eight planning of HWs and we can have the most powerful armed forces in the world

    • OMG!!….nice words to say naah, PROPAGANDA!!… atleast they are not bikau…& Which sources do u trust, my friend?…Zee news…jisne kha tha GPS chip in new currency notes.
      Mahn, grow up…koi bhi agr kuch dikhaye that doesn’t suit u guys to shut krne ki baat mt kro yrr….. already freedom of speech ka star itna niche kr diya h tumhare leaders ne sb kuch band krke….🙏🙏

      • print caravan, wire etc. are bikau.

        they have sold thier soul to some middle east desert cults, not 1, 2 cults, world’s most prosetlyzing, and 1 is terrorizing too

  8. Any procurement should be based on capabilities of our adversaries and threat perception. It should also be decided by the armed forces based on the situation on the ground. The tactics used by our immediate neighbours are not the same as Azerbaijan and Armenia. When we have our adversaries using small drones to drop off weapons, money and drugs inside our borders, we cannot have big armed drones like Bayraktars or Harops to shoot them down. India is purchasing Harop btw & it will be used as deemed fit by our forces

  9. a gdp that has been declining by 1% every year since 2016 has a reason, it’s called “Modi”. Countries with the strongest economies have the strongest militaries, the navy was planning to have a 200 ship strong force, but that is continually being reduced. Modi’s master plan for making money is to raise fuel, lpg, railway ticket prices, cesses and reduce take home salaries. The only people proud of him are a couple of idiot trolls as can be seen in the comments section. Military will never become stronger with Modi the economic disaster, the only country that has managed to do so is Pakistan which is literally now just a beggar with a machine gun. From the looks of it Modi will make India another Pakistan

  10. Let us overreact to what happened between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Such attacks had a novelty about it and Armenia was not ready for it or it did not anticipate them. Of course, we need to study and appreciate what has happened there and draw right lessons from it.

    Such strategy may perhaps be somewhat useful against Pak when we actually have some sort of battle but that may not happen at all, We badly need drones for surveillance etc and we need to spend smart. DRDO is already developing many innovative weapons using drone and we should develop all round capabilities to take on both China and Pakistan.

  11. Looks like a poor understanding on military spending from the author. Just for the sake of getting a headline, they have written this article

  12. Where do you feel india isn’t spending smart? All nations, including our enemies are spending smart.

    Ultimately , it’s the defense budget that helps win a war.

  13. You needed Chinese and their virus to wake the Govt from slumber and focus on indigenisation and upgradation of defence equipment. Hopefully this momentum is carried forward and not restricted to mere sloganeering…….

  14. The author clearly does not understand what Indian Defence budget issues are or what our procurement policy is.. Israel is already one of largest suppliers and suggesting that we should buy from Turkey because someone else does shows lack of understanding of where we stand as a country geo politically visa via Turkey. Next me might suggest buy cheaper from China!

    Another case of headline mongering..

  15. No other country has enemies like China,Pakistan and traitors and anti-nationals.India has to battle on all fronts.

    • Yeah it is important. It will continue to be important for India under the Chinese and Pakistani rule if the military is neglected because of the continuous neglect the military is facing under every regime.

  16. Spending smart on military when budget is thin is not adequate the spends must be clean as well.
    Let us not try to learn to be clean buyers from either Armenia or Azerbaijan, where even doctors need to be bribed a packet of coffee to get proper treatment.

  17. India’s threat perception is China When you have super power as threat perception,it is both spending big as well as smart.Without big spending smart alone will be of no use.If only smart is required lets rest the army and diplomacy to take on

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