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Narendra Modi govt can’t increase defence budget. Best it can do is go for reforms

Instead of relying on rhetoric to justify inadequate defence budget, government must provide an outline for time-bound national security reforms

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The Narendra Modi government has come back to power for a second time, exploiting the national security sentiment. Most defence analysts, therefore, expect a quantum jump in the defence budget to push modernisation of the armed forces, which has been languishing for the last two decades.

But given the economic constraints, this government can ill afford to increase the defence budget. It should, instead, focus on launching the long-pending and much-needed national security reforms.

Is India prepared for next-gen war?

National security planning is driven by a time-tested methodology. It includes:

  • Strategic review to determinethe threats
  • Evolvea national security strategy to deal with them
  • Decide the military capabilities required
  • Match desired capabilities with financial resources
  • Create the desired capability
  • Maintain and upgrade the capability
  • Review and modify every five years

India, however, has never formally followed this approach. Through a hit-and-trial method, we adopted a functional strategy with an aim to decisively defeat Pakistan and stalemate China in all-out conventional wars. Military capability for this was created between mid-1980s and 1990s. Regrettably, we have failed to review and modify our national security strategy, and enhance our capabilities in the last two decades.

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India has failed to understand the impact of nuclear weapons and the quantum leap in military technology. With nuclear weapons, conventional wars are now passé, and neither India, nor Pakistan or China faces the threat of a decisive defeat or a major loss of territory.

The aim of any future war would be to inflict a psychological defeat on the enemy, using high-end military technology, in a short span and force compellence. Of course, unsettled borders have to be safeguarded and sub-conventional conflict has to be managed. Therefore, India needs to strike a balance between size and quality with respect to the armed forces.

Need for long-term reforms

This can only be done through a comprehensive strategic review. Some hard decisions must be taken to carry out pending reforms in higher defence structures and armed forces, with a focus on optimisation. Induction of high-end technology should be prioritised. And, all these reforms must be accompanied with allocation of adequate financial resources on a long-term basis.

The Modi government, in its first term, did nothing in this regard. The defence budget announced in February was the lowest-ever with respect to the GDP.

Also read: Modi govt needs to first get its budget numbers right

Holistic defence reforms in capacity building require at least a decade for proper implementation. Hence, allocation of financial resources has to be on a long-term basis. It may be prudent for the government to take approval of Parliament for defence reforms and acquisitions through a ‘national security bill’. The yearly slice can be presented in the annual budget for formalisation.

The economic review, despite the tinkering with the parameters and statistics, does not inspire confidence. The interim budget presented on 1 February was too optimistic with an eye on the elections. In fact, the finance minister may well have to do a balancing act on 5 July, and the revised budget estimates may actually see a net reduction in defence spending.

Expectations from budget

The defence budget must provide a blueprint for a 10-year defence plan, which should be approved by Parliament at the earliest.

I do not foresee any major increase in the amount already earmarked for capital expenditure, Rs 1.08 lakh crore, in the interim budget. Allocation for defence pensions and revenue expenditure is constant and may see a marginal increase to account for inflation.

The capital expenditure budget is barely adequate to meet our existing liabilities or to go ahead with approved acquisitions in the pipeline. There is no money for purchase of new equipment for modernisation. In fact, some funds may have to be diverted to make up for the shortfall of precision-guided munitions in the three services.

Also read: BJP manifesto provides a clue about what Nirmala Sitharaman’s first budget will look like

Instead of relying on bluff, bluster and rhetoric to justify the inadequate defence budget for our elephantine armed forces, the government should provide an outline for holistic, time-bound national security reforms.

Lt Gen H S Panag PVSM, AVSM (R) served in the Indian Army for 40 years. He was GOC in C Northern Command and Central Command. Post retirement, he was Member of Armed Forces Tribunal. Views are personal.

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  1. Defeat in war is a great motivator, who knows from whence will come the shock that shakes us out of this self delusional complacency.
    Gen Panag you are wrong ! the nuclear world we live in has not changed the basis of warfare, at it’s primeval level it is for the ordinary citizen to inflict violence on his enemy.
    With mutual nuclear annihilation, there would remain survivors who must be trained, to go on to inflict violence in one form or another, and continue the battle.
    This is what we should train for, to survive and fight to death, we must take examples from the Japanese under their Emperor.
    Unfortunate it was that Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the Emperor himself who stopped the war.
    But If the Emperor had not given the order to surrender, The imperial Army and the Japanese people would have fought to the end, despite a hundred atomic bombs.
    They (the Japanese people) showed what was to come, when they fought to death, to defend each Island, as the American forces got closer and closer to the Japanese mainland.
    I say this because forget technology, this must be the blueprint for the Indian people who have elected Modi in overwhelming numbers. We don’t have the cash for modernisation of our armed forces, we then must rely on the spirit of our people.
    Unfortunately the RSS seem to be paper tigers, the cadre seem at present, incapable of a fight unto the end, despite being hot on patriotism, lynching and cow protection.
    The solution has to come from Nagpur – how to motivate the RSS cadre to obey to death Modi, just like the Japanese were motivated by their emperor.
    If Mohan Baghwath cannot instill the above sprit into the RSS then he must go.
    So Panag do not constantly harp on Army modernisation, it will never happen. We simply do not have the money for it.
    As somebody famous once said, if you do not have a weapon, gouge the enemy’s eyes out with your bare hands.
    The solution is to instill in the RSS the Kamikaze sprit. Once this happens even if most of India is obliterated in a nuclear attack and if everything goes as per plan, some shakas will survive to fight on.

  2. The author of this article, which I read and respect, will have to ask only one question: where is the report that the new defense minister ordered from the 3 Armies? This is a government that is in place for 5 years. In the particular sector which is that of the defense one can not be content with sticking patches on a policy of the defense which does not exist. We must set a line taking into account the threats and the financial capacities, and also the know-how that we control. Here is a track on which the author, which I respect, should position itself taking into account the responsibilities exercised!

    • How do you know that there is no defence policy? Do you think its a piece of paper to put it on your news paper? Some sense? The author is a retired general with tremendous experience. Dont expect him to have a copy of defence policy in his house which he can anytime for your convenience put it up for you anywhere.

  3. Why should more spending on defence be considered something desirable. Reorient foreign policy to bring greater stability and order in the relationships with China and Pakistan, basic deterrence being in place.

    • you are nut case ashok as usual citizen of la la land come to reality sooner the better for you.

    • Indeed. You should go and liaise with the terrorists. Once you’re successful, we can do away with the forces. All the best for your/ govts attempts to better relations and stability!

    • Where was the foreign policy in 47, 61 ,65, 72, 99? Uri attack? Parliament attack? Please understand, a nation requires a strong army to support strong foreign policy. Have a look into the defence budgets of other countries and enhance your horizon.

    • I say abolish the armed forces, then you can use all that money for prosperity and everything else. I will be happy and millions of mothers/wife and families will be happy not loosing there from their sight for long periods and sometimes forevers due I’ll and old equipment. You can very well defend two adversaries with your foreign policies.

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