Originally Published 2014-03-07 13:41:01 Published on Mar 07, 2014
The Indian military desperately needs to enhance its defence preparedness. However, given the country's fiscal constraints, this must be done by modernising weapons systems, instead of adding more boots on the ground.
We need a lean, mean fighting force
When the Defence Minister says that, "Our defence forces require timely and cost effective acquisition of defence equipment...", he implies two things: First, the Armed Forces need to modernise and upgrade inventory and second, there is an inherent sluggishness in the system which is adversely affecting the pace of modernisation. This sense of anguish is reflected across the spectrum.

While the Technology Perspective and Capability Roadmap delineates the Defence Minister's sentiments, former Army chief General VK Singh's leaked letter critically commenting on India's defence preparedness in March 2012 highlights similar concerns.

But will India be able to modernise its military without taking into account the fiscal reality, and if not, then, can modernisation be achieved without effectively restructuring the organisation structure and rationalisation of existing manpower — leave alone the unthinkable act of adding more soldiers?

The cost of an additional soldier puts excessive strain on the country's finances. In addition, with the Government announcing the One Rank One Pension scheme, an additional soldier will bring in an even larger cost burden without substantially contributing to the larger cause of modernisation of India's military.

Hence, rationalisation of manpower will not only send the right signals to the political masters — that the Services understand country's fiscal reality — but in turn, it will also guarantee larger chunks of resources for capital acquisition and better training of the remaining personnel.

Earlier this year, the Government announced the formation of the XVII Mountain Strike Corps, which is likely to be raised in the next seven years with several thousand additional troops. Compare this to the Peoples Liberation Army which is focusing on rationalisation of manpower and has announced the reduction of 3,00,000 non-combatant personnel by 2022.

Recently, US Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel proposed that the US Army drop several hundred thousand soldiers. While America has few other options but to cut its defence budget, China, on the other hand, believes that rationalisation and re-organisation of Military Regions will help it win future wars.

These wars will be fought and won, not by large numbers of soldiers, but by qualitatively upgrade of both the soldier and the weapons system. This means which we have to allow for the blossoming of 'smart soldiers'.

Hence, it will only be prudent for the Service headquarters to come to terms with this difficult fiscal reality and focus on capital outlay rather than squabbling over funds and adding more pressure on the revenue outlay.

The 2014-2015 Budget has allocated Rs 2,24,000 crore to the defence — a mere increase of 9.98 per cent from the 2013-2014 allocation of Rs 2,03,682 crore. The capital outlay amounted to a nominal increase of Rs 2,848 crore which is insufficient for modernisation projects.

Stockholm International Peace Research Institute's recent report mentions that despite the financial crisis of 2007-2008, the global arms trade has been recession-proof. Military spending across the globe has been steady, and countries last year spent in excess of US$ 1.7 trillion on their Armed Forces.

Had India adopted a strong economic and military strategy to spearhead the modernisation drive, by ensuring the systematic participation of the private sector, it would have helped the nation address the trilogy of tremendous fiscal strain, a burgeoning Current Account Deficit and a skewed Self Reliance Index. Eventually, this could have paved the way for transformation in India's defence sector.

However, a lack of policy initiatives and an apprehension about providing a level playing field to all stakeholders has resulted in India's isolation from the global supply chain. As a result, both the Government and the private sector have been denied benefits from the arms trade.

India's massive military modernisation drive cannot afford to be stymied either due to lack of political will or an inadequate understanding of the geo-strategic changes taking place in the region. Though the Indian Armed Forces are on the threshold of modernisation, the focus has to be on capacity-building by upgrading weapon systems rather than adding more boots on the ground.

Also, the Government must provide infrastructure as well as research and development support to the private sector participation in building India's defence industrial base. In return, the private sector should take steps to gain the confidence of the Government and Armed Forces and accept the long incubation periods that are common in the defence sector. It must position itself as a reliable brand to resurrect India's defence industrial base in the same way that it backed the Indian economy in the 1990s.

Ultimately, neither the country nor the Armed Forces can afford another INS Sindhurakshak or a INS Sindhuratna-type disaster. India possesses the capabilities to better arm its military and be perceived as a net security provider in the Indian Ocean Region, provided it envisages itself as an emerging great power. However without a strong defence industrial base, this country will not be able to do enough justice to its power status.

(The writer is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)


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