We can ill-afford to discount defence

  • Lt Gen Harwant Singh (retd)
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  • Updated: Mar 13, 2013 14:19 IST

For over a decade, the allocation for defence in the union budget has been below 2% of the GDP. It was 1.79% this time. In his budget speech, the finance minister, as usual, remarked that if required, more funds would be allocated for defence. He ought to know that it is not an issue of "if required". It is a crying need of utmost national importance. Nearly two weeks have passed since the budget was presented in Parliament, but this dismally low allocation is yet to be debated.

Some time ago, the parliamentary committee on defence had recommended an allocation of 3% of the GDP on a regular basis. In contrast, the defence spending of China and Pakistan is much higher. China has enormously upgraded its military capabilities, extensively developed military infrastructure in Tibet, extended its railway network up to Kathmandu, increased its influence in Nepal and moved into the Gilgit region of PoK.

China is relentlessly pursuing a policy of laying a string of pearls around India. It has moved far ahead of India in the field of military technology and helped Pakistan build strong nuclear and missile capabilities. Chinese forays into the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean are well known.

It is argued that given the current economic scenario and political compulsions in view of next year's general elections, the FM had few options. But such contrived compulsions have persisted now for a full decade. In matters of national security, countries have to make hard choices. While policies can change overnight, military capabilities take years to build. Given the current procedures, it will take a decade to acquire and operationalise the new equipment and systems.

All this while, China will continue to forge ahead at a furious pace. Indian peaceniks, ignoring the emerging security scenario, have been advocating that there will be no war, so why bother about external threats, but instead focus on internal turmoil. This is merely a throwback to the 50s when Nehru had ruled out a conflict with China. They forget that strong military is a surer guarantee of dissuading an aggressor. A militarily weak nation invites aggression and loses the freedom to pursue national interest: territorial, economic and diplomatic.

Service chiefs must have periodically briefed the defence minister on the appalling state of their forces, but all this appears to be outside his grasp. All that he has succeeded in achieving is blacklisting one arms supplier after another.

Since no substantial increase in defence allocation can be expected, there is perhaps a need to cut down wasteful expenditure in the defence forces. Ordinance Factories employ a workforce of 1.69 lakh in its 39 factories and all of them need to be closed down or auctioned out to the civil industry. These factories not only overcharge the defence forces, but produce what is already being manufactured by the industry.

Most of the DRDO establishments are busy inventing the wheel and lack the ability to even undertake reverse engineering of imported equipment. Though these establishments have been in existence for over half a century, the country still imports over 70% of its weapons and equipment. Most of these establishments need to be shut down. The private industry should be involved in the production of high-end defence equipment in a purposeful manner.

All facilities for major repair of high-end defence equipment and manufacture of ammunition need to be shifted closer to where such equipment is to be deployed to save on transportation charges and the downtime. Large-scale induction of simulators can save a lot of wear and tear of the equipment.

The security scenario is discomforting. Focused and concerted efforts are required to meet the emerging challenges and ensure the country's safe future.


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