The armed forces have sought an allocation of Rs 26.84 lakh crore ($416 billion) over the next five years to ensure requisite military modernisation and maintenance to take on the collusive threat from Pakistan and China as well as to safeguard India’s expanding geostrategic interests.
Union defence ministry sources said the 13th consolidated defence five-year plan for 2017-2022, which has been pegged at Rs 26,83,924 crore after extensive consultations with all stakeholders, including the DRDO, was presented at the Unified Commanders’ Conference here on July 10-11.
“The armed forces pitched for an early approval to the 13th Plan because their annual acquisition plans are based on it,” said a source. These projections for higher defence outlays come at a time when Indian and Chinese troops are locked in a tense but “non-aggressive” face-off near the Sikkim-Bhutan-Tibet tri-junction, while the daily firing duels with Pakistan along the line of control continue to take a toll on both sides.
Union defence minister Arun Jaitley, who addressed the conference, assured the armed forces that capital expenditure for modernisation projects will be “a priority area” with resource availability increasing within the Indian economy. But it is also true that the actual annual defence budgets have shown a discernible trend of declining modernisation budgets, unspent funds and a skewed revenue to capital expenditure ratio, which have meant that the Army, Navy and IAF continue to grapple with critical operational gaps on several fronts.
In the 2017-18 defence budget, for instance, the Rs 1,72,774 crore revenue outlay by far outstrips the capital one of Rs 86,488 crore for new weapon systems and modernisation. Moreover, the Rs 2.74 lakh crore defence budget works out to just 1.56% of the projected GDP, the lowest such figure since the 1962 war with China. “The forces want the defence budget to progressively reach at least 2% of the GDP for their operational requirements,” said a source.
As per the 13th Defence Plan, Rs 12,88,654 crore has been projected for the capital outlay, while Rs 13,95,271 crore for revenue expenditure. With an eye firmly on China, there is also a separate section in the plan on the “capability development” of the strategically-located tri-Service Andaman and Nicobar Command, which was set up in October 2001 but has suffered from relative neglect, lack of infrastructure and turf-wars.
“The armed forces will concurrently work to improve their poor teeth-to-tail ratio as well as ensure proper inter-service prioritisation in procurements, thrust on indigenisation, and optimal utilisation of funds. They also want a concerted effort to prevent the yearly surrender of funds,” said another source.
The defence five-year plans are formulated in consonance with existing threat perceptions, the “Raksha Mantri’s operational directives” and the 15-year LTIPP (long-term integrated perspective plan). But they have not received much attention from successive governments, with the 10th (2002-07), 11th (2007-12) and 12th (2012-17) Plans failing to get approval from the finance ministry.