Are We Not Spending Enough On Defense, Or Are We Spending It Wrong?

Posted on March 14, 2014 in Specials

By Sukant Khurana:

No nation can strive to maintain strength just by moral superiority, unless the plan is to become another 21st century Vatican. Starting from Nehru’s debacles with fledgling Pakistan, the unmitigated 1962 disaster with China to our ongoing inability to maintain territorial integrity, the common thread has been a consistently lame Indian defense policy. It hardly matters whether Congress, third front or Sanghis are in power; with complete impunity, troops from the neighboring land of Dragon feel free to wander miles inside Indian Territory and set posts at whim.

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On one hand, we daydream of India being a superpower and then on another, we cling on to dilapidated Stone Age military equipment, such as flying coffins and constantly collapsing Naval equipment. Forget the ability to project force in the world, if need be, we have not been able to manage defense in even conventional terms to the level that would be expected, given the size of the Indian economy. When Crimean crises happens, both Putin and Obama call Beijing and not our bhole Singh Sahab. Our strategy for defense is essentially the same as Pakistan or any other developing country; to have enough deterrence, a somewhat mention-able air force and missile delivery system to be able to avoid full-fledged war. Our worldview does not extend beyond our periphery, not even to all of Asia. Are we not spending on defense, or are we spending it wrong? I do not think a significant increase in the fraction of budget for defense will improve the situation a lot. It will just starve our much in need poor population further; take away resources from the struggling education, health and agricultural sector, without adding much to defense. What is needed is smart and patriotic policy.

Should the politicians not be talking about change in our defense policy around election time? If they are, then they are probably doing it at the time that they allocate for bathroom singing but not when they talk to us on 24/7 media. Elections are a time where you would expect each party to appear more patriotic than the other by promising heaven on earth for India’s defense. In the Indian election medley, the regional and ethnic groupings do not even have to put up any such pretense, forget walking their talk. They are happy talking of Yadav, Gujar, Brahmin, Rajput, Bhumihar vote or simply cashing in on Tamil, Naga, Asamiya or Maharashtrian sentiments, instead of showing any pan-Indian concerns. Shockingly, even the National formations do not have to worry about defense much. They are just agglomeration of multitudes of such parochial concerns and conflicting aspirations. Do not confuse concern for defense with pandering to rather large armed force personnel to get their votes. You can see effort to fish their vote from recent inductions of ex-officers, with some of those even dangerously responsible for unexplained movement of troops.

Indian defense needs improvement on all three fronts: 1) Changes in recruitment of personnel and institutional structure, 2) Modernization of equipment and 3) Smarter foreign policy. I will focus on the Holy Cow of defense modernization in India because it is not just a Holy Cow, it is also the big fat Cash Cow of foreign purchases. Before I talk about this cash cow, let me mention the 2009 manifesto of BJP, INC, and CPM, three formations that pretend to being concerned with national issues. Funnily (and sadly), both BJP and Congress criticize each other for the continued lapse of spending of Rs 24,000 crores. BJP failed and then did congress. It is two naked kings making fun of each other, pretending they are clad. Hamam mein sab nange hain. BJP, which gets a slightly higher share of armed forces votes, talks of income tax and other benefits for armed force personal and some improvements in the petty amounts given to the relatives of martyrs. CPM makes the usual and expected noise about USA but also raises a very valid concern of the need to prevent any permanent bases in South Asia, which is ignored by the other two servile parties. BJP wants to expedite foreign procurement of weapons. Congress does not talk about it but this is a consensus issue. They both want to buy. They both have their own set of Quattrocchis and coffin scams.

Neither of the two major parties shows any solid policy suggestions to improve indigenous technology development. In this regard, they have both been very honest indeed. A first! They don’t talk about it and they don’t do it. Our indigenous technology development beyond few payload delivery systems that can proudly (some sarcasm intended) now match mid 1960s technology of the first world, are hardly mention-able.

The stated logic to buy from various countries, even if their systems are not mutually compatible at times, is that our own indigenous growth needs time to catch up. It is a rubbish logic. Indigenous growth would never catch up if the entire budget is spent on buying. In India, indigenous growth has been kept a joke so that it acts as an excuse to buy. If we continue on this logic and keep buying aircraft that are 30 year old, from some superpower, do we expect to match that superpower ever? By indigenous weapons, I do not mean minor modifications to rusty Cold War machinery and calling it domestic weapon development. I also do not mean paint overs or fake made in India labels to having a saving face. A nation of smartest minds in the world should be able to not just match but beat any other power in a few decades in the high tech defense sector. All we need is political will.

Being the largest purchaser of foreign weapons should be a matter of national shame. I would like to see all national parties and my favorite spoiler to the rotten equation of Indian politics: AAP, to come up with specifics of domestic defense agenda in the upcoming elections.

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