By Vritika Mathur
Led by Maj, Gen. B.C. Khanduri, AVSM (Retd.), the Standing Committee on Defence presented two reports to the Lok Sabha on 19 December 2017. The 35th and 36th reports of the committee criticised the government for inadequate action towards earlier recommendations and observations presented by the Standing Committee. These reports further emphasised the lack of military modernisation, poor fund allocation and the snail-paced process of procuring military equipment.
The committee slammed the government for its sluggish approach resulting in the constant delay of procurement and expressed its unhappiness with the customary nature of the replies of the Defence Ministry. It also voiced its concern regarding the severe effects that the deficiency of funds could lead to especially with regard to modernisation and operational preparedness of the Indian Armed Forces (IAF) be it the Indian Army, the Indian Navy or the Indian Air Force.
The crux of the deficiency
Defence Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, on being elected, stated that her first priority would be to ensure the preparedness of the armed forces by directing attention towards necessary equipment and endowment. However, one of the main factors impacting everything, from equipment to modernisation, is the allocation provided in the budget.
Reports state that the Army, the Navy and the IAF got just 60%, 67% and 54% of the funds they sought for the goal of modernisation. This consequentially impacted the operational preparedness of the forces severely. According to Laxman Kumar Behera from the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses, with around 1.5 million personnel, manpower costs by themselves account for 83% of the overall growth in the defence budget.
All three forces combined have been at the receiving end of this improper planning that, in turn also results in very little being left for procurement of defence equipment. Being a part of the top five in military expenditure and having the fourth largest defence budget is irony enough as, despite spending great proportions, no successful advancements have been made.
The Armed Forces are facing the brunt of the disorganised actions taken by the Ministry of Defence on all fronts. This includes vehicles such as submarines, helicopters and aircrafts, among others. There has been an exponential growth in the number of accidents in the past few years with no solution or alternative arising. In October 2017, seven IAF personnel were killed when a chopper crashed in Arunachal Pradesh. The IAF has had a high crash rate with a loss of more than 25 fighter jets in the past five years.
According to officials, this is the result of two things – first, technical defects and second, human error. Ageing equipment, poor maintenance and inadequate training all contribute to a diminishing system of defence. Similarly, in the Navy, minor fires in Indian Naval Ship (INS) Pralay and INS Kamorta have also taken place adding to the already heightened accidents of 2017 alone.
The ‘Make in India’ initiative aims to become more self-reliant by increasing the manufacturing of defence equipment within the country. However, it is unlikely that it will help provide any sort of balance to the economy even if it meets the requirements of the Armed Forces. What might be of help would be the export of this equipment to aid the unsatisfactory funding of the forces. Another method would be to limit the manufacturing of equipment in large quantities since it proves to be futile in the future.
The constant inefficiency on behalf of the Ministry of Defense is a blot on their image. It has, on many occasions given the same response for the inadequacy of allocation and blamed it on the economic and fiscal situation of the year. According to an official, the panel will meet again next month to regroup and review. However, there is little hope for a change in response and a steadier grip on the situation.
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