NEW DELHI – The Indian army has told a parliamentary panel that even as China and Pakistan are modernising their militaries at a lightning pace, a looming financial crisis is crippling India’s combat capabilities at a time when it should be prepared for a two-front war.
In a series of reports tabled in Lok Sabha on Tuesday, the Indian army painted a grim picture of how budgetary outlay was coming in the way of emergency purchases following the Pathankot and Uri terror attacks, procuring critical ammunition, and undertaking strategic road projects on the Chinese border.
The Indian army told the standing committee on defence that the threat of a two-front war with Pakistan and China was “a reality” and it was crucial to pay attention to the modernisation of the military and plugging yawning gaps in capabilities.
“Budget 2018-19 has dashed our hopes…The marginal increase in budgetary estimates barely accounts for the inflation and does not even cater for the taxes,” Indian army vice chief Lt. General Sarath Chand told the panel. He said the overall shortage under the capital head stood at Rs 12,296 crore.
Terming the “Make in India” initiative as a great step taken by the defence ministry, he said there was not enough money available for the army to take up projects under the programme.
The reports said that the allocation of Rs 21,338 crore for modernising the force was not sufficient for the “committed payment” of Rs 29,033 crore for 125 ongoing schemes and emergency requirements. The air force and navy are also lacking money for new schemes, according to the reports.
The Indian army also told the panel that it was running short of Rs 6,380 crore to build ammunition stocks necessary for fighting an intense war for 10 days.
India allocated Rs 2.95 lakh crore for military spending in 2018-19, a modest hike of 7.8% over last year’s budget of Rs 2.74 lakh crore. But India’s defence spending continues to be on the decline measured against its GDP.
The Indian government has set June 2018 as its target for meeting critical shortage of ammunition held by the force — a deficiency that, experts say, limits the force’s ability to fight prolonged wars.
“The state of defence preparedness is indeed a cause for concern and army modernisation has begun at last, but at a painfully slow pace,” said Indian military affairs expert Brig (retd) Gurmeet Kanwal.
The Indian defence ministry is expected to respond with an action taken report in Parliament.
The Indian army is authorised to stockpile ammunition for 40 days of intense fighting, known as war wastage reserves (WWR) in military parlance. In case that is not possible for all types of ammunition, the requirement that WWR must last for at least 20 days was made mandatory by the government two decades ago.
The army also told the panel that it was saddled with old weapons and systems — 68 % of its equipment was vintage, 24% current and only 8% state of the art. “Modernisation gets a mere 14% (of army budget), which is grossly inadequate…I feel it has to be anything between 22 and 25%,” an army representative who was unnamed told the panel.
The army said that this was happening at a time when the threat perception was increasing, citing last year’s Doklam border row as an example of China’s increasingly assertiveness on the northern borders, and increased infiltration by Pakistan-backed terror groups on the western front.
“(The) modernisation of both Pakistan and China is going on in full swing. China is competing to reach the levels of the US… More than ever, there is an increasing obligation to ensure that our nation cements its military capability…However, the budget does little to contribute to this requirement,” the representative quoted above told the panel.
The Indian army said it was struggling to buy ammunition, spares and armaments it shortlisted after Pathankot, Nagrota and Uri terror strikes over the last two years. Against a projection of Rs 2,116 crore to meet these requirements, the allocation stands at Rs 1,600 crore, the panel was told.
Talking about fidayeen attacks in Jammu and Kashmir and tightening the security at military installations and cantonments, the force said the ministry had delegated powers to the vice chief to spend Rs 14,097 crore. “However, there is no separate allocation for this. So this money also has to be found from the same Budget,” the representative said.