Should military spending be increased?

April 20, 2018 12:15 am | Updated 12:34 am IST

YES | Syed Ata Hasnain

India risks its national security with low allocations to defence spending


For a developing country that is committed to enhancing the quality of life of its citizens, defence is usually the last thing on the nation’s mind. Yet, no government that is committed to such a cause can ignore the existing physical and psychological security threats. These threats are more than just ordinary in India, a country located in a dangerous neighbourhood and facing both internal and external threats. Comprehensive national security helps a nation attain its aspirations, and robust security is a subset of that. India has a robust military machine. However, the lack of a national security strategy, a national strategic culture and a transformational approach towards its military capability prevent it from obtaining optimum benefit from its defence expenditure.

Resource allotment

The defence budget is increasingly looked at as a means to provide incremental resources to other sectors, since procedural delays prevent its optimum and timely expenditure. Does this mean that the resource allotment is sufficient for India’s defence spending and only mismanagement is responsible for the lack of optimisation? Far from it.

In February, the Army transparently deposed before the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence and stated two pertinent things: one, 68% of its equipment was in the vintage category, and two, with the new budget allocation of 1.47% of GDP, the sustenance of at least 24 capital projects is in jeopardy. The Army received ₹268.2 billion for modernisation as against its demand for ₹445.7 billion. With the Doklam crisis and the necessity of mobilising the Siliguri-based Corps, along with other priority resources from many other sectors to make up existing deficiencies and optimise the Corps’ capability, the Army expended almost its entire allocation of the transportation budget. In January, it had no money to even hire vehicles. The revenue budget amounts to a little over 80%, leaving little for capital expenditure through which modernisation is to be executed. Drawdown of a manpower-intensive Army that consumes the revenue cannot be done overnight. Thus, even as this drawdown is seriously executed, we cannot allow modernisation to languish.

Military security involves the development of such capability to deter potential adversaries from undertaking inimical activities that may result in forms of adventurism or even proxy interference in a nation’s affairs. The result may never translate into immediate tangible gains. Since understanding of national security at the bureaucratic and decision-making levels remains abysmal, the focus on modernisation has suffered. With huge bureaucratic controls, and a Defence Ministry with no military presence, the comprehension of priorities itself remains suspect. This can only be overcome if decisions are timely and procedures for acquisition are fast-tracked. Also, financial support should be sufficient with systems which do not call for a lapse of financial resources, once allotted. Without higher allocation, the armed forces may be unable to reach even the first level of transformation they seek.

Managing expenditure

Management of expenditure also needs a complete revamp. Amid the focus on prevention of potential corruption, the larger picture of timely and optimum capability development has been ignored. Arguably, limited leakages could still be acceptable if timeliness of delivery is achieved even as more efficient procedures are implemented.

Syed Ata Hasnain was the military secretary of the Indian Army


NO | Abhijit Iyer-Mitra


A budget reduction will jolt the military out of its sense of entitlement and intellectual laziness


The West’s “alarm” over emerging Chinese and Russian systems is pure drama for the sake of getting bigger budgets. The reality is that the U.S. with over 325 million people and a per capita GDP of more than $57,000, and Europe with over 510 million people and a per capita GDP of $436,000, are a bigger pool of scientifically trained talent at much higher levels of human value addition than China and Russia combined. They also produce far superior technology. While the manufacturing age required strong centralised governments, the information age requires heavy decentralisation and personal freedoms. This is why Russian and Chinese weapons remain kinetic-industrial showpieces, not the heavy information age-driven force multipliers.

A fossilised mindset

Once denied access to such equipment, India now has virtually unfettered access to this market and can achieve a lot more spread over fewer systems, which significantly reduced life cycle and maintenance costs. Sadly, India still procures based on outdated pre-information age, kinetic paradigms, which means that it will always attempt to emphasise quantity over quality and fail miserably on both counts. In short, it is not obsolete equipment that is the problem, it is a fossilised mindset.

One of the ways the West forced its militaries to break this ossification was by imposing vicious budget cuts that forced the military to shed flab and impose fiscal and planning discipline. This produced remarkable achievements. For example, Sweden, with a paltry budget of $6 billion per year, feels confident enough to stare down Russia which spends $70 billion a year on defence and whose navy regularly sinks U.S. aircraft carriers during war games. India’s mix-and-match procurement was smart when it was a poor, disliked and heavily sanctioned country. In the information age, though, this strategy is a disaster, imposing heavy logistical and training duplication/wastage, while vastly reducing the efficiency of equipment.

In simple terms, think how well an iPhone, an iPad, and an iMac interact with each other. In fact, an iPad interaction with android, though passable, will be suboptimal but well. Now try mating an iPhone with the Chinese and Russian native software developed for their domestic markets and you have a disaster. This doesn’t take into account the enormous wastage in the military on running officers messes, golf courses, abusing the sahayak system, etc. These make the military two-three times more expensive to run, and reduce its effectiveness by 60-80%.

An independent think weapon

However, what we need to understand is that exploiting Western technology needs highly trained individuals, basic human value addition. You cannot have cannon fodder (which is what Indian soldiers are), conditioned to die without using high technology that enables each of them to become an independent, think weapon. Smart militaries require smart people to run smart equipment. India needs to invest more heavily in fewer soldiers — not in moving-talking target practice dummies. If India rationalises its suppliers, thinking and human resources, it can achieve a lot more in the resources provided. However, a budget reduction will be an important first step into jolting the military out of its sense of entitlement and intellectual laziness.

Abhijit Iyer-Mitra is a senior fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies


IT'S COMPLICATED | Deependra Singh Hooda

Funds appear necessary, but the military first needs to review its organisational philosophy


The issue of military spending in India has been the subject of much debate ever since the announcement of the smallest allocation since 1962 to defence in terms of GDP. The Army’s frustration was apparent in the Vice Chief of Army Staff’s remarks to the Parliamentary Panel on Defence that the “budget has dashed our hopes” and that modernisation will be seriously impacted.

Two arguments

India faces serious external and internal security challenges. Insurgencies in the Northeast and Kashmir continue to tie down a large number of Army units. Hostility with Pakistan has sharpened, and in the absence of diplomacy, there is talk of greater reliance on the military option to deter the Pakistan Army from continuing support to terror activities.

The first step in China’s rise as a global power is the achievement of regional hegemony in Asia. The manifestation of this is already visible and this will lead to a heightened strategic competition between India and China. In the absence of strong Indian military power, this competition will be a no contest. Therefore, there is no option but to enhance the defence budget, say many experts.

Others argue that India has the fifth largest defence budget in the world and any increase will only come at great cost to an already stressed population.

Both sides have merit in their arguments but what is clear is that there is a complete mismatch between budget allocation and the existing structure of the military. If this continues, it will lead to a debilitated military – oversized, poorly equipped and lacking the infrastructure for effective application of power. If we are to avoid this state, both the government and the military have to play their part.


The nature of civil-military relations in India has resulted in an absence of regular consultations on strategic matters. Despite serious shortfalls in the military, political leaders brush aside concerns with remarks like “resources are adequate”. The government must squarely address this issue by conducting a comprehensive national security review to understand threats and then prepare a plan to counter these challenges. This plan will include the future requirements of weapon systems as well as infrastructure. The allocation of funds to the military, whatever the percentage of GDP, must be based on this plan and not the current ad hoc yearly allocations.

The military also needs to look at its organisational structures. The focus must shift from quantity to quality and capability. It is estimated that in World War II, it took 108 aircraft to destroy a single target. In the 2001 campaign in Afghanistan, 38 aircraft were able to hit 159 targets on the first night of bombing. There is a similar exponential technology change in the equipment of the Army and the Navy. Yet we insist on replacing one MiG-21 with one Rafale, one 105-mm artillery gun firing a 17 kg shell with one 155-mm gun firing a 45 kg shell.

The military is in danger of becoming a technologically second-rate force with no focus on robotics, unmanned systems, Artificial Intelligence, etc. There is no organisation within the military to tackle cyber threats. It is worrying that 68% of the Army’s equipment is vintage, but perhaps this also provides an opportunity to invest in new technology and ideas. Infusion of additional funds appears necessary, but this will have little impact unless the military reviews its organisational philosophy to emphasise capability over numbers.

Lt. General Deependra Singh Hooda is the former General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Indian Army’s Northern Command

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