The defence budget has seen no increase from the overall interim budget, which falls well short of weaponry and investments our armed forces desperately need, given our challenges

by Maj Gen (Dr) G D Bakshi SM, VSM (Retd)

The Indian defence budget was expected to balloon after Balakot when we had to call off operations on the second day of combat, even as Pakistan struck back viciously.

Had India taken care to keep its forces modernised, this was a golden opportunity to do Pakistan in for all its asymmetric adventurism of 30 years.

We had hoped that vital lessons would have been learnt and thoroughly ingested — but they have most obviously not been learnt. What we have seen is a marginal increase of some 8.1% over the last year, which barely covers the cost of inflation.

If the government was serious about modernising rapidly, the budget would have jumped up to 2% of overall GDP — it has hovered between 1.5-1.6% for nearly a decade. In fact, last year, it had fallen to 1.48%. Experts in the IDSA have calculated that the budget would have to grow by some 30% (or, to be exact, a sum of Rs 1,12,137 crore) to cater for most urgently needed weapon systems for all three services.

The most glaring gaps are in the Air Force — which is a critical factor for winning wars and responding to Pakistani terror a la Balakot.

We need an Air Force of 45 squadrons if we are to face a two-front war. Today, we are down to below 30 and by 2023, we will be down to 26 squadrons, that is, we will be on par with the Pakistani Air Force.

The army needs about 3,000 artillery guns of the Bofors class — for which it has been waiting for over 30 years. We need helicopters, submarines, and minesweepers and night fighting equipment for our tanks. All these are vital to plug dangerous gaps — but our government does not seem unduly concerned.

This, after it won the national election on the plank of national security.

On paper, a budget of 3.19 lakh crore rupees sounds most impressive. In dollar terms, it works out to just 44.6 billion dollars.

By way of comparison, the USA spends 716 billion dollars a year — and China spends 200 billion dollars annually on defence.

We are happy that we spend more than Pakistan at 7.27 billion dollars.

The Pakistani economy is tottering and this is the opportune time to engage it in an arms race which will collapse that army without firing a shot.

However, despite all the aggressive rhetoric, we clearly have an abundance of Pakistan lovers in this country. To cover the non-allocation of badly needed funds, we are being told that our budget is seven times that of Pakistan.

What is glaringly left out of this equation is the need to also face a rising China.

We just had a landslide victory in an election fought primarily on issues of national security and a muscular response to Pakistan's terror. The present government has received a solid mandate to get tough. This defence budget however is a cause for serious disquiet.

The armed forces need a blood transfusion of vitally needed weapons and equipment. With the current outlay, these are nowhere in sight.

Frankly, this is a letdown.