The defence forces have high hopes from Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman that she will loosen the purse strings to meet the challenging requirements of modernising the armed forces as she gets down to preparing the first Budget of Modi 2.0.
Before becoming Finance Minister, Sitharaman had handled defence and security experts feel that she is well versed with the expectations of the armed forces.
While the three services have lined up some big-ticket purchases, experts feel that the Finance Minister will have little room for manoeuvring considering the overall fiscal situation.
Dr Laxman K Behera, Research Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis (IDSA) said, “The defence forces want more resources but I doubt the government could provide adequate resources.”
He said a 12 to 15 per cent increase from the last Budget would be a reasonable hike.
“Modernisation of armed forces is urgently needed. Previous budget increases have been consumed by the rising manpower cost. The government must find a way to provide adequate resources for the capital procurement,” Behera said.
But the lethargic pace of defence modernisation has been a cause for worry for many years.
Air Marshal Anil Chopra (retd.) told IANS that modernisation of the three services is scheduled.
“The squadron strength of the Indian Air Force is down to 30 instead of 42. The current outlay goes towards committed liabilities,” he said.
While presenting the interim Budget on February 1, Union Minister Piyush Goyal had allocated Rs 4,31,011 crore to the Defence Ministry. In his speech, Goyal had said that for the first time the defence budget had crossed Rs 3 lakh crore.
It might sound a big number but in real terms, it was a hike of only 6.8 per cent over the previous year. The share of defence budget in the GDP went down to 1.5 per cent, one of the lowest ever.
“We need to increase the defence budget to nearly three per cent of the GDP. This will take care of purchases that have already been booked and which we plan to buy,” said Wing Commander Vinod Nebb (retd).
A major chunk of the defence budget goes into manpower management leaving little scope for new purchases as the current capital outlay of little over Rs 1 one lakh crore goes into servicing existing contracts.
Irrespective of the constraints, the defence ministry has a task at hand to fulfil the requirements for new assault rifles, artillery guns, and bulletproof jackets for the Army to submarines and helicopters for the Navy and fighter jets for the Air Force (IAF).
Some big acquisition projects are lined up like the S-400 air defence system from Russia worth 5.4 billion dollars.
India is also looking to buy MH-60 Romeo naval multi-role helicopters from the US for 2.6 billion dollars apart from an air defence system and drones.