Need for introspection amid low Budget allocations

By Lt Gen (Retd) Deependra Singh Hooda

As the budget announcement dawns, the military would be anxiously awaiting the allocation to the defence forces. I think there will be no surprises as the trends have been clear for the past few years, and the interim budget announced in February 2019 is an indicator that no significant increase in the defence funding can be expected on July 5.

Facing a stressed budget, the military has two options open to it. The first is to carry on with its usual practices and force structures while accepting the current slow pace of infrastructure development and modernisation. The second is to bite the bullet and attempt the much-awaited reforms that could result in a leaner and more integrated force that is capable of efficiently fighting the wars of the future.

The army has been the first among the three services to accept the present reality and make a serious attempt at restructuring itself. Realising that high manpower costs were impacting essential weapon purchases, and even routine requirements like garrison security, it was reported in July 2018 that the army had put all new raisings for the 'mountain strike corps' on hold. Last year, General Rawat ordered four studies with the aim of "enhancing the operational and functional efficiency, optimise budget expenditure, facilitate force modernisation and address aspirations."

The other two services, perhaps more comfortable with their modernization budget, continue to insist on 44 squadrons for the air force, and 200 ships for the navy. I have no doubt that these figures have been arrived at after due operational considerations, but the question must be raised whether these acquisitions are financially feasible. And if they are not possible, then are we looking at some measures to overcome the inevitable capability shortfalls that will occur.

The US military is the most powerful in the world, and with a defence budget of about $700 billion, we would believe that it could easily meet all its demands. However, the reality is somewhat different. As per an assessment carried out by the Heritage Foundation, the US Air Force has shrunk from 70 active-duty fighter squadrons during Desert Storm to just 55, of which only 32 squadrons are part of the active-duty Air Force, the balance being part of guard and reserve force.

The US Navy has declined from 1,000 ships in 1955 to about 270 ships. In December 2016, the US Navy released its latest study on force structure assessment. The Navy concluded that a 653-ship force would be necessary to address all of the operational demands. However, due to budgetary constraints, it finally decided on a force objective of 355 ships, to be achieved by 2035.

In a paper titled Is the US Military Getting Smaller and Older? Steven Kosiak concludes that the size of the US military is shrinking due to two main reasons. The first is the acquisition of increasingly costly next-generation weapon systems, and the second is the higher spending on personnel due to growth in salaries and healthcare costs. If this sounds familiar to us, it is because the fundamental budgetary challenges to militaries around the world remain somewhat similar.

The answers are also not unknown. The three services must realistically assess the character of future wars, focus on jointness in warfighting and integrated structures, look at technology induction, and sweep aside their traditional parochialism. These issues are as important as financial allocations. As a RAND monograph, Measuring Military Capability, points out, “A country may provide its military with generous budgets and large cadres of manpower, but if the military’s doctrine is misguided, the training ineffective, the leadership unschooled, or the organization inappropriate, military capability will suffer.”

(Lt Gen (Retd) Deependra Singh Hooda is a former General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Indian army’s Northern Command and the brain behind 2016 Surgical Strikes)

Comments (+)