The Indian Defence Budget is expected to cross the psychological barrier of Rs1000 billion (US$22.8 billion) when the Congress Government presents its new year’s budget on February 28 in the Lok Sabha, South Asia Tribune has learnt.
It would be an increase of about 30 per cent to the current budget of Rs770 billion and may provide momentum to increased defence spending in the sub-continent.
The Finance Ministry is pressing to buy helicopters that could fly on high altitudes and in sub-zero temperatures, besides equipping the Indian Navy.
In the last budget the increase on defence was 27.69 per cent compared to the revised estimates of Rs603 billion. It was the biggest military budget in two decades as in 2000-01 it was Rs496.22 billion, in 2001-02 Rs542.66 billion and in 2002-03 Rs556.62 billion.
Renowned economist Kamal Nayan Kabara told the South Asia Tribune: “The UPA government has a long list of armaments it wants to buy from various countries including EU, USA and Russia. Keeping this in mind, India’s Defense Budget is likely to swell. During the current financial year the Government of India has not been able to buy arms as the budgetary allocations did not permit, but in 2005-06, there could be a jump to cross the Rs1000 billion mark.”
Mr. Kabara says that the erstwhile National Democratic Alliance government had struck a deal with Israel for Falcon radar, with Britain for Advanced Jet Trainer aircrafts and with Russia for Admiral Gorshkov warship. Rs300 billion have already been paid by the previous government to these countries as token money, and Rs260 billion r had to be paid in 2004-05.
He says: “Though last year the defense budget had been increased by Rs173 billion, it was spent on the deals made by the previous government. And since military and militant activities have not decreased in a substantial manner, the budget allocation is bound to go up.”
As India began technical talks in New Delhi on Monday with a US team on the Patriot missiles, New Delhi is also seeking US cooperation in raising Special Forces on the line of American Green Berets, Delta Force and Rangers. Increased allocations are also needed for all this.
Apart from this, the defense sector is pressing the Government of India to allocate funds for buying ultra modern helicopters to cope with Kargil-like situations. Sources close to Defense Minister, Pranab Mukherjee, told the South Asia Tribune: “Without increasing allocations, the program of modernization of the Indian forces will not be possible. Though peace process has started between India and Pakistan, the defense sector feels that equipping of the forces is still necessary.”
“We need at least 60 ultra modern helicopters that can fly on high altitudes and in sub-zero temperatures to be deployed in Kargil and Siachen areas. These are the multi-purpose helicopters, which can be used for reconnaissance on high altitude, supplies and to attack, as well,” sources added.
According to the informed sources, the Indian Army is, nowadays, looking forward to buy any one of the three helicopters, viz., Bell-70, Kamov and Eurocopter. A test flight of all these three variants is going on in Bangalore.
Kamov helicopters have already been included in the Indian Navy, and the Navy wants to equip these helicopters with AWACKS facilities. Germany’s Eurocopter is involved in developing a heavy transport helicopter which could carry 10 to 13 tons of material and transport 70 soldiers. Indian forces say that such a helicopter would be able to cope with any future Kargils.
On the other hand, the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) is also developing such helicopters. The Cheetal helicopter made a world record on November 2, 2004 by flying at the altitude of 25,150 feet over Saasar Kangadi in Laddakh. The HAL has fitted TM-333 2M2 engine in this helicopter.
Similarly, the HAL is also developing lightweight Dhruv helicopters. The test flight of this helicopter has also been successfully done by flying it up to the altitude of 27,000 feet, but it is still undergoing test flights.
The Indian Army has also chalked out a plan to buy 155 mm caliber cannons. During the Kargil War, only the controversial Bofors cannons were successful while others had failed.
Director of the Institute of Defense Studies and Analysis, C. Udai Bhaskar told the South Asia Tribune: “It is believed that the defense allocation next year will be around three percent of the Gross Domestic Product. The main issue would be what would be the mode of allocation, and how the allocated funds would be utilized.”
“We know that at umpteen times, funds lapsed due to non-utilization. It means there had been no plans how to expend the funds. The Defense Budget has two parts, viz revenue and capital outlay. The capital outlay is used for modernization, achievements and technical developments. This is the main part of the Defense Budget which has never been utilized properly in past,” he said.
Bhaskar said: “Today, military tensions between India and Pakistan, and India and China have substantially reduced. When there is no extraneous threat, then why to increase budget allocations? But it is important as India has to revolutionize the defense sector with modern techniques and technologies which we have been ignoring so far.”
“Secondly, we have to strike the balance between the three forces. At present the ratio of the personnel of Army, Air Force and Navy stand as 22:2:1. This is the worst ratio in the world. Therefore the ratio of the budget allocation also stands as 4:2:1. The Indian Navy gets only 16 per cent of the total allocation, despite its strategic importance. What a pity,” he added.
Bhasker says: “All the three forces are facing the challenge of how to maintain a balance between the strategic arm capability (nuclear weapons, missiles, satellite, etc), traditional forces (artillery, tanks, ships and fighter aircrafts) and Special Forces (modern equipment for all types of warfare) so as to cope with terrorism and challenges of internal security.”