Can India sustain its growing military spending?

India is also doing everything it can to match it by enhancing its own military capability and capacity

Muhammad Ali Ehsan December 16, 2017
The writer is a retired lieutenant colonel of the Pakistan Army and a PhD in civil-military relations

India is a country with the world’s third-largest military by personnel strength. It also has the world’s fifth-largest defence budget and is a growing economic and military power that is flexing its muscle and wants the world to notice it. While China is executing an increasingly assertive regional posture, India is also doing everything it can to match it by enhancing its own military capability and capacity. Doing this is all right but will ‘Rising India’ be able to sustain such increased defence expenditures considering the fact that it has an ever-increasing population that is likely to make it the world’s most populous country by 2024?

This isn’t the only issue. It is also home to the largest poor population in the world — 26% of global extreme poor. Over 270 million people in India (21.92% of population) today live in extreme poverty, living under the subsistence level. Marred by ‘Modi Phenomenon’ which has introduced ‘national socialism’ with a BJP proffering almost insane ‘ideological fixations’, is India really going to become a Rising India that it is expected to be? PM Modi has introduced many key initiatives — ‘Start up India’, ‘skill India’, ‘make up India’ but is the PM desired ‘Indianisation’ and economic turnaround translating into India becoming a military power as well?

Alyssa Ayres article titled ‘Will India start acting like a global power?’ for Foreign Affairs Magazine has unfolded the brighter economic and military might of ‘giant India’. She writes that India “recently replaced its aging aircraft carrier in a much-delayed deal with Russia in 2013, it now has a second carrier under construction, developed and built at home, although it may not be ready for as long as a decade. India has a third carrier scheduled for construction, also to be made domestically and it has plans to add at least three nuclear powered submarines to its fleet.” But it’s not the nuclear submarines and the aircraft carriers that will drive the Indian ‘military power house’. Without efficient air machines (multi-role fighter aircraft) and ground machines like Main Battle Tanks (MBTs), no army can boast of possessing a superior offensive punch and it is India’s indigenously built Light Combat Aircraft ‘Teja’ and the MBT ‘Arjun’ that is failing to come up to the expectations of the Indian Air Force and the Indian Army and standing out as a recipe of failure for any future offensive undertaking by the Indian military. The Indian dynamism under the Modi government rises not only from its interplay of multiple strategic partnership and power alliances, thus diversifying its economic and military capabilities, but also producing its own indigenously built military machines instead of importing them. However, what are not often highlighted are the snag and the utter failure of some of the technologically developing India’s military products.

Teja is the baby of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), a state-owned Indian aircraft maker, and as the Indian ministry of defence tries to push it through to its air force, the Indian Air Force is rejecting these aircraft for their: insufficient airborne flight endurance (59 minutes versus three hours for Gripen and nearly four hours for F-16); smaller payload capacity (payload of three tonnes against nearly six tonnes by Gripen and seven tonnes by F-16); increased maintenance hours (20 hours of servicing for every hour of flying against six hours for Gripen and 3.5 hours for F-16) and service life (20 years as against 40 years for both the Gripen and F-16). Under development since 1983 HAL has not been able to meet the target of producing eight Teja aircraft a year. With all the given inadequacies in Tejas, the Indian Air Force is still scheduled to receive 40 Tejas Mark -1 aircraft by 2018.

The indigenous development of Arjun is often referred to as the “country’s longest and most trouble-ridden armament programme” started in mid-1970s. The service date for this ground machine was set for 1985. By 2009 nearly 35 years after it was originally conceived the Indian Army was forced to buy 124 Arjuns. According to a report published in Indian Economic Times titled ‘Army fleet of Arjun tanks face technical issues; major production of 124 tanks in service not operational’, by mid-2015, two years after the Indian Army had purchased all tanks nearly 75% of Arjuns became inoperable due to technical reasons. Arjun with its increased armored protection has its weight ballooned from the original 40 tonnes specification to 60 tonnes. This increased protection has come at the cost of its tactical and operational unsuitability as the Indian Army believes that with its weight this MBT is only suitable for desert or semi-desert terrain sectors for the west, thus making it unsuitable as an all-weather all-terrain MBT.

India today has two sides to its ‘Rising India story’ — economically it is doing well but its population continues to swell with an ever-increasing number of people below the poverty line. Similarly, militarily it showcases aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines to project its military power potential but its domestically produced fighter aircraft and tanks are low-grade military machines that cannot be relied upon to challenge some of the other professional armies of the world with better military machines and gadgets.

Writing in his autobiography Mien Kamph, Hitler before becoming the Fuehrer described Germany as a country “gleaming with wealth which alternates abruptly with repellent poverty,” the same can be said today about India. In the 1920s and 30s, Hitler spent most of his time developing Germany into an economic and military power. The same can be said about PM Modi’s Rising India today. There is also another commonality that I draw between Germany’s Fuehrer and India’s Modi: the paranoid Jew hatred had become the centrepiece of Hitler’s political activity relegating him to the dustbin of history as a tyrant who only employed violent means to seek his goals. PM Modi by his very nature is also a man who can never be focused on having a relationship that can go to and grow with Pakistan.

Germany’s Panzer divisions and waging the war on Europe through the blitzkrieg it employed gave Germany nothing. Modi’s India may also eventually realise this one day. India may consider diverting a portion of its defence budget to alleviating the crippling poverty that infects it rather than wasting money on failed projects like the Arjuns and the Tejas.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 16th, 2017.

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Suleman | 3 years ago | Reply Maybe an article on our own state of affairs would be good, let us not forget our population is growing twice as fast as india's and even faster than Bangladesh, in fact Bangladesh richer than us per head, even before devaluation.
rk singh | 3 years ago | Reply Dear Sir The army expenditure of any nation depends on its economy. India's economy is so big now- it is more than the combined total of all OIC countries, oil wealth and all put together. As for the extreme poor- forget it. Most of these so-called "poor" people will never give 8 hours a day of honest work. Indian government runs a lot of stupid schemes which hands over free money to them, without any work. It is unlikely they will work anytime in their lives.
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