The recent cross-border killings of four Indian soldiers, including a captain of the Indian Army, and the Jammu army camp attack have once again heightened tensions along the border. Pakistan media is accusing India of creating a “war hysteria” in reaction to the defence allocation in India’s recently tabled Budget, with China also raising its eyebrows on the military spending.
However, in reality, India has set aside only 1.57 per cent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the year 2018-19—the lowest since the 1962 war with China. This is in comparison to China’s 3 per cent and Pakistan’s 3.5 per cent of their GDP on defence. While India has only 1.25 soldiers per 1,000 people, China has 2.23 and Pakistan 4.25.
Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley during his budget speech in Parliament stated that defence allocation was a priority and gave the armed forces due credit for their work. However, with a modest hike of 7.81 per cent in capital, the Budget has literally put the modernisation of armed forces on the back seat as a major chunk of the defence allocation would be going towards the maintenance of the huge military.
The Indian Air Force (IAF) has received the largest portion from this year’s defence budget. The budget for total modernisation of IAF at Rs 35,755 crore, has seen a mere Rs 200 crore increase from last year’s Rs 33,555 crore.
The budget for aircraft and aeroengines has been increased to Rs 24,708 crore this year, compared to Rs 19,200 crore in the last budget. However, a majority of this fund will be utilised towards the payments of Rafale fighter jet, Apache attack helicopters and Chinook heavy left choppers. Nevertheless, there are many critical and important defence programmes, which have been neglected for long, probably due to budgetary constraints.
The IAF has been struggling with mid-air refuelling capacity as its fleet of IL 78 tanker is plagued by maintenance problems. According to a senior IAF officer, who does not want to be quoted, the IAF desperately need more refuellers to stay prepared to counter China in the eastern sector, as it will extend legs of combat reach to the existing force level.
“The IAF has been raising the critical requirement of mid-air refuelling for over a decade. High cost of refuellers have shelved the proposals on two occasions,” Bahadur said, while adding that due to money, the IAF has to compromise only on 36 Rafale fighter jets. The IAF requires at least 126 such multi-medium role fighters.
Even a recent report by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) has highlighted that the IAF’s runways are too short for its Ilyushin-78 tanker fleet. The CAG added that their refuelling pods were dogged by failures and questioned the airworthiness.
Similarly, the IAF’s 1960s-vintage Avro transports, once the workhorses in logistics duties, are in poor condition and need urgent replacement. IAF started the process in June 2011, but is still hanging in balance with no immediate solution.
Currently, the immediate need is to rejuvenate the air force’s fleet of 123 Jaguars by putting new engines. Back in 2016, IAF former chief Arup Raha, had said that Jaguar was a capable aircraft but had some shortfalls in terms of engine power.
Termed the ‘deep penetration strike aircraft’, the Jaguar is designed for low-level strikes against enemy ground targets—air bases, land forces and warships. Upgrading with auto-pilot, close combat missiles, improved navigation system and weapon aiming systems required about Rs 12,000 crore.
The capital budget of the Army, has only been increased to Rs 26,688 crore from last year’s Rs 25,175 crore.
Currently, there are about 250 Cheetahs/Chetak in service with the army aviation corps. The airframe life of the Light Utility Helicopter is about 4,500 hours, but most of the Cheetahs in the Indian Army have logged over 6,000 flying hours. The engine life of the chopper is 1,750 hours and most have crossed this limit too.
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