New Delhi: It’s been another disappointing budget for the armed forces that is struggling to meet its pension bill worth Rs 1.34 lakh crore and barely has any money to pay off its EMIs for the purchases already made.
However, the new man in-charge of defence buying, Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Bipin Rawat is optimistic.
“We should not look at the Budget in monetary terms. We need to look at the Budget in the management of finances made available to us. Even if the government gave us Rs 2,00,000 crore and said let’s modernise in the next two years, can we do it? No. Because what we need is not available in the open market. It's not like buying bananas and oranges,” he said during an exclusive interview to CNN-News18.
The Indian Air Force has only 28 squadrons left and is looking for 100-plus fighter jets. The Navy is also looking for a third aircraft carrier, while the Army is desperate for more equipment. Will the capital outlay of Rs 1.13 lakh crore be enough for even some purchases after paying off committed liabilities (paying EMIs for equipment that have already been bought)?
General Rawat said, “We need to see what our priorities are. We cannot have lopsided modernisation where one service is going ahead and the other two are left behind. But what I would like to highlight is whenever you are procuring equipment, it must always be staggered."
“For example, if we buy all our tanks in three years, then 20 or 30 years down the line they reach obsolescence at the same time. You need to ensure that the downtime of your equipment isn't all at once.”
When asked if this staggered approach would work for the IAF that is staring at a critically low squadron strength of 28, the CDS said while there is no freeze on buying, we need to see what time-frame the fighters need.
“Even if the government sanctions money and says buy as many as 42 squadrons how will you get 32 squadrons overnight? The 36 Rafales will come in three years. This is thousands of crores worth inventory and is not lying captive with any manufacturer,” he said.
General Rawat also ruled out the immediate purchase of a third aircraft carrier that the Navy is keen on.
“It will be purchased when needed. You cannot predict what the situation would be after 10 years. Also, we need to develop capabilities of island territories to extend our reach in the Indian Ocean Region while we look at aircraft carriers,” he said.
Lack of funds has hit the infrastructure build-up of forces like accommodation and the new CDS wants to monetise defence land scattered around the country.
"My aim is to get Rs 35,000 crore over the next 10 years to meet requirements of map and infra developments. It is not from defence money. We may monetise some part of defence land. Say give it to central or state governments for national construction efforts like Bharatmala roads and ask them to build the infrastructure we need in lieu.”
The defence services are sitting on a land bank of 17.54 lakh acres most of which was acquired during the British rule. Of this, land measuring upto 15 lakh acres is outside the 65 notified cantonments.
The Army and Air Force need land to train, for firing ranges and so on. Selling off real estate to raise funds is unchartered territory for the armed forces. However, desperate times may call for desperate measures.