India’s defence budgeting and the point of deterrence – India’s Defence Dilemma: Potency vs. Affordability in an Era of Rising Threats | 21 December 2023 | UPSC Daily Editorial Analysis

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What's the article about?

  • It talks about the challenges before India's defence budget and provide some suggestions.


  • GS3: Security Challenges and their Management in Border Areas – Linkages of Organized Crime with Terrorism.


  • India's defence preparedness is facing a critical juncture. With dwindling squadron strength, modernization challenges, and a volatile geopolitical landscape, the question of defence budgeting becomes paramount.
  • This article delves into the complex interplay between affordability, effectiveness, and potency in determining India's defence allocation.


  • Depleting Defence Capabilities:
    • The MMRCA program's limited scope (36 Rafale jets) left the IAF with a critical shortfall in squadron strength (32).
    • The Indian Army and Navy face similar deficiencies, raising concerns about India's overall defence preparedness.
    • The upcoming elections and potential sops could further constrain defence allocations, jeopardizing India's deterrence posture.
  • Affordability vs. Effectiveness:
    • The perennial “guns versus butter” dilemma presents a crucial question: should budget dictate defence potency, or should required potency drive allocations?
    • The IAF's acquisition of 97 Tejas fighters highlights this dilemma, deviating from the planned 114 multi-role aircraft program.
  • Threat Landscape and the Need for Judicious Assessment:
    • The ongoing threat on the northern borders and China's assertiveness necessitate a judicious assessment of India's warfighting capabilities.
    • The extended war scenario witnessed in Ukraine underscores the need for a robust industrial base and logistical preparedness.
    • A recent article in “War on the Rocks” emphasizes the importance of existing industrial capacity for immediate operational needs.
  • Indigenous Drive and R&D Challenges:
    • While technological modernization is crucial, developing a local defence industry takes time, necessitating a balanced approach between imports and indigenous solutions.
    • The Atmanirbhar Bharat initiative requires a pragmatic assessment of the current armament supply chain and its limitations.
  • Stagnant Defence Budget and R&D Deficits:
    • India's defence budget has stagnated in real terms, with expenditure declining as a percentage of GDP.
    • R&D investments remain low (0.7% of GDP), significantly behind China's 2.54% allocation.
    • While increased private sector participation in R&D is commendable, the gestation period for indigenous development remains significant.
  • Recommendations:
    • Sustained momentum in indigenization efforts requires consistent policy, adequate funding, and bipartisan support to make defence priorities election-proof.
    • Prioritize cost-effectiveness but avoid underestimating threats and compromising on essential capabilities.
    • Enhance R&D investments and private sector participation to accelerate self-reliance in defence technology.

Way Forward:

  • India's defence predicament requires a nuanced approach that balances affordability with effectiveness and potency. A judicious assessment of threats, judicious resource allocation, and sustained investment in indigenous capabilities are crucial to ensure India's security in an increasingly challenging geopolitical environment.

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