Buy within the budget: the new prioritisation mantra

India’s armed forces have thus far trained and planned to fight wars as single services. This included buying their own military hardware and resisting attempts to share or pool resources. That is set to change with the government having appointed its first Chief of Defence Staff, General Bipin Rawat, on January 1 this year.

A key result area for the new CDS will be jointmanship — to ensure the services train, equip and procure hardware jointly. In his first detailed media interaction on February 4, over a month after taking over, General Rawat outlined his tasks over his three-year tenure. His goals range from creating integrated ‘theatre commands’ and pooling military resources down to the level of creating a common motor transport pool in the national capital (currently, each service has its own).

Another of General Rawat’s key responsibilities is to ‘assign inter-services prioritisation to capital acquisition proposals based on the anticipated budget’. In other words, prune armed forces’ requirements according to the budget.

This means every major single-service buy will be closely scrutinised. High-profile projects, like the navy’s requirement for a third aircraft carrier, are likely to go under the axe. The IAF’s plan to locally build 110 fighter aircraft might also run into approval issues. Feathers, quite clearly, are going to be ruffled in the air and naval headquarters.

The key decision-maker is nonplussed. For General Rawat, the navy’s Indigenous Aircraft Carrier-2 (IAC-2) project, a 65,000-tonne, conventionally-powered aircraft carrier, with approximately 55 fixed and rotary wing aircraft, doesn’t make sense. He feels it will divert scarce budgetary resources away from the two other services.

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