Friday, March 13, 2015

Fighting with hands tied behind the back

Chairman Xi meets PLA delegates during NPC meet
My article Fighting with hands tied behind the back  appeared yesterday in the Edit Page of The Pioneer.

Here is the link...

It is routine to compare India’s defence capabilities with those of China, given that the two countries are engaged in resolving border disputes. But also look at the difference in their defence budgets

The 2015 Chinese defense budget has been the focus of attention during the annual Two Meetings of the National People's Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) which opened in Beijing on March 3 and 5 respectively.
A few days before the event, the Taiwanese website WantChinaTimes quoted Jin Canrong, a professor at the School of International Studies at Renmin University of China, saying: “a sustained double-digit growth of China's defense budget would most likely be based on its strategies for coping with any changes in its relations with the United States.” The Defence expert added: “If China increases its military budget by double-digits this year, it would signal that the country is boosting its combat preparedness in response to perceived potential challenges.”
Last year, China’s ‘official’ budget was 808.2 billion yuan (US$129 billion), an annual increase of 12.2% compared to the previous year.
On March 4, 2014, during a news conference, the NPC’s spokeswoman, Fu Ying announced that this year’s defense budget would be increased by about 10 percent.
Fu further explained: “Compared with great powers, the road of China's defence modernisation is more difficult. We have to rely on ourselves for most of our military equipment and research and development.” She added that China's defence policy is defensive in nature.
A battery of Chinese experts justified Beijing’s decision to go again for a double-digit raise. Major General Xu Guangyu, senior consultant to the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association commented that the present increase in military spending is ‘basically reasonable’, adding that the $145 billion budget ‘only’ represents 1.4 percent of the country’s GDP, far below world average.
General Xu also argued that China's per capita military spending remains low, about US $ 57,000/soldier (divided among the 2.3 million officers and soldiers). He did not miss the opportunity to compare with the figure of the Japanese ($ 210,000) or American troops ($ 430,000). His conclusion was: “[China’s] current military spending is still very insufficient and cannot fully meet the needs of China's national defense.”
Though Xi Jinping introduced a new theory, the 'Four Comprehensives', which promotes ‘building a moderately prosperous society, deepening reform, governing the country according to rule by law, and enforcing strict party discipline’, the budget of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) is not caught in rhetoric as China remains pragmatic (and secretive) about its defence spending.
While Xi’s proclaimed objective is to make the troops able to ‘fight and win wars’, the PLA’s main battle is today against rampant corruption. As the annual Meetings started in Beijing, a group of 14 officials of Major General rank were placed under investigation. The most prominent is Guo Zhenggang, former deputy political commissar of the Zhejiang Military Command and son of a former CMC Vice-Chairman.
The resolute fight against corruption, at all the levels of the PLA, has one ‘budgetary’ collateral, as all military officials should only rely on their salaries. If the ‘customary’ sources of income are cut, how will Xi control the generals and built a ‘Chinese Dream Army’?
The PLA Daily quoted President Xi saying that “military officers can only rely on their salaries for income. Any unapproved income or illegal gains will be investigated and punished.” Easier said than done, though as a result, the CMC will probably have to increase PLA’s salaries (a third of the military budget is for the salaries of the PLA's 2.3 million personnel).
One of the reasons for this year slightly lower budgetary increase is that China faces serious economic problems, with an annual growth of 7.4%, the slowest in 24 years; a further slowdown to around 7% being around the corner. It may seriously hamper larger defence spending.
Moreover, a report prepared by the Rand Corporation for a US congressional committee argued that China’s military is not ready to win wars despite spending heavily.
The report says: “The PLA suffers from potentially serious weaknesses that could limit its ability to conduct operations required to fight and win future conflicts. …Although the PLA’s capabilities have increased dramatically, its remaining weaknesses increase the risk of failure to successfully perform the missions the Chinese Communist Party leaders may task it to perform.”
The PLA is said to have an outdated command structure, poor quality personnel, to lack professionalism and be held back by corruption, the report added.
The main question remains: does the budget announced by Beijing reflect the reality? It certainly does not!
Take an example, The Global Times reported that China has begun upgrading its Type 094 nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine. The Chinese Navy may need five or six of the submarines, capable of carrying 16 ballistic missiles, a great improvement on the original model which could only carry 12 missiles which can be fitted with JL-2 intercontinental-range ballistic missiles with a range of 8000 km.
Is the amount of R&D required for this ‘improvement’, taken into account the defence budget? It is anybody’s guess.
What about the construction of a second aircraft carrier?
The US-based Duowei News, quoted Ding Haichun, a deputy political commissar of the PLA Navy, who acknowledged that China's second aircraft carrier is currently under construction and will be more advanced than the country's first carrier, the Liaoning.
When asked how many carriers China plans to have, Liu Xiaojiang, a former PLA Navy political commissar said that it would ultimately depend on how much research and development funding is available.
In India, the 2015-16 Defence Budget disappointed many. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has ‘only’ announced a raise of about 10 percent to Rs 2,46,727 crore (40 billion US $), which is Rs 23,357 crore more than the revised estimates for the current financial year (Rs 2,22,370 crore).
Defence experts have unanimously argued that this inadequate allocation will not provide the necessary boost for the country’s military modernization, particularly if it wants to catch up with China.
Though Jaitley affirmed in the Parliament: “Modernisation of the armed forces is critical to enable them to play their role effectively”, Brig Gurmeet Kanwal, former Director of the Centre for Land Warfare Studies wrote in The Indian Defence Review that it is not enough considering “the Army has begun the raising of 17 Corps, designated as a mountain strike corps, which is expected to cost Rs 64,000 crore over seven years.”
One has to add initial payments for 126 MMRCA planes, 197 light helicopters, 145 Ultra-light Howitzers, 15 Apache attack helicopters and 22 CH-47F Chinook medium lift helicopters, C-17 heavy-lift aircraft, etc. It is mathematically impossible to cover these urgent requirements.
One can always argue that despite the shortcomings of the Indian defence budget, a stable and democratic India is perhaps not so badly off compared to China, however there is no question of catching up with the Middle Kingdom in the years to come.

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