The Indian Army can now be considered to be the largest force in the world after China slashed its headcount by half under an ambitious military modernization plan. China held the top position for decades with a strength of nearly twenty lakh soldiers. However, according to a defence report commissioned by the Government of Japan, China now commands the third-largest ground force in the world following India and neighbour North Korea, with approximately 9,80,000 personnel.
India has approximately 14 lakh servicemen in the Army along with another nine lakh reserve force. North Korea on the other is estimated to have 12 lakh active personnel, according to a US-based thinktank.
The change in the Chinese military structure started in accordance with a modernization plan directed by President Xi Jinping back in 2015. Xi had announced the downsizing of the Peoples’ Liberation Army (PLA) to make the force leaner and reliant on modern warfare. The focus of the military was to move away from a large personnel-driven force to a one equipped with state-of-the-art technology for cyber and space and futuristic weapons.
“Since 1985, China has continuously sought to modernise its military by curtailing the number of personnel and streamlining organizations and systems through reforms, including those currently being implemented, in order to improve operational capabilities … China has rapidly modernized its missile forces in recent years,” the Japanese military document said.
The Chinese also put greater emphasis on building a superior navy and air force, which had underperformed in comparison to the army in technological advancement until then. A Chinese state news agency reported earlier that the country had cut the size of its the PLA by half as part of an “unprecedented” strategic shift designed to transform its army into a comprehensive modern force.
China, under Xi Jinping, is looking to develop its armed forces as it gets deeper entrenched in a strategic competition with the United States. Over the years, the Chinese have raised their defence spending as it grew richer due to its miraculous economic progress. The US remains the dominant military power in the world with a plethora of strategic assets across the Indo-Pacific region. The Americans also have a highly advanced force in all areas of the military, something that the Chinese are trying to catch up with.
India has also been in the process of military modernization by integrating advanced equipment and developing state-of-the-art technical know-how. However, with a defence budget estimated to be less than a quarter of its northern neighbour's, India has limited resources to pull in. The armed forces have been largely dependent on imported weapons from the US, Israel and Russia; but a renewed push is being given to domestic defence manufacturing under the Make in India initiative.