Over the past 10 days, much attention has been given to a set of rankings released by Global Firepower (GFP), a website that assesses the war-fighting capabilities of countries. Global Firepower's 2017 list ranks India at the fourth position, just below the US, Russia and China, respectively, and ahead of the likes of the UK, France and Israel.

Needless to say, the list has attracted public curiosity and also aroused nationalist sensibilities. The rankings are based on a country's population and industrial and military resources among other factors. India actually ranks above China in its total military manpower, which stood at 4,207,250 personnel versus 3,712,500 for Beijing. However, this number is misleading as it involves India's large 'reserve' components and China's number of active personnel stands at 2.2 million personnel against India's strength of 1.36 million personnel.

Pakistan, always touted as India's arch-rival, is ranked in the 13th spot in the GFP list, with a total of 9,19,000 military personnel.

However, it would be prudent to remember Global Firepower's logo itself includes “strength in numbers” and the new GFP list is almost entirely based on the numbers game. The rankings don't take into account the nature of a country's nuclear arsenal, so the UK and France, which have proven nuclear strike capabilities via submarines, rank below India and China, which still have fledgling submarine-launched ballistic missile capabilities.

Another flaw in the ranking is that while it includes a country's natural resource and industrial/logistics base (airports/seaports), it doesn't take into account a country's technology base, so India ranks way ahead of Israel, which is its second largest arms supplier! The muddled state of decision making and lack of progress in numerous indigenous ventures means India is likely to remain reliant on foreign countries for its technology requirements for the foreseeable future.

And a sound technology base also matters in how a military is used, in particular in intensive, 'expeditionary' roles, which require deployment to distant locations.

While the maxim quantity has a quality of its own—often attributed to Stalin—still matters, countries are moving away from a manpower-centric concept of war-fighting. China's People's Liberation Army, for long the world's largest army, has steadily cut numbers from a high of 4.5 million personnel in 1980 as it has sought to build power-projection capabilities and embrace the concept of 'asymmetric' warfare to build up its potential to deter, if not confront, a technologically superior US.

It pays to remember that the last conflict between two 'large' rivals was the liberation of Kuwait in 1991 when Iraq, which then had the world's fifth largest military, squared off against a US-led coalition. The result of that conflict was studied extensively across the world: if North Korea decided to hedge its bets on nuclear weapons, China decided to upgrade its armed forces holistically.

The GFP ratings make for interesting reading, but given the fact that it excludes major parameters such as technology and nuclear capability, it is hardly revealing of a country's ability to project power in a changing world.