RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat wants India to match China’s defence capabilities. But can it?

Recent escalations along the Line of Actual Control have raised fears of open conflict between India and China. In a rally on October 25, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat said India must become “bigger than China in economic and strategic prowess” to keep Chinese ambition in check. But India remains a long way off China’s military strength and is unlikely to catch up any time soon without significant investment. A look at how the two nations’ militaries compare.

China’s Military Spend Skyrocketed After 2000

Though India spends a larger share of its GDP on its military, China’s total spending far outstrips India’s. Despite being at nearly the same level in 1990, China’s military expenditure in constant dollar terms was nearly four times that of India’s in 2019.

What India Needs To Match China

India has a lot of ground to cover if it wants to match China’s military expenditure. To equal China’s $261 billion in military spending in 2019, India’s military expenditure as a share of GDP and its total government expenditure — social sector spending which includes education and healthcare — will have to quadruple.

China’s Nuclear Stockpile More Than Double India’s

Though both China and India are members of the exclusive nuclear club, China has grown its nuclear stockpile considerably in the past decade. When India built its first nuclear weapon in 1998, China already had more than 200 weapons. US intelligence agencies expect China to continue adding to its stockpile of warheads to arm more than 100 long-range ballistic missiles. India’s stockpile, an estimated 150 warheads, is spread across land-, air- and sea-based weapons as part of its ‘nuclear triad’.

India Still Heavily Reliant On Arms Imports

India is the world’s second biggest importer of arms, with only Saudi Arabia ahead of it. China, too, is a major arms importer but it’s also one of the biggest exporters. China’s exports play an influential role in India’s neighbourhood, with Pakistan and Bangladesh among its biggest clients. India’s arms exports, though on the rise, are negligible in global terms.

India’s Armed Personnel Poised To Overtake China’s

India is adding more than 23 million military age individuals to its population every year compared to China’s 19.6 million. With China’s population beginning to decline, India is set to have the world’s largest working age population within this decade.

India Not Nearly As Well Armed As China

India is still a long way off China’s military capabilities in most areas. China has twice India's combat aircraft and its navy is nearly three times bigger. India holds the advantage with its tanks and field artillery but trails China in all other categories.