Today we’ll be comparing the two largest countries in the world in terms of population, with India set to be the most populated country in the world by 2022. Both nations have seen widespread economic progress in recent times, thanks to China’s economic reform and the liberalization of India’s economy. Presently, China has the 2nd largest economy in the world behind the United States, although according to Fortune “America’s economy will not be the world’s largest for much longer.” According to some analysts, in the near future India also has a chance of becoming the world’s largest economy…again. While both countries still experience high poverty rates, some progress has been made. A lot of this new money, however, has been as much about social progress as it has defense matters. 

Let’s start with the larger of the two nations both in terms of population and economy, which is China. We should note that in 2017, the World Bank said that China’s economy shows signs of slowing down while India’s is still revving up. And we already know that India is expected to have the world’s largest population in a few years.  

China’s GDP for 2016 was 11-plus trillion dollars, second only to the USA whose GDP is 18-plus trillion dollars. The European Union would be in second place but we cannot count that as a country. According to an article in Bloomberg published in 2016, at projected growth rates, China should have the world’s largest economy by 2028. Not surprisingly, China has seen increased spending on defense, and in 2016 that amount was $146 billion. The Guardian puts it higher at around $150 billion. Behind the USA, this is the most any  country spends on its defense.

India’s 2016 GDP was around 2.3 trillion dollars, making it the 7th largest economy in the world. Analysts state that at projected growth rates, that will be $6.84 trillion by 2030. Of that, $52.2 billion went to defense for the year 2016-17. This means India is the 5th biggest spender on defense behind the US, China, Russia and Saudi Arabia. With such a fast-growing economy, it’s expected that India will significantly increase the military budget over the coming years.

Now let’s have a look at how many people stand behind these budgets. China has the largest population in the world with 1.38 billion people. The country has around 2,335,000 active frontline personnel and over 1.4 million active reserve personnel and paramilitary forces. This is the largest army in the world, almost double the size of the USA and India. North Korea also has a very large army if you count all those people on stand-by with some military training.

India’s population is 1.311 billion people, almost 1.4 million of whom are active military personnel. 1,155,000 people are serving as reserve personnel. If you’ve seen our show on the world’s best elite forces, you’ll know that part of this army is the elite Indian MARCOS. This is of some importance when comparing militaries, given that these guys have had their hands full for a long time on the India-Pakistan border.

In 2017 it was announced that on top of technological modernization, Chinese President Xi Jinping intends to invest heavily on its own elite military force.

Now let’s get down to questions of hardware. Both countries have been busy updating their arsenal of weapons on land, in the air, and at sea.

According to sources, China has 9,150 Main Battle Tanks, 4,788 armored fighting vehicles, 1,710 Self-propelled guns, 6,246 Towed-Artillery, and 1770 multiple launch rocket systems. We should note that various sources give different numbers. Some equipment might be out of date and not usable, while there is constant growth. China’s cream of the crop is its third-generation VT-4 main battle tank, which its military claims is the best battle tank on the planet. The country is also the proud owner of a large fleet of Type 99 and 96 tanks. China is sometimes said to have the third best tank force in the world behind the USA and Russia. But guess who’s fourth?

You guessed it, India! India has around 5,978 main battle tanks, 6,704 armored fighting vehicles, 290 self-propelled guns, 7,414 towed artillery and 292 multiple-launch rocket systems. Some of this hardware is said to be in need of an upgrade, but that’s just what India is doing right now. It has a large force of T-72 tanks, but it’s also the owner of the highly touted Russian-made T-90 tank. According to Bloomberg in 2017, the country spent millions on upgrading its almost 1,000 strong fleet of T-90s. A force to be reckoned with, given that the T-90 is often on the list of the world’s best tanks. India also has initiated the Field Artillery Rationalisation Plan, in which 3 billion dollars will be spent on 3000 to 4000 pieces of new artillery.

In 2016, National Interest put China behind the USA as the second most lethal air force by the time we reach 2030. From its around 1,300 total aircraft, China has a large number of Russian Su-35s and Su-27s, with the former being one of the best aircraft ever made. But China’s ace up its sleeve are the Chengdu J-20 and J-31 stealth fighters, aircraft which U.S. analysts have agreed are a feat of engineering. This is one reason why China is such a threat.

India didn’t make National Interest’s list. India is said to be the fourth largest airforce in the world in terms of personnel and aircraft. From its 1,720 aircraft, about 900 are combat capable. Its fleet consists of Russian built Sukhoi Su-30MKIs and Mikoyan MiG-29s, as well as the highly-rated French-built multi-role fighter, the Dassault Mirage 2000. The latter is certainly up there as one of the best military aircraft ever built, but will India have the money to invest as much as China is in buying or developing its own top of the range machines?

As for the ocean, China again is very strong. The country has one aircraft carrier, 25 destroyers, 3 amphibious transports, 42 frigates, 8 nuclear attack submarines and around 50 conventional attack submarines. The country is investing a ton of money on updating its navy, which includes two new state of the art supercarriers, enough to make any country’s military quiver. These should be ready in 2020 and 2023, respectively. By that time only the USA, UK, and China will have ships of that size.

Although just a few years later it is expected that India will have its own supercarrier in the form of the INS Vishal. It’s also expected to be a work of military art, but it is early days yet. Right now India is one of few countries to have an aircraft carrier, and it also owns 11 destroyers, 14 frigates, 15 submarines, 23 corvettes, 0 amphibious assault ships and 7 mine warfare ships. It is also a very powerful navy, but is said to lack submarine strength – unlike China.

As we know the USA and Russia have the lion’s share of nuclear weapons, but China has around 270 of these weapons. The actual amount has been the focus of considerable speculation, with some analysts stating that China has many more nuclear weapons hidden underground. We should add that this has not been confirmed and some critics have said it’s hogwash. India also has nuclear strength, owning around 120 nuclear warheads.

In conclusion both militaries are growing in power, and both countries are leading the world with a handful of other nations in terms of technology. You could say China has more tools in the box, but India certainly is not far behind.

So, who do you think would win in this hypothetical matchup? India or China? Let us know in the comments! 



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