DPG Policy Brief

Competing Forces: Evaluating the Military Capabilities of India and China

In the backdrop of the ongoing border tensions and strategic competition between India and China, the military capabilities of the two countries require a critical evaluation. In doing so, it is also essential to understand the multifaceted nature of military capability, which encompasses elements like the defence budget, industrial base, force structures, and warfighting doctrines.

In this policy paper, the author’s analysis begins with an examination of defence spending in both countries, revealing the disparity in financial resources and the implications of budgetary allocations on military effectiveness. The discussion on the defense-industrial base highlights China's nearly self-sufficient production capabilities, which stand in contrast with India's continuing dependence on imports, although efforts to boost indigenous production are seeing some results.

Subsequent sections of the paper explore the extensive military reforms undertaken by China aimed at enhancing joint operations and integration across services. In comparison, the Indian military is taking gradual steps towards jointness and integration, but this reform process has just begun and is yet to mature.

The paper further scrutinizes the force structure and modernisation efforts of both countries. It discusses the PLA's advancements in space, cyber, and information warfare, reflecting China's focus on multi-domain precision warfare. In contrast, India's modernisation, though progressing, faces challenges due to budgetary constraints and the slow pace of domestic projects.

Operational concepts are examined, providing insight into how geography and strategic doctrines shape military readiness and potential conflict scenarios. An analysis of the respective concepts of the two sides indicates that while the Indian military primarily relies on a conventional approach to warfighting, the PLA believes that paralysis of the enemy can be achieved even without the significant attrition of enemy forces.

The author’s recommendations emphasise the need for India to strategically enhance its military capabilities through a holistic approach. Key suggestions include the establishment of integrated theatre commands to foster jointness across the armed forces, thereby improving operational efficiency. He also calls for a more coherent and realistic defence budget planning process, ensuring alignment between long-term strategic goals and available financial resources.

The development of a comprehensive joint operations doctrine is highlighted as crucial for executing military operations across all domains. There must also be clearly defined processes to enable an efficient transition from technology identification to its adoption in the military.

In conclusion, the author offers a nuanced and comprehensive evaluation of the respective military capabilities of India and China, and makes important recommendations for enhancing India's defence posture in order to maintain an effective strategic balance in the region, contributing thereby to broader stability in Asia and the Indo-Pacific.

To read this Policy Brief Vol. IX, Issue 15, please click "Competing Forces: Evaluating the Military Capabilities of India and China".