Can India Emerge As A Top Global Military Power?

India Military Power

India Military Power

India, today, is ranked 4th in global military power based on equipment and manpower and in that sense, it is already a regional power if not a global one. India has embarked on an ambitious program to modernize its armed forces and within the next decade India will have the ability to project its power beyond the Indian Ocean region.

Today, other than the US, no other country has the capability to project and sustain a military conflict outside its zone. Russia, China, France and UK have limited ability and India is well on its way towards improving its power projection capability across land, sea and air.

It must be noted that military comparisons are often made based on number of fighting equipment and manpower but the real difference lies in the quality and training of the armed forces that emerges as the most critical factor in times of war.

The following data presents a comparison of the Top 4 global military powers.

Military personnel (Army, Navy and Air Force)

Country Active service Reserve
USA 14,00,000 11,00,000
Russia 7,66,055 24,85,000
China 23,33,000 23,00,000
India 13,25,000 21,43,000


Battle Equipment – Land


  • Tanks: 8,848
  • Armoured Fighting Vehicles: 41,062
  • Towed Artillery: 1,299
  • Self-Propelled Guns: 1,934
  • Multiple Launch Rocket Systems: 1,331


  • Tanks: 15,398
  • Armoured Fighting Vehicles: 31,298
  • Towed Artillery: 4,625
  • Self-Propelled Guns: 5,972
  • Multiple Launch Rocket Systems: 3,793


  • Tanks: 9,150
  • Armoured Fighting Vehicles: 4,788
  • Towed Artillery: 6,246
  • Self-Propelled Guns: 1,710
  • Multiple Launch Rocket Systems: 1,770


  • Tanks: 6,464
  • Armoured Fighting Vehicles: 6,704
  • Towed Artillery: 7,414
  • Self-Propelled Guns: 290
  • Multiple Launch Rocket Systems: 292 

Air Force


  • Total Aircraft: 13,892
  • Fighters & Interceptors: 2,207
  • Fixed Wing Attack Aircraft: 2,797
  • Helicopters: 6,196
  • Attack Helicopters: 920
  • Transport Aircraft: 5,366


  • Total Aircraft: 3,429
  • Fighters & Interceptors: 769
  • Fixed Wing Attack Aircraft: 1,305
  • Helicopters: 1,120
  • Attack Helicopters: 462
  • Transport Aircraft: 1,083


  • Total Aircraft: 2,860
  • Fighters & Interceptors: 1,066
  • Fixed Wing Attack Aircraft: 1,311
  • Helicopters: 908
  • Attack Helicopters: 196
  • Transport Aircraft: 876


  • Total Aircraft: 1,905
  • Fighters & Interceptors: 629
  • Fixed Wing Attack Aircraft: 761
  • Helicopters: 584
  • Attack Helicopters: 20
  • Transport Aircraft: 667 

Naval Force


  • Total Naval Vessels: 473
  • Aircraft Carrier: 20
  • Destroyer: 62
  • Frigate: 10
  • Corvette: 0
  • Submarine: 72
  • Coastal Defence Vessel: 13
  • Mine Warfare Vessel: 11


  • Total Naval Vessels: 352
  • Aircraft Carrier: 1
  • Destroyer: 12
  • Frigate: 4
  • Corvette: 74
  • Submarine: 55
  • Coastal Defence Vessel: 65
  • Mine Warfare Vessel: 34


  • Total Naval Vessels: 673
  • Aircraft Carrier: 1
  • Destroyer: 25
  • Frigate: 47
  • Corvette: 23
  • Submarine: 67
  • Coastal Defence Vessel: 11
  • Mine Warfare Vessel: 6


  • Total Naval Vessels: 202
  • Aircraft Carrier: 2
  • Destroyer: 9
  • Frigate: 15
  • Corvette: 25
  • Submarine: 15
  • Coastal Defence Vessel: 46
  • Mine Warfare Vessel: 7

Source: Global Fire Power

India’s Military Modernization Program

India has been one of the largest importer of arms but has now decided to establish its own military industrial production infrastructure and slowly shift to becoming an arms exporter. Towards this goal, the government has increased foreign direct investment limit from 26% to 49% and in cases of high technology transfer, the limit has been increased to 100%. Local private sector participation and investment is being encouraged and will play an important role in the defence modernization process.


The Army has initiated the process for modernization of the Infantry soldier which includes the Future Infantry as a Soldier (F-INSAS) program. This is a major programme initiative to fully equip the soldier to handle conventional as well as urban warfare. The Battle Management System (BMS) is also being developed indigenously for seamless integration with the of C5i program.

The long awaited Artillery modernization is now in the field testing stage with companies like Bharat Forge, Tata SED and L&T set to get a major slice for manufacturing 155mm Towed Guns, Self-Propelled Howitzers and track mounted guns.

The Army is in the process of introducing the supersonic missile – Brahmos, which has been indigenously developed with Russian collaboration. The missile has already been made operational with the Navy and is now being tested for launch by Sukhoi 30 MKI, in a first-of-its-kind initiative.

To improve force mobility, the Future Infantry Combat Vehicle program is currently at the design stage and will form a significant slice of the vehicle modernization programme. Companies like Tata Motors, Mahindras and Ashok Leyland are likely to compete of the massive contract.

The Agni series of missiles are under various stages of development, and Agni-IV and V should be ready for full operational deployment in the next 2-3 years.

Air Force

India’s operational combat squadrons has been deleted due to bureaucratic delays and now stands at 26, which is way below the sanctioned 42 squadrons that is needed to ensure full preparedness for defensive or offensive operations.

India now plans to procure only 36 Raphael Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) from France instead of the 126 fighters planned earlier for local manufacture.

DRDO is keen to develop its own Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) with advanced stealth technology and this is probably the reason that the government has reduced the size of the MMRCA fighter procurement. The government plans to involve the private sector in the manufacture of the AMCA fighter range, once the design clears user-approval.

In a policy re-think, India is now planning to procure only 65 of the initial 127 Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) being developed by Russia. Currently the two governments are still negotiating the commercial aspect of the deal.

On the transport aircraft front, Tata firm TASL has signed an agreement with Airbus to manufacture C-295 aircraft in India. Mahindra Group has signed up with Airbus to manufacture a range of helicopters for naval surveillance, reconnaissance and utility. The orders from the government are expected to be over $10 billion.

The Russians have already offered to manufacture 200 Kamov-KA226T light helicopters in India and have signed an agreement with Reliance Aerospace. The US firm Sikorsky has a tie-up with Tata Advanced Systems for manufacturing the S-92 helicopter cabins.


Indian Navy is undergoing a major expansion and modernization programme. The $11 billion P-75i Project was cleared this year under which 6 new stealth submarines will be manufactured in India. This is a follow-up programme to the earlier Project 75 program currently being implemented, under which India is manufacturing 6 Scorpene class submarines in collaboration with DCNS of France.

In addition to the existing indigenously developed nuclear submarine INS Arihant, India is set to take possession of a Russian Akula-II class SSN submarine on a 10-year lease, to be renamed INS Chakra.

India currently has two aircraft carriers in operation, INS Viraat and INS Vikramaditya. INS Viraat is due to be retired by 2016 which will leave India with just one aircraft carrier. The 40,000 tonne INS Vishal is under construction and should set sail by 2019. India also plans to build a 65,000 tonne aircraft carrier INS Vishal, and is in talks with the US for technology transfer of its Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch Systems (EMALS). India will thus have two Carrier Battle Groups operational by 2026.

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