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Sunday, May 17, 2020

Is Indian Soldier Overloaded? Right Sizing the Armed Forces

Is Indian Soldier Overloaded?
Right Sizing the Armed Forces

 In the high-entropy 2020 world, getting the reformatting lessons from the Covid-19 Pandemic, a question that comes to the surface - not that it was not there before - is the size of armed forces we should maintain in terms of number of active soldiers.  Obviously, it depends upon the legacy, the historical organization structures, doctrines, standard operating procedures, type of force mix, threat perceptions and capabilities and many more quantifiable, subjective, and even unknown factors. The crux of the matter is that it is not a simple or a trivial way to come up with the right answer. One can perhaps come up with some guess on the basis of a complex interplay of the above factors and yet will be constrained by the information that is available versus the ground reality that may not be visible to even the most astute analyst or observer. At best some, range of numbers can be perhaps attempted. 

In trying to answer the above question, we looked at the data of what exist as armed forces of India. We picked up data available from IISS Military Balance of four specific years 2009, 2014, 2019 and 2020. Table shows the number of active soldiers and the population of India in those years. There is a general increase in number of active soldiers in all these years and also there is increase in population. The year 2020 data shows the population to be 1.311 billion and active soldiers as 1.456 million.  Let us look at this data and see from the point of view of how many civilians does a soldier supports
Population Supported per Soldier

We define a simple ratio of the two numbers the population and number of active soldiers to call this metric as Population Supported Per Soldier (PSPS). For the four years 2009, 2014, 2019 and 2020 data for India PSPS comes out to be 896, 922, 898 and 901 respectively, as shown in the Table. India has been consistent, more or less in maintaining the number of soldiers so that each soldier supports about 900 civilians more or less in these years. We must mention here we are not concerned at this moment about what that soldier does, whether the soldier is from navy, air force or army. Further, the soldier is combat soldier or combat support soldier or from medical or logistics branch also is not what we are looking at. It is of interest that we have consistently maintained armed forces that gives one soldier to support a population of about 900 persons. This gives us a metric or at least some view of how to come up with the size of armed forces. Let us say the armed forces of a nation should have as many numbers of active soldiers so as 1000 civilians are supported by one soldier. That is the minimum for any country in this modern world. This also create the reverse dependency that 1000 civilians need to earn that much profit that they can afford to maintain at least one modern soldier. The reverse problem we will consider in subsequent articles. Let us focus on the forward part of the equation. 

 Armed Force Size Index (AFSI) of India

We take 1000 PSPS as the base use it to set Armed Forces Size Index (AFSI) with value 1.0. The AFSI of a country is the ratio of 1000 (the threshold) and the actual PSPS of the nation. If this index is more than 1.0 then it means each of their soldier supports less than 1000 citizens. The greater this index more is the relative size of the Armed Forces of the Country. For India the AFSI of 2009, 2014, 2019 and 2020 comes out to be 1.12, 1.09, 1.11 and 1.11, respectively. It is good to know that India maintains its Armed forces Size index above 1.0. Albeit its about 11% above the base index. Thus 1 soldier is loaded to supports about 900 citizens. 

The question is how does this compares with the load on soldiers of other countries. The analysis of 20 key countries of the world is eye opener on AFSI formulation.

Active Soldiers of global powers

We looked at the armed forces of 20 key countries for the years 2009, 2014, 2019 and 2020. The data is as shown in table below. It is interesting to see that Chinese active number of soldiers has increased from a value of 2.1 million in year 2009 to 2.3 million in 2014 but reduced to 2.0 million in 2019 and 2020. Similarly, US active soldiers number has also come down from 1.5 million in 2009 to around 1.4 million in 2020. If you look at the numbers for Russia, UK, Germany, France the same trend is visible. 

Number of active soldiers for India however are increasing from 2009 value of 1.28 million to 1.46 million in year 2020.

Indian soldier is the most-loaded (overloaded) soldier in the world!

Now let us look at Population Supported Per Soldier (PSPS) for all these years for all the 20 countries. Here the picture becomes starkly clear. Each Indian soldier supports the greatest number of citizens compared to soldiers of other countries. In comparison, for example, the load on a Chinese soldier is of less than 700 citizens (it is 686 for the year 2020). US soldier supports 240 citizens and a Pakistani soldier supports 322 Pakistani. 

Smaller countries of course need to put more soldiers and special countries such as Israeli soldier supports 50 of its citizens. Similarly, a South Korean soldier supports 86 of its citizens. In a small country like Sweden, a soldier supports 668 of its citizens which is same as Indonesia which is a largely populated country. 

Next, let us consider the Armed Forces Sizing Index of these countries for all these years. 

Armed Forces Sizing Index (AFSI) of global powers

India’s AFSI has remained just above the base case of 1.0 for the last decade or so as we can see. It is just 10% more than the base case, which indicates that India has been maintaining a purely defensive force posture and keeping its armed forces just enough for an overall strategic defence posture. Let us look at China, another high population global power. Chinese AFSI has also remained at less than 2.0 and now it is 1.46 which is higher than India yet it is much lower than USA, which has an AFSI of 4.16 now, in 2009 it was above 5. Russia with an AFSI of above 6.0 compares with USA. UK, France and Germany have steadily decreased their AFSI but still they have kept it above 2.0. Israel with close to 20 and South Korea with 11.6 are the only two nations in our list that has maintained their AFSI above 10. Japan is another major power than has kept their AFSI below 2.0, besides the heavily populated Indonesia. Pakistan’s AFSI has remained above 3.0 for the decade based on the data for four years.


One key message is that although other powers including China are generally reducing the number of soldiers in their armed forces, the numbers for India has increased in the past decade. However, from the point of view of right sizing the armed forces, India can further increase its armed forces sizing index to at least 1.46 (which is what China has in 2020) from the current 1.11. Potentially this means India can increase the number of active soldiers to about 1914.51 thousand from the present 1455.55 thousand. This is an increase of 458.96 thousand. 

In 2018, Ravi Rikhye produced an analysis of what India need to fight a 2 front war or 2.5 front war with China and Pakistan, simultaneously. It was published as a Kindle book Analysis of India's Ability to Fight a 2-front War 2018. The main conclusions of Ravi’s analysis is that Indian army is short of its intended missions of victory in a two-front war. He estimates a need for a 72 divisions army for decisive victory and a 54-division army for holding on to a two front simultaneous war against Pakistan and China. He claims that current Indian army with 38-39 Divisions will not be able to hold on to a two-front high-intensity war against both China and Pakistan. He further states this state of affairs stems from what he calls just-enough syndrome of India.
Our analysis above based on the Armed Force Sizing Index (AFSI) of 20 key countries of the world for last decade, clearly shows that India has been maintaining its defence forces just above the bare minimum. To maintain a parity with China on the AFSI Index India need to raise its defence forces (in terms of number of soldiers) by about 450,000. This number actually can raise the number of divisions by about 30 which compares very well with Ravi Rikhye’s 72 Division force.

Conclusions and Further work

We have introduced a simple metric to estimate the size of armed forces needed by a nation in the modern world. A soldier for every 1000 citizens is the minimum size for any country. To our surprise we found in our analysis India in the only country that is close to this number, i.e., we have maintained one soldier for about 900 of our citizens. This is what makes our soldier overloaded and also our armed forces size is way below the required level of size of armed forces for the size of our nation. For example, if we have to raise our AFSI to the level of China, we need to add roughly about 450,000 soldiers more to our existing force levels. This is a counter logic to the established wisdom.
This analysis doesn’t take into account the economics or affordability of such a force and does not include the level of GDP, technological factors, threat levels and doctrinal innovation. However, this basic analysis clearly gets support from analysis of Indian ability to win two front war.
In future work, we will analyse the affordability as well as work out a more involved model of the right sizing of the armed forces. The conclusions from this analysis however are glaring in terms of our “just enough syndrome” when it comes to defence of India.  

Navneet Bhushan (Navneet) worked as a Scientist in DRDO from 1990-2000. He is founder director of CRAFITTI CONSULTING ( – an Strategy, Technology, Innovation and Intellectual Property Consulting firm focused on co-crafting solutions for global problems. He regularly writes on defence and security. He is the principal author of Strategic Decision Making- Applying the Analytic Hierarchy Process published by Springer-Verlag, UK, as part of the Decision Engineering Series. Navneet Blogs at can be contacted at navneet(dot)bhushan(at) crafitti(dot)com

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