World's three largest Armies seem to be cutting down on their Army personnel strength to make it more 'lean and mean.'
As China catches up on USA in defense capability and starts flexing its muscles on world stage, the two countries are now facing a showdown in South China Sea.
Interestingly, at the same time, both the countries are engaged in major military reforms to make their armed forces lean and mean. In the year 2015, the Indian Defense Minister Parrikar had said “The NDA government had plans to slash non-operational ‘flab’ of the 1.18 million strong Army both in terms of manpower and infrastructure to ensure cost-effectiveness and better teeth-to-tail ratio”.
Effectively, the world’s three largest Armies are under man-power downsizing. Personnel are long-term massive costs in defense budgets. In January 2014, China decided to reduce its military regions from seven to five theatre Commands and to create a joint command for coordinated tri-service operations in East China Sea. In November 2015, they scrapped three of the four army headquarters. China has 1.6 million personals in the Army, 240,000 in Navy and 400,000 in Air Force and has decided to cut the 2.3 million force by 300,000 to 2.0 million. Around 70% of the cut was in the land-based units. China does not anticipate a ground invasion currently. The reorganization is also a response to the USA’s Asia Pivot strategy. The plan is to shift resources from land forces to sea and air, and to modernize. China’s slowing economy is having an impact on government spending, including the country’s military budget.
Peoples Liberation Army (PLA’s) traditional priority to land forces and greater hierarchical position enjoyed by the Army over Navy and Air Force will now change. The aim is to cut troops linked to outdated equipment, office staff and non-combat personnel. China had also seen growth in military wages in recent years, eating into the defence budget. To compete with the modern US Army, China had no choice but to cut flab and modernise. A new “Space Force” would be formed under the PLA Air Force. As part of consolidating power, President Xi has also sacked a few Generals as part of his anti-corruption drive and to streamline layers of command and bureaucracy within PLA. Even when troop reduction is completed in 2017, China will still have the world’s largest army.
As of 2016, the United States spends about $580.3 billion annually to fund its military forces. The projected active duty end strength in the armed forces for 2016 was 1,301,300. The US DoD 2017 budget caters for active strength of 1,281,900. Most cuts are planned in US Army. US Army which had mushroomed over the years; especially after September 2001 attacks will be cut down to pre-World War II size. Dwindling defence budgets are also indicative of the political thinking. The US Army from its recent peak of 570,000 troops in 2010 is planned to be reduced to 440,000 by 2018. It has already cut 80,000 soldiers since 2010. Another 40,000 will be cut by the end of 2018. Thrust will shift to Cyber and Special warfare and unmanned systems. The reduction is planned in spite the operations against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Russia, China, North Korea, Iran and the Islamic State continue to be the main threats to the US, foreign media reports.
Indian Defence Minister has made it clear that there is an urgent need for downsizing in non-operational areas both due to budgetary constraints and unrealistic non-operational holdings. Money saved could go into the urgently needed requirements such as 17 Corps (mountain strike corps) with 90,000 troops at cost of Rs 65,000 crores which is temporarily held back. The areas that could be a target for cuts could be the 'sahayak' (orderly) for officers or deploying soldiers for escort duties or to man unit-run canteens. Many peace area activities like transportation, logistics, cooking and serving etc. are being outsourced. Newer weapon systems require lesser man-power but units are still manned at old scales. Honest open approach can help identify many more areas where non-combat personnel can be shed to convert to combat posts. Many civilian posts can easily be shed if the government has the political will and can be diverted to operational personnel. Indian Army currently has a strength of 1,129,900 active personnel, Indian Air Force has 127,200 and Indian Navy has 58,350, totaling 1,325,450. Para military forces also have 1,300,586 personnel.
Just a peace dividend in J&K could have meant cutting 100,000 soldiers. The cuts may not be physical but savings could be diverted to new raisings to cater to operational units for a two-front war.