India vs Pakistan Military Comparison & Strength
India versus Pakistan, a clash of powers that if both sides committed fully to, would be the largest armed conflict since World War II.
But which side really has the upper hand, and what would a conflict end up looking like between these two intense rivals?
India and Pakistan’s relationship is a rocky one, to say the least, with both sides feuding against the other ever since Britain pulled out of the region after World War II and created the two separate states.
All matter of border and culture conflicts resulted in a neighborhood commonly called the most dangerous in the world- a potential conflict zone more likely to result in all-out war than even the borders between NATO and Russia, or even China and Taiwan.
Historically, Pakistan has suffered repeated defeats in its wars against India, though it has also achieved key strategic smaller-scale victories amongst the no-mans-land that borders the two nations.
In the early 2000s, a new security partnership with the United States made many Indians nervous, as it was believed such a partnership might lead to an influx of American military equipment and training, greatly improving the capabilities of the Pakistani military.
Soon though American intelligence officials realized that Pakistan was double-dealing them, aiding Taliban forces in Afghanistan, and even sheltering them from American strikes.
Pakistan never had any interest in the Taliban being ousted from Afghanistan, despite taking hundreds of millions of dollars from the US for its cooperation.
For Pakistan, the Taliban was a vital strategic buffer between itself and Iran- who hated the Taliban.
It quickly became clear that the US and Pakistan would not become close partners after all, and instead, a growing relationship between the US and India, the world’s most powerful democracy and the world’s largest democracy, put Pakistan on the backfoot.
Now the nation relies on its arsenal of nuclear weapons to fend off Indian forces and continues to finance and aid terrorists to strike against Indian targets across the border.
For its part, India’s patience is running incredibly thin, and one more attack such as that in Mumbai in 2008, which was coordinated by Pakistani intelligence, will almost certainly lead to a swift and overwhelming Indian response.
India vs Pakistan Military Comparison & Strength
Indian forces vs Pakistan
In case of war, Indian forces are over twice as large as Pakistan’s, with a military made up of 1.444 million personnel vs 654,000.
India’s reservist pool is also much larger, with 2.1 million reservists able to be called up quickly into active service vs Pakistan’s 550,000.
However, India’s much larger size vs Pakistan’s means that Indian reservists will take longer to call up, equip, and mobilize to the front lines vs Pakistan, so Pakistani reservists will almost certainly beat India’s own to the front lines.
This will put incredible pressure on India’s active-duty forces at the onset of war.
India’s defense budget vs Pakistan
India’s defense budget is about six times larger than Pakistan’s, with 61 billion versus 11 billion.
This allows India to operate far more mechanized forces than Pakistan, which only operates about 2 mechanized infantry divisions.
The difference is also in equipment though, with India fielding overwhelmingly more modern equipment than Pakistan.
India’s air force vs Pakistan
India’s air force is also much larger than the Pakistani air force, with 2,123 aircraft versus Pakistan’s 1,372.
India’s fighter fleet vs Pakistan
India’s fighter fleet numbers at 538 aircraft vs Pakistan’s 356, although in any conflict Pakistan will almost certainly be fighting defensively.
This would allow Pakistan’s air artillery to help neutralize some of that numerical
disadvantage, and in a defensive war India’s larger number superiority will actually put it roughly on par with Pakistan’s fighter fleets once losses and denial from air artillery are accounted for.
Where India truly holds the advantage though is in its fleet of 260 Sukhoi Su-30s, an extremely capable Russian fighter whose only real competition on the Pakistani side is the American-made F-16.
While a modern F-16 is more than a match for a Su-30, not many of Pakistan’s F-16s are fully modernized.
To make matters worse, Pakistan only fields 76 of them.
Most of the Pakistani air force is made of Chinese or joint Chinese-Pakistani fighters, and Chinese fighter designs are generally accepted as being inferior to either Russian or American designs.
In the air, India will definitely hold the advantage.
India vs Pakistan transport fleet
India fields a transport fleet that’s 5 times greater than Pakistan’s own fleet, with 250 various transport aircraft versus Pakistan’s 49.
Backed up with a helicopter fleet that’s twice the size of Pakistan’s, with 722 helicopters versus 346, India has a crucial advantage in air mobility that Pakistan can’t match.
This will make the movement of heavy equipment and infantry through the mountainous north-west border of India possible, and while easily defended, will favor an Indian offensive in the region.
Air transport though will matter little to Pakistan, as it will be fighting a defensive war hoping to bleed Indian forces, trading territory for casualties until the Pakistani army can counter-attack.
Still, the lack of mobility will mean Pakistani forces in the mountainous north will suffer greatly and likely be inevitably defeated.
Indian vs Pakistan attack helicopters
One area that Pakistan outshines India in is attack helicopters, with Pakistan operating 56 American Vietnam-era cobras versus a fleet of 23 Indian attack helicopters.
Pakistan would likely choose to use these in the mountainous north, as they will make supporting its forces in the difficult terrain much easier.
If India does not properly equip its mountain infantry with man-portable air artillery, it could face serious casualties as Pakistani attack helos provide close air support.
India’s own fleet is so small it will have limited to no utility, being easy fodder for Pakistan’s own air artillery.
Both nations however have so few attack helicopters that their air fleets will become depleted due to casualties and equipment breakdowns within the first week or two of serious fighting.
India versus Pakistan tank fleet
The bulk of the fighting between the two nations will happen on land, and this means that the most important element of either nation’s military will be its main battle tank fleet.
Here again, India outnumbers Pakistan nearly two to one, with 4,292 tanks versus Pakistan’s 2,200.
Both nation’s tanks vary in modernity, but both nation’s tanks are mostly very capable platforms.
India’s main tank is the Soviet-built T-72, with modern upgrades.
Until Desert Storm, analysts feared that the T-72 would be a formidable threat to the American Abrams and the British Challenger.
The short but intense war however showed that T-72s were all but utterly obsolete versus Abrams or Challengers, scoring not a single kill in the entire conflict while American and British tanks decimated hundreds in return.
Luckily, India won’t be facing off against an Abrams of Challenger in a war with Pakistan, as Pakistan’s main battle tank is the Chinese made Type-59.
Basically a copy of a Soviet design, the Type-59 could not hope to cope with modern tanks, performing even worse than a T-72 against modern American or British armor, but it could still pose a threat to India’s T-72s.
On the whole, though, India’s tank forces would outperform Pakistan’s own, and the ground war would almost certainly go to India in a pitched battle.
Indian versus Pakistan artillery forces
India’s own artillery forces also greatly outnumber Pakistan’s, with over 4,000 artillery versus Pakistan’s 1,226.
Indian versus Pakistan Multiple Launch Rocket Systems
This includes 266 Multiple Launch Rocket Systems versus Pakistan’s 100, giving India far greater fire support capabilities than Pakistan.
However, because Pakistan has the defensive advantage, its smaller numbers would initially not matter much in the first few weeks of the conflict.
Once India was fully mobilized, however, the overwhelming pressure of so much combat equipment would inevitably break Pakistan’s back- unless the nation could score decisive victories with bold counter-attacks and push into India itself.
India’s navy versus Pakistan
India’s navy is also far more powerful than Pakistan’s navy, with 285 vessels versus Pakistan’s 100.
This includes one Indian aircraft carrier, with Pakistan fielding zero.
Indian vs Pakistan Destroyers
The ability to project air power out at sea would make it suicidal for Pakistan to seek a naval confrontation with India, and Pakistan’s own ships would likely fight a defensive war
close to shore and not venture into the Indian ocean at all.
With zero destroyers versus India’s 10 and 8 submarines versus India’s 16, Pakistan doesn’t have a hope of winning a naval war.
So how would a war play out between the two nations?
Who would win?
India’s inability to respond properly to the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks led to it completely rethinking its war strategy against Pakistan.
The terror attacks were quickly traced back to the Pakistan intelligence services, who had trained and equipped the terrorists, but the Indian military was unable to respond quickly enough to punish Pakistan for the attack without taking massive casualties.
That’s because, by the time the link was discovered, Pakistani forces had already moved into defensive positions along the border with India.
To prevent this from happening again, India focused on a warfighting concept it is calling Cold Start.
The aim of Cold Start is to rapidly mobilize border forces to push into Pakistan and deny advantageous defensive positions to the Pakistani military, in effect opening up a corridor for follow-on Indian forces to pour through.
The most important aspect of Cold Start though is to move rapidly enough and deep enough to Pakistan’s territory that it will deter the nation from using its tactical nuclear weapons arsenal against the Indian military.
Currently, India operates under a strict no-first-strike policy, and will only use nuclear weapons in retaliation.
Pakistan however understands that it is an inferior power to India, and thus maintains a defensive first-strike policy, meaning that it will use nuclear weapons in a defensive matter in order to fend off the superior Indian military.
India’s goal, therefore, is to push deep enough into Pakistan that it will deter the nation from using nuclear weapons on its own soil.
This also means taking a limited number of objectives rather than going for a decapitation strike and eliminating the Pakistani leadership.
Given the technological and numerological superiority of the Indian military, it is more than capable of carrying this strategy out- at least on paper.
While India has plenty of experience fighting against Pakistan, it has never executed such a massive offensive and it is unknown if it has the experience, expertise, and equipment to pull off such a massive logistics-dependent operation.
If Cold Start were to fail, it would be a strategic disaster for the Indian military, as it would leave Indian forces bunched up on the border and at the mercy of Pakistani nuclear strikes.
Of course, that would inevitably invite a nuclear response from India, further escalating the conflict.
If Cold Start succeeds though, Pakistan would be all but neutralized and forced to come to the peace table under India’s terms.
Removing nuclear weapons from the equation only makes an Indian victory even more certain, and it’s sure that without Pakistan resorting to large-scale use of nuclear weapons, it cannot hope to stand against India’s military.
With few friends on the international stage thanks to its sponsorship of terrorism, Pakistan is also unable to call upon powerful friends to help it in case of war- although China might perhaps be interested in responding to Pakistan’s call for aid.
Given China’s antagonistic relationship with India, and the fact that India sits right on China’s jugular in terms of trade routes that pass through the Indian Ocean, China has a lot to gain from a military defeat and weakening of India.
A Chinese intervention however would almost certainly draw an American one, coming to the defense of a strong international partner and fellow democracy.
This would spiral the conflict from a regional one, to a full-blown major theater war. While the end result would still almost certainly be a combined Indian-American victory, India’s military would be hard-pressed to pursue offensive objectives in Pakistan and hold off Chinese forces long enough for America to respond.
Luckily, there is little favorable terrain for a major ground offensive from China into India, or vice-versa, so India would have plenty of time to hold off Chinese assaults until American forces put pressure on China from the Pacific.
In a stand-up one-on-one war though, there’s no doubt that India would win any conflict with Pakistan.