Everyone wants to know who’s carrying the biggest stick. While everyone has their own measurements for how to judge the size of a nation’s military, these 10 militaries are easily some of the best equipped and trained in the modern world:
10. United Kingdom
The United Kingdom has one of the world’s newest aircraft carriers, the HMS Queen Elizabeth. It also has nearly 900 aircraft and an active duty military of over 150,000 people. But it has a small overall navy for an island nation at 76 total ships and its total armored vehicles, counting its 250 tanks, is just a hair over 6,000.
With almost 700 aircraft and over 6,000 armored vehicles as well as 180,000 well-trained active troops, Germany is well-positioned for a defensive war. Why only defensive? Because it lacks most significant power projection platforms like carriers and has few troop transports and submarines.
Italy has two smaller aircraft carriers, lots of helicopters, and almost 250,000 active troops, allowing it to push significant force around the world. Those service members are equipped with over 800 aircraft and 7,000 armored vehicles. Unfortunately, a shortage of tanks (about 200) and ships (less than 150 for a peninsular nation) hurts its ranking.
The French military has 204,000 active military personnel and 183,000 in reserve. Those are relatively small numbers, but its forces are equipped with capable equipment produced by a homegrown defense industry — think of the Mirage fighter and the Mistral-class amphibious assault ship.
It relies more heavily than most on armored fighting vehicles as opposed to tanks with almost 7,000 of the former and just over 400 of the latter. The nuclear-powered Charles de Gaulle is the only non-American nuclear carrier in the world. Its foreign legion is one of the most famous combat forces in the world.
6. South Korea
With over 624,000 troops; 2,381 tanks; and 1,412 aircraft ready to go, South Korea is anything but weak. It also boasts over 5 million reserve service members. Most of its equipment is on the newer side and some of it is homegrown. But, it’s important to remember why Korea keeps so much firepower at hand.
It’s most likely enemy is North Korea, which has one of the largest artillery stockpiles in the world stacked within range of the South Korean capital. And while the huge North Korean military is too badly equipped, trained, and prepared to make this list, it’s still likely that an invasion from the north would cripple South Korea and level its capital before the aggressors could be beat back.
Japan maintains a “Self-Defense Force” that is very capable on both offense and defense. With the fourth largest submarine force and four small aircraft carriers — often called “helicopter carriers” — as well as homegrown tanks and aircraft and imported weapons like the U.S. Apache, Japan has a varied and capable collection of military hardware.
Still, the country suffers from a significant size issue. It has less than 1,600 aircraft, 4,000 armored vehicles, and only about 130 ships. All of that is manned by a little over 300,000 troops. In a protracted war, Japan will keenly feel every loss of a submarine or other high-value asset.
India has a large number of troops, but those are largely reserve personnel (2.8 million reserve vs. almost 1.4 million active). It boasts a large number of armored vehicles at over 11,000, but has a relatively small air force and navy and relies on more prosperous allies for much of its defense development.
But some of those joint ventures are paying off. While India’s Sukhoi planes purchased from Russia have repeatedly ran into problems, the country is also working with Russia to perfect a fifth-generation fighter and a supersonic cruise missile that could be carried by submarines, planes, and vehicles.
China has the world’s largest population at 1.4 billion and its largest military population at 3.7 million with 2.2 million of those being active troops. Those millions of men and women are equipped with almost 3,000 aircraft, 13,000 armored vehicles, and 714 ships.
But China struggles with modernization and organization problems as decades of power struggles between the army and navy hollowed out sections of the force. But with increased military spending that puts it behind only the U.S., it’s quickly closing the technological and equipment gaps, especially in strategically important areas like Taiwan, the South China Sea, and Africa.
When it comes to countries punching above their weight, it’s hard to find an example better than Russia. Despite a relatively small economy (data differs, but it’s typically ranked 10th or lower in the world), it manufactures a large amount of military hardware and is the second largest exporter in the world after the U.S.
This allows it to field about 3,800 planes, 5,600 armored vehicles including tanks, and 282 warships (counting everything from its aircraft carrier to small logistics vessels). It’s currently trying to develop the T-14 Armata. If successful, that would be the world’s most advanced tank, boasting active protection systems, an auto-loader, and nearly unbeatable armor.
1. United States
If you were surprised, you shouldn’t be. The U.S. spends the most on its military, both per capita and total. Its Navy has the largest and most aircraft carriers in the world with 11 full-sized carriers (counting the new USS Gerald R. Ford) and 8 “helicopter carriers” in service. Its Air Force flies the largest and most technologically advanced air fleet in the world which is just a little larger than the U.S. Navy’s air fleet.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Army and Marine Corps aren’t the largest of their respective groups worldwide, but they are some of the most capable. Both forces enjoy very high spending per service member compared to rival forces, and that allows them to bring their artillery and aircraft to the fight.
All four U.S. Department of Defense branches are trained to work together on a battlefield, combining their powers into one joint team.