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In 2030, These 5 Nations Will Have the World's Most Powerful Armies on the Planet

In the end, the answers to “how do we build a powerful army” remain painfully simple. States that have access to enthusiastic populations with high human capital, that can cull the most innovative technologies from robust, modern economies, and that can structure their civil-military relations with just-enough-but-not-too-much independence will tend to do very well. Experience doesn’t hurt, either. The simplicity of the answers does not imply that the prescriptions are easy to achieve, however.

The focus of ground combat operations has shifted dramatically since the end of the Cold War. Relatively few operations now involve the defeat of a technologically and doctrinally similar force, leading to the conquest or liberation of territory. Preparation for these operations remains important, but ground combat branches also have a host of other priorities, some (including counter-insurgency and policing) harkening back to the origins of the modern military organization.

What will the balance of ground combat power look like in 2030, presumably after the Wars on Terror and the Wars of Russian Reconsolidation (more to come on this idea below) shake out?

Predictions are hard, especially about the future, but a few relatively simple questions can help illuminate our analysis. In particular, three questions motivate this study:

• Does the army have access to national resources, including an innovative technological base?

• Does the army have sufficient support from political authorities, without compromising the organization’s independence?

• Does the army have access to experiential learning; does it have the opportunity to learn and innovate in real-world conditions?

Given these questions, most ground combat forces of 2030 will very much resemble the most lethal forces of today, with perhaps a couple of important changes.


The Indian Army is poised to stand alongside the world’s most elite ground combat forces. The Army has dealt with combat operations across the intensity spectrum, contending against a Maoist insurgency at home, a Pakistani-supported insurgency in Kashmir, and a variety of other, smaller domestic operations. At the same time, the Indian Army remains well-prepared for high intensity combat against Pakistan, having long accepted the need for realistic combat training. Altogether, these experiences have helped hone the force into an effective tool for New Delhi’s foreign and domestic policy.

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While Indian Army equipment has lagged behind competitors in important ways, India now has access to nearly the entire universe of military technology. Russia, Europe, Israel, and the United States all sell their wares to India, complementing a growing domestic military industrial complex. Despite the need to compete with the air and naval services, the Indian Army should have greater access to advanced technology in the future than it has in the past, making it an ever more formidable force.

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Of all the European countries, France will likely retain the most capable, lethal army in the future. France remains committed to the idea of playing a major role in world politics, and clearly believes in the necessity of effective ground forces to fulfill that role. This should continue into the future, and perhaps even accelerate as France takes on greater control of the military and security apparatus of the European Union.

France’s military industrial complex remains robust, both on the domestic and the export fronts. The Army has modern command and communications equipment, and provides the backbone for most multilateral European Union forces. It also enjoys access to excellent field equipment, including tanks and artillery. The commitment of the French government to maintaining a strong domestic arms industry works in the Army’s favor.