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The 5 Most Lethal Navies, Armies and Air Forces on the Planet

The world, thanks to the march and diffusion of technology, is getting smaller.

Travel by airplane at high rates of speed, modern maritime transport and faster and faster transit on the ground thanks to high-speed rail and highways that cover almost every part of the globe mean people can get to points a,b and c faster than ever before.

Modern telecommunications mean we can communicate with any willing participant in almost any part of the globe, in real time, anytime.

When we combine these technological wonders with amazing achievements such as the modern computers, space technologies and more, we have truly entered into a golden age of technological wonder with revolutionary implications.

But modern technology’s diffusion globally also means the instruments to attack and destroy one another are also advancing--and spreading rapidly. 

Nations around the globe are building impressive military capabilities, much of which are aimed to deter or deny the United States in the ability to utilize parts of the global commons to access and transport forces to help our allies or enter a conflict zone. Named anti-access/area-denial, or A2/AD, nations like China, Russia and Iran and others, are developing capabilities to ensure Washington is not able to launch a Gulf-War I style offensive against them with ease. Realizing the challenge, the Pentagon has created operational concepts like Air-Sea Battle (now JAM-GC) and bigger approaches like the Third Offset to retain the ability to dominate the battlefield.

So, considering the above, today, what nations have the top navies, top armies and air forces? Who could challenge the United States in a kinetic conflict? TNI frequent contributor Kyle Mizokami, in a number of pieces several years back, recombined into this one post for your reading pleasure, takes the question head on and comes up with some interesting ideas. Let the debate commence.

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It’s a universal truth handed down since antiquity: a country with a coastline has a navy. Big or small, navies worldwide have the same basic mission—to project military might into neighboring waters and beyond.

The peacetime role of navies has been more or less the same for thousands of years. Navies protect the homeland, keep shipping routes and lines of communication open, show the flag and deter adversaries. In wartime, a navy projects naval power in order to deny the enemy the ability to do the same. This is achieved by attacking enemy naval forces, conducting amphibious landings, and seizing control of strategic bodies of water and landmasses.

The role of navies worldwide has expanded in the past several decades to include new missions and challenges. Navies are now responsible for a nation’s strategic nuclear deterrent, defense against ballistic missiles, space operations, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. With that in mind, here are the five most powerful navies in the world.

United States:

First place on the list is no surprise: the United States Navy. The U.S. Navy has the most ships by far of any navy worldwide. It also has the greatest diversity of missions and the largest area of responsibility.

No other navy has the global reach of the U.S. Navy, which regularly operates in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans, as well as the Mediterranean, Persian Gulf and the Horn of Africa. The U.S. Navy also forward deploys ships to Japan, Europe and the Persian Gulf.

The U.S. Navy has 288 battle force ships, of which typically a third are underway at any given time. The U.S. Navy has 10 aircraft carriers, nine amphibious assault ships, 22 cruisers, 62 destroyers, 17 frigates and 72 submarines. In addition to ships, the U.S. Navy has 3,700 aircraft, making it the second largest air force in the world. At 323,000 active and 109,000 personnel, it is also the largest navy in terms of manpower.

What makes the U.S. Navy stand out the most is its 10 aircraft carriers—more than the rest of the world put together. Not only are there more of them, they’re also much bigger: a single Nimitz-class aircraft carrier can carry twice as many planes (72) as the next largest foreign carrier. Unlike the air wings of other countries, which typically concentrate on fighters, a typical U.S. carrier air wing is a balanced package capable of air superiority, strike, reconnaissance, anti-submarine warfare and humanitarian assistance/disaster relief missions.

The U.S. Navy’s 31 amphibious ships make it the largest “gator” fleet in the world, capable of transporting and landing on hostile beaches. The nine amphibious assault ships of the Tarawa and Wasp classes can carry helicopters to ferry troops or act as miniature aircraft carriers, equipped with AV-8B Harrier attack jets and soon F-35B fighter-bombers.

The U.S. Navy has 54 nuclear attack submarines, a mix of the Los AngelesSeawolf, and Virginia classes. The U.S. Navy is also responsible for the United States’ strategic nuclear deterrent at sea, with 14 Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines equipped with a total of 336 Trident nuclear missiles. The USN also has four Ohio-class submarines stripped of nuclear missiles and modified to carry 154 Tomahawk land attack missiles.

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