These 5 Nations Have The World's Most Powerful Armies, Navies, And Air Forces

January 1, 2020 Topic: Security Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: NavyArmyAir ForceMilitaryTechnologyList

These 5 Nations Have The World's Most Powerful Armies, Navies, And Air Forces

They are unstoppable.


Russia has big plans for its naval forces, but for the most part they remain just that—plans. Russia plans to acquire at least one more aircraft carrier, a new, unnamed class of guided missile destroyers, the Borey II ballistic missile submarinesYasen II nuclear attack submarines, and the Improved Kilo and Lada conventional attack submarines. While the submarines are under construction, the aircraft carrier and destroyers are unfunded and exist only as blueprints.

The United Kingdom:


This list catches the Royal Navy at a historic ebb in firepower. Like much of the British Armed Forces, the Royal Navy has seen successive waves of equipment and personnel cuts. The recent retirement of two Invincible-class aircraft carriers and the Sea Harriers of the Fleet Air Arm have greatly reduced the Royal Navy’s abilities. Nuclear firepower, as well as future aircraft-carrier plans earn it fourth place on the list.

The Royal Navy is the smallest on this list, with only 33,400 personnel on active duty and 2,600 in the reserves. The Royal Navy currently fields three large amphibious assault ships, 19 frigates and destroyers, seven nuclear attack submarines, and four nuclear-powered ballistic-missile submarines. The Royal Navy’s aviation force, the Fleet Air Arm, fields 149 aircraft, primarily helicopters.

The core of the Royal Navy’s surface force is its six Type 45 guided missile destroyers. Each destroyer of the Daring class is equipped with an advanced SAMPSON air tracking radar, similar to the SPY-1D radar of the U.S. Navy’s radar Aegis system. Paired with up to 48 Aster surface-to-air missiles, the destroyers can handle a wide spectrum of aerial threats, including ballistic missiles.

The Royal Navy’s submarine force has dwindled to less than a dozen submarines. The force of seven nuclear attack submarines is being upgraded by the introduction of the HMS Astute class. Astute and her sister ships carry Spearfish torpedoes and Tomahawk land attack missiles, and are among the most advanced submarines in the world. Four Vanguard-class ballistic-missile submarines constitute the U.K.’s nuclear deterrent. Each Vanguard weighs up to 15,900 tons submerged and is equipped with 16 Trident D II long-range ballistic missiles.

The Royal Navy will soon receive a quantum leap in capability with the construction of two new aircraft carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales. The two carriers, each weighing up to 70,000 tons fully loaded, will be the largest ships ever to sail in the Royal Navy. The carriers will each be capable of embarking up to 36 F-35B fighter-bombers and a number of helicopters.


The fifth navy on this list is unusual, because technically, it is not really a navy. Japan’s Maritime Self Defense Force (MSDF) is not a military force; its personnel are civil servants, not sailors. Largely under the radar, Japan has built up one of the largest, most-advanced and professionally manned naval forces in the world.

The MSDF has a total of 114 ships and 45,800 personnel. The core of the force is its large fleet of destroyers, designed to keep the sea-lanes to and from Japan from being cut as they were in the Second World War. This fleet of 46 destroyers—more than the British and French navies combined—has been expanded in recent years to accommodate new missions. Since the mid-2000s, the MSDF’s force of Aegis destroyers has been tasked with providing a defense umbrella against North Korean ballistic missiles.

Even more recently, Japan has constructed three so-called “helicopter destroyers”, each twice as large as the average destroyer with a strong external (and internal) resemblance to aircraft carriers. Indeed, these helicopter destroyers are carriers in all but name, designed to embark helicopters and—possibly in the future—F-35B fighter-bombers.

Japan has a modest, but growing amphibious capability. It has three tank landing ships of 9,000 tons that can move 300 troops and a dozen vehicles off-ship via helicopter and hovercraft. The helicopter destroyers can embark up to a battalion’s worth of marines from the new marine brigade to be based at Nagasaki, transport helicopters to carry them, and transport Apache attack helicopters to give them air support.

Japan’s submarine force is—ship-for-ship—one of the best in the world. There are 16 submarines in the JMSDF, the latest of the Soryu-class. Featuring an advanced air independent propulsion system, the Soryu submarines can remain submerged longer than other conventional submarines. The Japanese submarine fleet is young, with submarines retired at the average age of eighteen to twenty years. Japan has recently announced that the fleet would be increased to 22 submarines in response to the growing might of the PLAN.


The 5 Most Powerful Armies

Prioritizing the five most powerful armies on Earth is not an easy task. Each country has its own unique security situation that shapes its military in general and land power in particular, accordingly.

Geographic, political, diplomatic and fiscal issues all determine army size. Does it exist in a bad neighborhood like India, Afghanistan or Jordan, or a nice neighborhood like the United States, Luxembourg or Canada? Is it internally focused, externally focused or both? How much in military spending can the government afford?

The end of the Cold War marked shift of hard military power eastward. The British Army is projected to drop from 120,000 in 1990 to just 82,000 in 2020. The French Army has been cut from 236,000 in 1996 to just 119,000 personnel. The most striking cuts have appeared in Germany, where the army has declined from 360,000 in 1990 to 62,000 today.

At the same time, several Asian armies are well north of half a million troops: India, Pakistan, North Korea, South Korea and China. Honorable mention goes to Myanmar, Iran and Vietnam, all of which have armies at least five times larger than Germany’s.

Manpower isn’t everything: North Korea has an estimated army size of 950,000, but is antiquated and unable to project land power beyond the Korean peninsula. Neither is technology, for that matter.

Could the German Army of 62,000 beat the Indian Army of 1.1 million? That’s probably not the right way to look at it. Switch armies between the two countries and both would be poorly served. With all of that in mind, here are five suggestions for the most powerful armies on Earth.

The United States:

The undisputed land power on the planet is the United States Army. The Army has 535,000 soldiers, many of which are combat veterans, backed up by modern, cutting-edge equipment and a robust logistical system. The result is the only land power capable of multidivisional combat operations outside of its hemisphere.

At the core of the U.S. Army are ten combat divisions, backed up by a handful of separate combat brigades. Each division consists of three armor, mechanized infantry, light infantry, Stryker, airborne, and air assault brigades, complemented by one aviation and artillery brigade each. Manpower is from roughly 18,000 to 14,000 each, depending on the particular unit.

The U.S. Army is still reliant on the so-called “Big 5” weapons systems introduced during the Carter-Reagan era. The M1 Abrams main battle tank, M2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicle, AH-64 Apache attack helicopter, M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System and Patriot Missile systems are all soldiering on thirty years after their introduction. Significant upgrades have maintained the lethality and relevance of these systems on the modern battlefield.

A significant portion of the U.S. Army is devoted to special forces and commando-type troops. U.S. Army special operations forces include three battalions of Rangers, seven Special Forces Groups, the brigade-sized 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment and Delta Force. Total manpower for Army Special Operations Command alone is 28,500.

The People’s Liberation Army Ground Forces (China):

China’s Army—officially the People’s Liberation Army Ground Forces (PLAGF)— is the largest army in Asia. Numbering 1.6 million active duty troops, the PLAGF is charged with securing China’s borders, providing a capability to project land power in China’s neighborhood and increasingly, on a global scale.

The 1991 Persian Gulf War, in which the United States and its coalition allies made short work of a larger Iraqi Army shocked the PLAGF leadership. The Chinese Army’s traditional reliance on manpower had clearly been negated by advances in technology.

As a result, the Chinese Army has undergone significant changes in the past two decades. Active manpower has been slashed by several million troops. The number of field armies and combat divisions has been dramatically cut. At the same time, China’s rapid economic growth has allowed it to rapidly increase defense spending, funding high-tech upgrades.

Although the PLAGF lags behind China’s naval and air forces in priority, it has introduced a number of modern weapons systems. The Type 99 series of tanks has undergone several major revisions in the past decade, as the Chinese Army seeks to deploy a tank on par with the American M1 Abrams. The WZ-10, China’s first real attack helicopter, has begun to enter service. Despite the influx of new equipment, the PLAGF still counts vast amounts of obsolete equipment, such as Type 59 tanks in its active-duty inventories. Full modernization will take at least another decade, and possibly two, as the Chinese economy slows.