Jeremy Bender Apr. 21, 2016
Despite budget cuts and a reduction in size, the US has maintained its position as the world’s strongest military, according to a report on globalization from Credit Suisse.
While the US is still far and away the world’s top military superpower, Russia and China are its closest rivals. Canada, however, is the weakest of the 20 countries on the list.
Credit Suisse acknowledged the difficulties of determining comparative military strength in its report. To provide a benchmark, the report assigns weighted values for six variables before tabulating a final score.
The factors under consideration for military strength and their total weights are number of active personnel (5% of total score), tanks (10%), attack helicopters (15%), aircraft (20%), aircraft carriers (25%), and submarines (25%).
The ranking defines military might in purely quantitative terms and does not account for the actual quality of the arms and training that the militaries may have. As such, the placement of some countries on the list may come as a surprise.
The world’s 20 strongest militaries are below:
Budget: $15.7 billion
Active frontline personnel: 92,000
Total aircraft: 420
Canada ended up at the bottom of the list because of the country’s small number of active personnel, its lack of aircraft carriers and attack helicopters, and its small number of tanks and submarines. But Canada has still taken part in US operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, and it is a member of the NATO military alliance.
Canada is also a partner in the US F-35 program, although it may decline the purchase of F-35s depending on the outcome of elections in October.
No. 19. Indonesia
Budget: $6.9 billion
Active frontline personnel: 476,000
Total aircraft: 405
The Indonesian military placed above Canada because of its high numbers of active personnel and relatively large number of tanks. The military, however, suffers from a lack of carriers and aircraft, as well as a small number of submarines.
No. 18. Germany
Budget: $40.2 billion
Active frontline personnel: 179,046
Total aircraft: 663
The German military ended up low on the list because of its lack of power-projection platforms. Germany does not have an aircraft carrier and has relatively few submarines, which, according to the Credit Suisse methodology, drops its ranking.
But Germany does have a fair number of attack helicopters. Recently, the country has started considering offering military support to Eastern European NATO members.
No. 17. Poland
Budget: $9.4 billion
Active frontline personnel: 120,000
Total aircraft: 467
Poland edges out Germany in the list because of its larger number of tanks and a more fleshed-out submarine fleet. Poland has also drastically increased its military spending in reaction to Russia’s seizure of Crimea and the ongoing Ukraine crisis.
No. 16. Thailand
Budget: $5.39 billion
Active frontline personnel: 306,000
Total aircraft: 573
Thailand’s military is currently in control of the country following a coup in May 2014. The military is a major player in maintaining Thai unity, and Thailand receives strong scores from Credit Suisse for its number of active personnel, its number of tanks, and its possession of an aircraft carrier.
Thailand also scores well as it has an aircraft carrier, although it does not have an aircraft fleet to complement the vessel.
No. 15. Australia
Budget: $26.1 billion
Active frontline personnel: 58,000
Total aircraft: 408
Australia’s military is comparatively small — it receives bottom scores on the report for the number of active personnel and the number of tanks. It also receives near-bottom scores for the number of aircraft it has in its fleet.
Credit Suisse boosts Australia’s ranking because of its attack helicopters and submarines though.
No. 14. Israel
Budget: $17 billion
Active frontline personnel: 160,000
Total aircraft: 684
In absolute terms, Israel has a small military. But with mandatory military service, a large percentage of the Israeli population is militarily ready. With a past history of being surrounded by aggressive neighbors, Israel also has a large tank, aircraft, and attack-helicopter fleet.
No. 13. Taiwan
Budget: $10.7 billion
Active frontline personnel: 290,000
Total aircraft: 804
Threatened by China, which continues to have plans for how to invade and retake the country, Taiwan has focused its military development on defensive plans. As such, the island has the fifth-highest number of attack helicopters on the list. It also has a fairly large fleet of aircraft and a number of tanks.
No. 12. Egypt
Budget: $4.4 billion
Active frontline personnel: 468,500
Total aircraft: 1,107
The Egyptian military is one of the oldest and largest armed forces in the Middle East. It receives substantial financial aid from the US and has the fifth-largest tank fleet in the world. It has over 1,000 M1A1 Abrams tanks, many of which sit in storage and have never been used.
Egypt also has a relatively large aircraft force.
No. 11. Pakistan
Budget: $7 billion
Active frontline personnel: 617,000
Total aircraft: 914
The Pakistani military is one of the largest forces in the world, in terms of active personnel. Credit Suisse also credits the country with having large tank, aircraft, and attack-helicopter fleets.
In addition, Pakistan is thought to be building nuclear weapons at a fast-enough rate that it could have the world’s third-largest nuclear arsenal within the following decade.
No. 10. Turkey
Budget: $18.2 billion
Active frontline personnel: 410,500
Total aircraft: 1,020
Turkey’s armed forces are one of the largest in the eastern Mediterranean. Although lacking an aircraft carrier, only five countries on Credit Suisse’s list have more submarines than Turkey.
In addition, the country can lay claim to an impressively large tank fleet as well as numerous aircraft and attack helicopters.
Turkey is also a committed member of the F-35 program.
No. 9. UK
Budget: $60.5 billion
Active frontline personnel: 146,980
Total aircraft: 936
Although the UK is planning to reduce the size of its armed forces by 20% between 2010 and 2018, it can count on being able to project its power around the world.
The Royal Navy is planning to put the HMS Queen Elizabeth, an aircraft carrier that has a flight deck measuring 4.5 acres, into service in 2020, carrying 40 F-35B joint-strike fighters across the globe.
No. 8. Italy
Budget: $34 billion
Active frontline personnel: 320,000
Total aircraft: 760
The Italian military placed high on Credit Suisse’s report because of the country’s possession of two active aircraft carriers. These carriers, in addition to the country’s relatively large submarine and attack-helicopter fleets, drastically boosted Italy’s ranking.
No. 7. South Korea
Budget: $62.3 billion
Active frontline personnel: 624,465
Total aircraft: 1,412
South Korea has been left with little choice but to have a large and capable military in the face of potential North Korean aggression. With those realities in mind, South Korea has a number of submarines, attack helicopters, and active personnel.
The country also has numerous tanks and the sixth-largest air force in the world.
No. 6. France
Budget: $62.3 billion
Active frontline personnel: 202,761
Total aircraft: 1,264
The French military is relatively small, but highly trained, professional, and capable of force projection.
No. 5. India
Budget: $50 billion
Active frontline personnel: 1,325,000
Total aircraft: 1,905
India is one of the largest military powers on the planet. It has the most active manpower of any country aside from China and the US, in addition to the most tanks and aircraft of any country besides the US, China, or Russia.
India also has access to nuclear weapons. It’s expected to become the fourth-highestmilitary spender on earth by 2020.
No. 4. Japan
Budget: $41.6 billion
Active frontline personnel: 247,173
Total aircraft: 1,613
In absolute terms, the Japanese military is relatively small. Nonetheless, the country is extremely well-equipped.
According to Credit Suisse, it has the fourth-largest submarine fleet on the list. Japan also has four aircraft carriers, although these vessels are equipped only with helicopter fleets.
Japan also has the fourth-largest attack-helicopter fleet behind China, Russia, and the US.
No. 3. China
Budget: $216 billion
Active frontline personnel: 2,333,000
Total aircraft: 2,860
The Chinese military has grown rapidly in terms of size and capability in the past few decades. In terms of raw manpower, it’s the largest military in the world. It also has the second-largest tank fleet behind Russia and the second-largest submarine fleet behind the US.
China has also made rapid strides in its military-modernization program, now developing a range of potentially game-changing military technologies, including ballistic missiles and fifth-generation aircraft.
No. 2. Russia
Budget: $84.5 billion
Active frontline personnel: 766,055
Total aircraft: 3,429
The Russian armed forces are the unquestioned second-strongest military power in the world. Russia has the world’s largest tank fleet, the second-largest aircraft fleet behind the US, and the third-largest submarine fleet behind the US and China.
The Kremlin’s military spending has increased by almost a third since 2008 and is expected to grow 44% more in the next three years. Russia has also demonstrated its ability to project force abroad with its deployment of soldiers to Syria.
No. 1. US
Budget: $601 billion
Active frontline personnel: 1,400,000
Total aircraft: 13,892
Despite sequestration and other spending cuts, the US spends more money — $601 billion — on defense than the next nine countries on Credit Suisse’s index combined.
The US also has by far the most aircraft of any country, cutting-edge technology like the Navy’s new rail gun, a large and well-trained human force — and that’s not even counting the world’s largest nuclear arsenal.