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What is the strongest soldiers in the world?

Ranked for 2021: Top 5 Militaries On Planet Earth

What are the most powerful militaries in the world? It’s an outwardly simple question that hides a remarkable degree of complexity. Power, after all, is relative. Militaries decide where to invest their resources based on unique national factors of topography and geostrategy—a development path that makes one military “powerful” would not necessarily be viable for another. With that being said, GlobalFirepower’s Military Strength Ranking index employs a unique formula that manages to control for many of the variables that can make these comparisons so fraught. Here are the five militaries that, by widespread expert consensus, are currently the strongest.

1. The United States

The United States has again taken the crown of the world’s strongest military in 2021, outpacing its nearest competitor by a small, but steady margin. With its massive—even if partially bloated—defense budget, expansive infrastructure, vast manpower, and a large pool of potential fit-for-service recruits, the United States passes all the underlying criteria of modern military power with flying colors. Its raw potential is matched by a robust defense industry, responsible for some of the advanced military hardware in the world. The United States leads the world in airpower, quantitatively and qualitatively beating its nearest competitor in most if not all aircraft categories. It maintains by far the most active-service aircraft carriers in the world, enjoying a global strike reach through the U.S. Navy’s doctrinal concept of Carrier Strike Groups.

2. Russia

Russia has recovered from its post-Soviet military slump, launching a slew of far-reaching modernization projects to revitalize its aging air force and navy. The fruits of those labors can be readily observed in 2021, with a new generation of Russian strategic and cruise missile submarines narrowing the qualitative gap with their U.S. counterparts. Russia’s growing force of modernized corvettes and other small ships reflects Moscow’s commitment to a coastal defense force. Meanwhile, Russia continues to hold a large quantitative edge over the United States in all land power categories other than armored vehicles. The airpower matchup is still somewhat lopsided in favor of the United States; as illustrated by its new Su-57 air superiority fighter, Russia is currently more interested in developing air-based counters to U.S. stealth penetration platforms than investing in similar capabilities.

3. China

Though it noticeably lags behind its Russian and U.S. competitors, China continues to make considerable, long-term investments into all of its military branches. With the second-largest military budget and by far the largest fit-for-service pool, China’s military exhibits the potential for explosive growth across relatively short periods of time. China’s considerable raw resources are being utilized across a slew of ambitious procurement programs over the coming decades, ranging from its own Carrier Strike Groups to a coming fleet of sixth-generation bombers and fighters.

4. India

Despite its relatively small defense budget and lack of military output when compared to the top three world powers, India’s military potential stems from its massive labor force and equally impressive fit-for-service pool. India maintains a large, even if partially unmodernized, tank roster, as well as a formidable coastal defense force and robust reserve of artillery pieces. Though it remains a military hardware importer, New Delhi has taken recent steps—in large part through licensed production and technology transfer deals—to establish the groundwork for an increasingly self-reliant domestic defense industry.

5. Japan

Japan first supplanted France for fifth-place in 2020, leveraging its wealth, comparatively large defense budget, and impressive infrastructure. Though it maintains a robust air force and an active presence in select naval categories such as destroyers and submarines, Japan’s global ranking is dragged down by its relative lack of ground forces.

Mark Episkopos is the new national security reporter for the National Interest.

Military Size by Country 2023

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A country’s military is one of its most important assets. The military works for the government and is tasked with enforcing domestic and foreign policies and protecting that country’s citizens. Some nations have mandatory military service in which every citizen must serve for at least a certain number of years.

Factors to consider when evaluating a country’s military strength

There are several crucial factors to consider when analyzing the strength of a nation’s military. The capability and availability of equipment (vehicles, weaponry, communications gear, etc.) is essential. The quality of training each soldier receives is vital. Their commanders’ ability to consistently devise effective tactical strategies can be pivotal. But one of the most fundamental measures of a country’s military strength is the number of soldiers it can deploy.

The list of countries that boast the highest total (active duty, reserves, and paramilitary) number of members in the military may be surprising to some readers. However, it is vital to also keep in mind servicepeople are usually divided into three categories: soldiers on active duty, reserves, or paramilitary members.

  • Soldiers on active duty — Soldiers who work for the military full time, often live on base, and may be deployed at any time.
  • Reservists — Soldiers who typically serve part time and join the reserves—such as the Army Reserve or National Guard—to make extra money, get tuition bonuses at college/university, or take advantage of other perks without devoting themselves full time to the military.
  • Paramilitary members — Servicepeople who belong to organizations such as Canada’s Canadian Rangers or France’s National Gendarmerie, which are military-like, but not formally part of the armed forces.

Top 10 Countries with the Highest Total Number of Military Personnel (in members):

RankCountryTotal PersonnelTotal (Per 1000 Capita)Active (Per 1000 Capita)
2North Korea7,769,000306.150.4
3South Korea6,712,500130.511.6
7United States2,133,0506.54.2

North Korea dominates the list in terms of military members per capita, with 306.1 total members and 50.4 active members per capita. For comparison, the next closest countries in those categories are South Korea with 130.5 total per capita and Eritrea with 33.8 total active members per capita. However, these numbers can be deceiving, as the overwhelming majority of soldiers in Vietnam, North Korea, and South Korea are reserves or paramilitary, not active duty. In terms of the total number of active military members, there are eight nations with active militaries exceeding 500,000 soldiers:

Top 10 Countries with the Highest Number of Active-Duty Military Personnel (in members):

  1. China: 2,185,000
  2. India: 1,455,550
  3. United States: 1,388,100
  4. North Korea: 1,280,000
  5. Russia: 1,014,000
  6. Pakistan: 654,000
  7. Iran: 610,000
  8. South Korea: 599,000
  9. Vietnam: 482,000
  10. Egypt: 438,500

It is noteworthy that the world’s three most populous countries also have the three largest standing armies, and in the same order. China’s massive force is the largest, followed by India and the United States. While the United States has the third-highest population in total, the third-highest number of active military members, and the fourth-highest number of military members overall, it has the highest military spending of any country in the world. Once reserve members are added in, Vietnam’s military becomes the largest, with roughly 5 million people in its reserves. The Republic of Korea also has 3.1 million members in its military reserves.

Top 10 Countries with the Highest Number of Active-Duty and Reserve Military Personnel (in members):

  1. Vietnam: 5,482,000
  2. South Korea: 3,699,000
  3. China: 3,355,000
  4. Russian Federation: 3,014,000
  5. India: 2,610,550
  6. United States: 2,233,050
  7. North Korea: 1,880,000
  8. Taiwan: 1,820,000
  9. Brazil: 1,706,500
  10. Pakistan: 1,204,000

Looking strictly at each nation’s paramilitary capabilities, the ranking again changes. The nation with the largest paramilitary is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea), which has over 5.889 million members. Conversely, the United States does not count paramilitary organizations as part of its available military (though some, such as the Civil Air Patrol, are considered auxiliaries), so its paramilitary officially has zero members.

Top 10 Countries with the Highest Number of Paramilitary Personnel (in members):

  1. North Korea: 5,889,000
  2. Vietnam: 5,000,000
  3. South Korea: 3,013,500
  4. India: 2,526,950
  5. Cuba: 1,146,500
  6. China: 660,000
  7. Russia: 554,000
  8. Egypt: 397,000
  9. Brazil: 395,000
  10. Pakistan: 291,000

On the other side of the coin, some nations have no active military members, or their militaries are minimal. The following six nations have no active members of the military: Costa Rica, Iceland, Libya, Marutius, Palestine, and Panama. For a full table of countries and their military headcounts, see below.

Top 10 Countries with the Highest Number of Active-Duty Military Personnel (in members):

  1. China — 2.2M
  2. India — 1.5M
  3. United States — 1.4M
  4. North Korea — 1.3M
  5. Russia — 1M
  6. Pakistan — 654K
  7. Iran — 610K
  8. South Korea — 599K
  9. Vietnam — 482K
  10. Egypt — 438.5K

10 Countries with The Strongest Armies in the World

Countries with Strongest Armies

Armies are considered an important part of a country and its security. Every year, a large fortune is allocated out of the budget for fighting battles. Countries take special initiatives to strengthen themselves militarily. If we try to compare the armies of the different nations to gauge the countries with strongest armies, it would probably not be possible to do so hypothetically. However, without leading to a bloodbath, we can have a fair idea about the military strengths of countries by taking into account the arsenal in their possession, advanced technologies implemented, training, power and number of allies, size of the army, budget allocated, etc.. While it is a rather subjective issue, several organizations, such as Business Insider, conduct their own studies to rank the military powers.

Let’s take a look at the ranking of top 10 countries with the strongest armies in the world.

Table of Contents

Table of contents

10. Japan

Countries with Strongest Armies

Japan was the land of Samurais. Also, Japan was a leading military force in WW-II. Interestingly, its peace treaty at the end of WW-II prohibits it from having an offensive army. In response to its growing disputes with the ever-expanding China, Japan started military expansion, first time in 40 years, placing new base on outer islands. It increased its military spending, first time in 11 years, to $49.1 billion, the world’s 6th highest. It has over 247,000 active personnel and almost 60,000 in reserve. With 1,595 aircraft, it is the 5th largest air force. The army is also equipped with 131 war ships. Besides, through its recent defense initiatives, it maintains a solid military presence in Asia.

9. South Korea

Countries with Strongest Armies

South Korea shares its border with North Korea which has an extremely powerful military at its disposal, and hence, is a constant threat to South Korea. But, its offensive neighbor is not its only problem. To meet the increasing armament of China and Japan, South Korea has been increasing its defense expenditure, which is now $34 billion. It maintains a large army of over 640,000 active personnel and 2,900,000 additional personnel in the reserve, alongside the 6th largest air force with 1,393 aircraft, as well as a small 166 ships. The country has about 15,000 land weapons, including rocket systems, as well as 2,346 tanks. It routinely participates in military training with the US.

8. Turkey

Countries with Strongest Armies

It was perhaps the struggle of the other countries sharing borders with the regions where the Islamic State has a strong presence, the struggle in Syria or the probability of clashes with the Kurdish separatist organization, PKK, which made Turkey realize that it needs to prepare itself to face danger head on, if and when it approaches, and decide to increase its investment in defence in 2015 by 10%. Its defense budget is at $18.18 billion. Its army size, including regular troops and reserves, is just above 660,000. Turkey’s air force has 1000 aircraft. The military also claims to 16,000 land weapons. It has strong diplomatic ties with the US, and partakes in initiatives around the world. Now it stands at 8th spot amongst strongest armies.

7. Germany

German special forces

Germany is one of the strongest economic forces in the world. But despite spending around $45 million every year, the army’s condition seems to have deteriorated in the past few years. This is perhaps because, the generation born and growing up in the 1950-60s were against war and its atrocities, and the fear of being beaten by countries with strongest armies, still discourages the people to join the army. In 2011, mandatory military service was eliminated to prevent the country from being a militarized country. It has only 183,000 active front-line personnel and 145,000 reservists, alongside 710 aircraft in total, and on-land armament of nearly 5,000 of various kinds.

6. France

French Army Jawan

France is another country to follow Germany’s lead because, in 2013, it took the decision to ‘effectively ‘freeze’ its military spending, and cut down on the defense jobs by 10%, to save money for technologically advanced equipment. Its current military budget stands at $43 a year, which is 1.9% of the country’s GDP, much below the spending target as set by NATO. Over 220,000 regular force combines with reservists to form a force of about 500,000. It has just over 1,000 aircraft, along with 9,000 ground vehicles. Even if these do not make France a formidable army, its position in the EU and UN, a total 290 nuclear weapons, and significant deployments strengthen the country.

5. The United Kingdom

British Army_United Kingdom

The United Kingdom, also has a plan of reducing the size of the armed forces by 20% between 2010 and 2018, and apply smaller cuts to the Royal Navy and RAF. The defense budget of the UK currently stands at $54 billion. It has a regular force of only about 205,000, along with a small air force of 908 aircraft, and an even smaller navy of 66 ships. However, the army of the UK is still a powerful one, with its superior training, equipment and its 160 nuclear weapons being the main strengths. The Royal Navy is planning to put to service HMS Queen Elizabeth, in 2020. It is an aircraft carrier, planned to carry 40 F-35B joint strike fighters around the world.

4. India

Indian Army_BMP

India has put its massive population to use, and built an army of a sizeable 3.5 million, including 1.325 million active military. The huge size of the Indian military is one of the reasons why it has always remained among the countries with strongest armies in the world. The man force of the army is complemented by almost 16,000 land vehicles which include 3,500 tanks, as well as 1,785 aircraft, alongside nuclear weapons. Its ballistic missiles can hit all of Pakistan or most of China. Its current defense budget stands at $61 billion, but it is expected to rise, in a drive to modernize the military power and become the 4th highest spender by 2020. It is also the world’s largest military goods importer.

3. China

chinese army in field

China’s defense budget officially stands at $237 billion, and, in a relentless drive to invest massively in defense, there is likely to be an increase of budget by 12.2%. It has a formidable size of army, with 2.285 million active front-line personnel and a further 2.3 million reservists, making it the world’s largest land force, along with nearly 25,000 land vehicles. It has another 2,800 aircraft on its air force. China is in possession of about 300 nuclear weapons, alongside 180 different methods of their deployment. China recently acquired sensitive information about the new F-35, and is noted for successfully stealing sensitive military technology. It is rightly among the top 3 strongest armies.

2. Russia

Russian Army Women Army

Russia’s defence budget stands at $48 billion, and is expected to grow 44% more in the next three years. In fact, the military spending of Kremlin has increased by about a third since 2008, especially since Vladimir Putin took hold of Russia in 2000. The Russian army has shown substantial growth since the collapse of the Soviet Union two decades ago. It has 766,000 active frontline personnel and almost 2.5 million on the reserve force, though the soldiers receive mediocre training. The man force is backed by 15,500 tanks, making Russia the largest tank force in the world, though it is aging, like the other equipment. The country is the world’s leader, with almost 8,500 active nuclear warheads.

1. The United States

Th e U.S. Army Marksmanship training

The United States spends a whopping $750 billion on the military, more than the other nine countries’ budgets combined. It maintains a remarkably large army composed of over 1.4 million soldiers, and a further 800,000 reservists. To complement the active ground force comprising well-trained men and women in uniforms, its biggest advantage is that it is the world leader in aircraft production, with a fleet of 19 aircraft carriers, while the carriers operated by the world together sum up to 12. The US implements cutting-edge technology like the Navy’s new rail gun, and the country also has 7,500 nuclear warheads at its disposal. No wonder it is no.1 military force since WW-II.

Thus, the defense budget, man power, air force, navy, etc. together help to determine the most powerful military forces in the world. The countries with strongest armies are the nations that are considered the biggest threats to global security. And these are the nations that also become the heavyweights in global affairs. While the US has projected a formidable military force for a long time. Russia has risen well, and China, too a force to reckon with. These countries clinch the top 3 positions. The strategies of other countries may gradually make them recognizable forces in the world in a not-so-distant future.

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