Strongest militaries in 2019: comparing the top 7 global armed forces
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Strongest militaries in 2019: comparing global armed forces

By Talal Husseini 15 May 2019 (Last Updated January 21st, 2020 05:57)

The latest figures from the Global Fire Power Index identify the strongest militaries in 2019. In which areas are some of the strongest militaries dominating and where do they fall short?

Strongest militaries in 2019: comparing global armed forces
The latest figures from the Global Fire Power Index identify the strongest militaries in 2019. Credit: US Army/Maricris C McLane.

What are the strongest militaries in 2019? Each year since 2006, the Global Fire Power Index has ranked 137 modern military powers using 55 different metrics to give each country a score based on their size, finances, and number of high tech equipment.  A perfect score in the index is 0.

We take a look at the top ranking nations, and find out why they are ranked in this order, including the areas where some nations excel in terms of military power and where others fall short.

1. The United States (Power Index (PI): 0.0615)

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the US is ranked number one in most of the directly comparable metrics, such as total aircraft strength with 13,398 aircraft, including 5,760 helicopters in service, which is the most out of any nation in the world.  At $716bn, the US also has the world’s largest defence budget, $492bn more than China – the world’s second largest defence spender.

The US falls short of first place in only a few metrics, such as the number of combat tanks with 6,287 (ranked 3rd); the number of self-propelled artillery equalling 992 (7th), and the number of rocket projectors (15th).

In terms of naval assets, the US is second only to China, with 415 and 714 respectively.

2. Russia (PI: 0.0639)

Russia holds first place in certain metrics. It is the top nation in terms of number of combat tanks with 21,932 – more than three times the US’s total – and also armoured fighting vehicles (of which it has more than 50,000) and self-propelled artillery. For every other comparative metric, Russia holds either 2nd or 3rd place.

Moreover, this is all made possible with a relatively small defence budget of $44bn. Russia also has a strong navy, with a total of 352 assets. This includes 82 corvettes, more than the US (15) and China (42) combined.

Perhaps, unsurprisingly at number three we have:

3. China (PI: 0.0673)

China performs better in some areas than in others. In terms of total naval assets, it is the top nation on the list with 714 vessels, including 119 patrol vessels, 76 submarines and 52 frigate ships. It is also top of the list in terms of the number of towed artillery in its arsenal with 6,246.

The Global Fire Power Index ranked China 2nd for its number of combat tanks, armoured fighting vehicles, jet fighters and attack aircraft, while China’s score fell in terms of its number of aircraft trainers, where it achieved its lowest ranking of 5th place overall.

At $224bn, it has the second largest defence budget in the world in 2019.

4. India (PI: 0.1065)

India maintains a strong air force and navy, according to the index, ranking 3rd for the number of transport aircraft, at 248, and in 4th place in terms of total aircraft strength, including jet fighters and attack aircraft, and in 5th for total helicopter strength.

The Indian Navy also maintained a good number of assets at 295 including all primary and auxiliary vessels, which placed the nation in fourth position. India is also top of the list in terms of its number of patrol vessels with 139, 20 more than China.

For armoured fighting vehicles and self-propelled artillery, the Indian Army ranks 25th and 26th respectively, much lower than its overall ranking. India has a defence budget of $55.2bn for 2019, smaller than the US and China, but slightly larger than Russia’s spending.

5. France (PI: 0.1584)

France’s military budget for 2019 stands at $40.5bn in total. The nation’s strengths lie in its air capabilities. For example, the nation is ranked 8th in terms of total aircraft strength and 7th in terms of total helicopter strength. The French Armed forces operate 1,248 different aircraft and 566 helicopters.

It has a relatively medium sized navy with 118 naval assets in total, including four aircraft carriers – more than Russia, China and India. The French Army is relatively weak in terms of its total equipment, having been ranked 44th for combat tanks with only 406; 55th for towed artillery, and 61st for the number of rocket projectors.

6. Japan (PI: 0.1707)

Next on the list of strongest militaries in 2019 is Japan, which has a defence budget of $47bn for 2019, according to the Global Fire Power Index.

Similar to France, Japan’s military strength lies in its aircraft and naval assets. Japan is ranked in 6th place for total aircraft strength with 1,572 aircraft, and for total helicopter strength with 636. This includes 119 attack helicopters, for which is only bested by three other nations.  It also owns 131 naval assets in total including four aircraft carriers, and 37 destroyer warships – the second highest number of destroyers owned by any nation.

However, in terms of the number of combat tanks, self-propelled and towed artillery, Japan is ranked lower – at 25th place.

7. South Korea (PI: 0.1761)

The Republic of Korea Armed Forces maintain a good balance across all branches, in terms of military strength in 2019. The force’s total aircraft strength is ranked in 5th while its total helicopter strength is 4th. Furthermore, it is also ranked the 4th best nation for its number of self-propelled and towed artillery, of which it has 2,140 and 3,854 respectively.

South Korea’s lowest ranking on any metric is for armoured fighting vehicles, of which it has 2,870, putting it in 23rd place. South Korea’s national defence budget of $38bn in 2019 places it in 10th on the list of richest militaries.

You can view all available data from the Global Fire Power Index 2019 here.