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The Top 10 Most Powerful Militaries in the World

Larry Slawson received his Master's Degree from UNC Charlotte in 2018. He specializes in military history.

From the Turkish military to the United States Armed Forces, this article ranks the 10 most powerful militaries in the world.

From the Turkish military to the United States Armed Forces, this article ranks the 10 most powerful militaries in the world.

What Is the Most Powerful Military in the World?

Throughout the world, a number of military powers exist that are both powerful and robust in their overall fighting capabilities. Of the militaries that exist, a number of countries have proven themselves to be more formidable opponents than others in regard to their strength, number of personnel, and technological superiority on the battlefield. From the Turkish military to the United States armed forces, this work examines and ranks the 10 most powerful militaries in the world. It provides a brief overview of each country’s troop strength, naval forces, air power, and nuclear arsenal. Did your favorite military make the final 10 in our list? Read below to find out!

Selection Criteria

In order to select (and rank) the 10 most powerful military forces in the world, a number of basic criteria was necessary for the extents and purposes of this work. First and foremost, overall troop numbers of each country (including both active and reserve personnel) were taken into consideration for each of the following military forces. Troop strength was then calculated (further) by the amount of training that is performed in each military. Training time (and its overall intensity) were also crucial for this work, as numerical superiority (alone) is often less-effective than well-trained personnel (i.e. the Russian Empire’s dismal performance during the First World War).

Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, each of the following militaries were ranked according to their technological superiority, logistical capabilities, as well as the size of their air force and naval power. While these criteria leave room for a number of potential gaps in the selection process, the author believes them to be the best means for ranking the 10 most powerful militaries in the world.

The 10 Strongest Militaries in the World

  • Turkish Military
  • French Military
  • Japanese Military
  • Indian Military
  • South Korean Military
  • British Military
  • Israeli Military
  • Chinese Military
  • Russian Military
  • United States Military
Turkish Military.

Turkish Military.

10. Turkish Military

  • Total Number of Troops: 775,000 (Active and Reserve)
  • Size of Navy: 156 Ships
  • Air Power: 1,057 Aircraft
  • Military Budget (Annually): $18.2 Billion
  • Nuclear Arsenal: 0

The Turkish military is characterized as one of the largest armed forces in the Eastern Mediterranean. Possessing approximately 775,000 troops (active and reserve), a fleet of 156 warships, and an astounding 1,057 aircraft (including helicopters, jets, and bombers), Turkey is well-prepared to meet nearly any threat to its borders.

Spending approximately $18.2 billion dollars a year on their defense budget, the country has been able to acquire a tremendous amount of technological gear for their frontline troops, and possesses one of the largest submarine fleets in the world (with 13 active submarines currently known to exist). Their overall number of tanks is also quite impressive, and includes over 3,778 (as of 2022). Taken together, their military currently ranks as the second largest force within the NATO alliance.

How Powerful is the Turkish Military?

Although the Turkish military possesses no nuclear arsenal (or aircraft carriers) at this time, their country makes up for this deficit through their active membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), as well as their participation in the highly-advanced F-35 Program. The Turkish military also possesses an incredibly advanced intelligence service known as the “National Intelligence Organization” (“MIT”). Conducting internal and external threat assessments, counterintelligence, as well as a number of covert operations around the globe, the MIT is well-situated to perform nearly any task they are given. When combined with their massive troop strength, large military budget, and impressive array of aircraft and warships, the Turkish military is truly one of the world’s most powerful militaries.

French Military.

French Military.

9. French Military

  • Total Number of Troops: 415,000 (Active and Reserve)
  • Size of Navy: 180 Ships
  • Air Power: 1,055 Aircraft
  • Military Budget (Annually): $62.3 Billion
  • Nuclear Arsenal: 300+ Nuclear Weapons

The French military is a large and highly-trained force that is a key member of the UN Security Council and NATO. Possessing approximately 415,000 troops (both active and reserve), a fleet of approximately 180 ships, and an air force consisting of 1,055 (known) aircraft, the French military is well-positioned to deploy its forces nearly anywhere in the world.

Spending an astounding $62.3 billion dollars a year on their defense budget, the French possess one of the most technologically-advanced militaries in the world, including 10 nuclear submarines, a Charles d Gaulle-class aircraft carrier, and an arsenal of 300 known nuclear weapons. Augmenting their military is 400+ tanks, 6,500 armored vehicles, 200 artillery pieces, and 3,000+ special operations forces. Taken together, the French military is a deadly addition to the NATO alliance, and one of the most powerful forces in the world.

How Powerful is the French Military?

Possessing a nuclear arsenal of 300+ warheads, an aircraft carrier, and 10 nuclear submarines, the French military is consistently ranked as one of the most technologically advanced forces on the planet. Bolstered by their active participation in NATO, the French currently possess the largest military force in the European Union, and are renowned for their highly-advanced intelligence service known as “The General Directorate for External Security” (DGSE). Rivaling the British MI6 and American CIA in their capabilities, the DGSE is capable of conducting a number of paramilitary and counterintelligence operations, including economic espionage. When combined with France’s GIGN special forces unit, the French military is capable of neutralizing nearly any threat that comes their way. Their one true weakness, however, lies with the fact that the French military lacks the ability to maintain sustained conflicts due to their smaller size and lack of manpower reserves.

Japanese Military.

Japanese Military.

8. Japanese Military

  • Total Number of Troops: 309,000 (Active and Reserve)
  • Size of Navy: 155 Ships
  • Air Power: 1,449 Aircraft
  • Military Budget (Annually): $41.6 Billion
  • Nuclear Arsenal: 0

The Japanese military (known as the “Japanese Self-Defense Forces”) is a relatively small (but highly-trained) force that is a key member of the United Nations, as well as the G7 (consisting of the world’s seven largest advanced economies). Possessing approximately 309,000 troops (active and reserve), a fleet of 155 ships, and a powerful air force consisting of 1,449 aircraft (including helicopters, jets, and bombers), the Japanese military is highly-capable of defending its nation from both foreign and domestic threats.

Spending over $41.6 billion dollars a year for their defense budget, the Japanese have also equipped their troops with the latest military hardware and gadgets, including 21 nuclear-powered submarines. Enhancing their overall forces is 1,004 tanks, 5,500+ armored vehicles, nearly 700 artillery pieces, and 300+ special forces. When examined together, it is clear that the Japanese military is one of the strongest defense forces in the world.

How Powerful is the Japanese Military?

Although the Japanese military possesses no nuclear weapons or aircraft carriers (similar to Turkey), their country makes up for this deficiency through active participation in the UN and G7, respectively. Likewise, they are currently protected under the United States “nuclear umbrella,” which guarantees their security in exchange for their decision to not acquire nuclear weapons on their own. This provides the Japanese military incredible strength on the world stage, as their alliances and technological advancements are top-notch.

Augmenting their strength is their world-renowned intelligence service known as the “Public Security Intelligence Agency” (PSIA). Tasked with internal security and espionage against national threats, the agency is characterized as one of the most sophisticated in the world, rivaling that of the CIA. When combined with the Japanese Special Forces Group, the Japanese Self-Defense Forces are well-equipped to handle nearly any threat that presents itself. Their one weakness, however, lies in the fact that Japan is relatively incapable of fighting a long war on its own (similar to France), as they lack the natural resources, manpower, and reserves to win a protracted conflict.

Indian Military.

Indian Military.

7. Indian Military

  • Total Number of Troops: 5,132,000 (Active and Reserve)
  • Size of Navy: 295 Ships
  • Air Power: 2,182 Aircraft
  • Military Budget (Annually): $61 Billion
  • Nuclear Arsenal: 90 to 110 Nuclear Weapons

The Indian military (also known as the “Indian Armed Forces”) is one of the largest military powers in the world, with an active-duty roster that rivals that of the United States and China. Possessing over 5,132,000 troops (both active and reserve), 295 naval vessels, and an air force that is comprised of 2,182 aircraft, the Indian Armed Forces are well-situated to defend their borders from potential attack (with Pakistan and China being their primary threats in the region).

Spending an astounding $61 billion dollars a year on military hardware and technology, the Indian military is also highly-advanced and possesses one aircraft carrier and 17 nuclear submarines. Augmenting their forces is an additional 4,614 tanks, 12,000 armored vehicles, 3,400 artillery pieces, and over 3,000 known special forces. Taken together, the Indian military is extremely balanced in its air, land, and sea capabilities, making it one of the strongest military forces on the planet.

How Powerful is the Indian Military?

In regard to their overall power and strength on the battlefield, the Indian military is a highly-advanced country bolstered by an arsenal of 90 to 110 nuclear weapons. Serving as a key partner to NATO and their member-countries, India is provided additional strength through their acquisition of powerful (informal) allies. Aside from their tremendous manpower, India’s military is further augmented by its world-class intelligence agency known simply as “The Intelligence Bureau” (“IB”). Tasked with assessing internal threats on their domestic front (as well as counter-intelligence operations), the IB is currently believed to be one of the world’s most sophisticated intelligence branches (though much of it remains shrouded in mystery). When combined with India’s “Para Commandos” (which are regularly cited as one of the most highly-trained units in the world), India’s military is well-situated to respond to nearly any foreign or domestic threat it is confronted with.

South Korean Military.

South Korean Military.

6. South Korean Military

  • Total Number of Troops: 1,130,000 (Active and Reserve)
  • Size of Navy: 234 Ships
  • Air Power: 1,595 Aircraft
  • Military Budget (Annually): $62.3 Billion
  • Nuclear Arsenal: 0

The South Korean military (also known as the “Republic of Korea Army”) is a large and extremely powerful military that is a key member of the UN and partner of the NATO alliance. Possessing over 1,130,000 troops (both active and reserve), 234 naval vessels, and an air force comprised of 1,595+ aircraft, the South Korean military is highly-capable of repelling any would-be aggressors (with China and North Korea being their primary threats in the region).

Spending approximately $62.3 billion dollars a year on their defense budget, the South Korean military is both modern and technologically advanced, and maintains 22 nuclear submarines. Augmenting their impressive firepower is a force of 2,624 tanks, 13,990 armored vehicles, 7,000 artillery pieces, and 5,000+ special forces. Taken together, the Republic of Korea Army is truly one of the most powerful armies on the planet.

How Powerful is the South Korean Military?

The Republic of Korea Army is an exceptionally powerful military force on the world stage. Although they possess no nuclear weapons of their own, the country makes up for this deficiency through their alliance with the United States military. Similar to Japan, South Korea is protected under the American “nuclear umbrella” which provides them with guarantees of security in exchange for their decision to not acquire nuclear weapons on their own. This, along with their impressive array of vehicles and manpower, greatly bolsters the South Korean military’s capabilities, as their participation in this arrangement is a great deterrent to would-be aggressors (in particular, North Korea).

In addition to their impressive military figures, the South Korean military is further bolstered by their intelligence agency, which is known as “The National Intelligence Service” (“NIS”). Regularly cited as one of the most capable (and elite) intelligence agencies in the world, the NIS regularly supervises and coordinates surveillance operations both internally and internationally, and is rivaled only by the CIA, MI6, and Mossad in its overall effectiveness. When combined with their military’s elite “Black Berets” and “White Tigers” special forces, South Korea is an extremely capable opponent on the battlefield with the ability to defend itself against nearly any foreign or domestic threat.

British Military.

British Military.

5. British Military

  • Total Number of Troops: 231,000 (Active and Reserve)
  • Size of Navy: 75 Ships
  • Air Power: 693 Aircraft
  • Military Budget (Annually): $60.5 Billion
  • Nuclear Arsenal: 215 to 260 Nuclear Weapons

The British military (also known as “Her Majesty’s Armed Forces”) is a small but incredibly powerful military force on the world stage. Possessing approximately 231,000 troops (both active and reserve), 75 warships, 693 aircraft, and 2,000 special forces, the British military is a highly-capable force capable of holding its own against the majority of threats.

Spending approximately $60.5 billion dollars a year on defensive measures and upgrades, the British have focused primarily on achieving technological superiority on the battlefield while simultaneously reducing their number of troops each year. Part of their advanced arsenal is two aircraft carriers and 10 nuclear powered submarines. Enhancing their overall capabilities for ground assaults is the British possession of nearly 227 tanks, 5,015 armored vehicles, and 200 artillery pieces.

How Powerful is the British Military?

The British military is an incredibly strong fighting force with some of the most highly-trained units in the world. This is especially true of their Royal Marines and SAS operatives. And while Britain’s military is comparatively small (when examined alongside other countries), they more than make up for this deficiency through their active membership in NATO, and their possession of 200+ nuclear weapons (providing them with a number of powerful allies and countermeasures in the event of an attack).

As if these measures weren’t enough, additional strength is provided to their military via their secret intelligence branch known as “MI6.” Regularly cited as one of the premier intelligence-gathering agencies in the world, MI6 is renowned for their incredible data-collection capabilities, as well as their counterintelligence operations (providing the British military with top-notch information about potential enemies and troop movements worldwide). When combined with their military’s highly-trained SAS special forces, the British are well-positioned to meet any foreign or domestic threat. For these reasons, they are truly deserving of our number five spot on this list.

Israeli Defense Forces.

Israeli Defense Forces.

4. Israeli Military

  • Total Number of Troops: 646,000 (Active and Reserve)
  • Size of Navy: 67 Ships
  • Air Power: 597 Aircraft
  • Military Budget (Annually): $21 Billion
  • Nuclear Arsenal: 80 to 400 Nuclear Weapons

The Israeli military (also known as the “Israel Defense Forces,” or “IDF”) is a small but incredibly strong military power within the Middle East and world at large. Possessing approximately 646,000 troops (both active and reserve), 67 warships, and an air force comprised of 597 (highly-sophisticated) aircraft, the IDF is regularly cited as the most powerful military force in the Middle East.

Spending approximately $21 billion dollars a year on defensive measures, the IDF is supplied with some of the most cutting-edge technology on the battlefield, including 5 nuclear submarines and 10 “Iron Dome” defense batteries. These numbers are a bit deceiving, however, as the Israeli military also receives an additional $3.8 billion dollars a year from the United States (along with tremendous amounts of military hardware and equipment), giving its forces a decisive advantage over potential foes. When combined with their arsenal of 1,900+ tanks, 8,044 armored vehicles, 1,000 artillery pieces, and unspecified number of special forces, the IDF is well-positioned to meet nearly any threat to its nation’s sovereignty.

How Powerful is the Israeli Military?

In regard to their strength on the battlefield, the IDF is an incredibly powerful military force bolstered by approximately 80 to 400 nuclear weapons. As a key ally of the United States, NATO, and the European Union, Israel also possesses a number of powerful allies that help to deter would-be aggressors in the region. As if these weren’t enough, the IDF also possesses a world-renowned intelligence agency known simply as the “Mossad.” Regularly cited as the world’s most effective intelligence bureau, the Mossad is experts at data gathering, counter-terrorism, espionage, and covert operations (both locally and abroad). When combined with Israel’s highly-trained special forces units (regarded as some of the best operators on the planet), it is easy to see why the IDF is one of the most powerful military forces in the world.

Chinese Military.

Chinese Military.

3. Chinese Military

  • Total Number of Troops: 3,134,000 (Active and Reserve)
  • Size of Navy: 777 Ships
  • Air Power: 3,285 Aircraft
  • Military Budget (Annually): $216 Billion
  • Nuclear Arsenal: 260 to 320 Nuclear Weapons

The Chinese military (also known as the “People’s Liberation Army,” or “Republic of China Armed Forces”) is a massive military force rivaled only by India in terms of its overall size and manpower. Possessing approximately 3,134,000 troops (active and reserve), 777 warships, and 3,285 aircraft and bombers, the Chinese military is well-equipped to stop any invasion along its vast borders.

Spending over $216 billion dollars a year on hardware and equipment, the Chinese military possesses some of the most advanced weaponry on the planet, including missiles, aircraft, and a navy that is comprised of 79 nuclear submarines and two aircraft carriers. Complementing their tremendous manpower is a land force comprised of 5,250+ tanks, 35,000 armored vehicles, 6,000 artillery pieces, and over 3,160 rocket projectors. To date, total number of special forces is currently classified, but is estimated to include a whopping 20,000 to 40,000 personnel.

How Powerful is the Chinese Military?

In regard to their overall strength, the Chinese military is an extremely powerful force on the world stage, and is bolstered by 260 to 320 nuclear weapons. Maintaining close ties to North Korea and the Russian Federation, China has been able to establish itself as the dominant power in Asia during the last few decades, as their weaponry and vast number of troops provide them with a military capable of holding its own against the United States, NATO, and European Union, respectively.

Further augmenting their power on the world stage is China’s intelligence agency known as the “Ministry of State Security” (“MSS”). Serving as both a counter-intelligence and secret police force, the agency has often been described by experts as a cross between the CIA and FBI, but with far greater power and authority. With less constraints of the law, the MSS has become experts as cyber espionage, intelligence gathering, and industrial sabotage, making them one of the most effective (and secretive) agencies on the planet. When combined with China’s record number of special forces and commandos, it is easy to see why the Chinese military is one of the most powerful forces on the entire planet.

Russian Military.

Russian Military.

2. Russian Military

  • Total Number of Troops: 1,350,000 (Active and Reserve)
  • Size of Navy: 605 Ships
  • Air Power: 4,173 Aircraft
  • Military Budget (Annually): $84.5 Billion
  • Nuclear Arsenal: 6,000+ Nuclear Weapons

The Russian military (also known as the “Armed Forces of the Russian Federation,” or “Russian Armed Forces”) is an exceptionally large and technologically advanced military on the world stage. Possessing 1,350,000 troops (both active and reserve, 605 warships, and 4,173 aircraft (including bombers), the Russian Federation is well-equipped to deal with territorial disputes, terrorist attacks, as well as direct threats to their border.

Spending $84.5 billion dollars a year on advanced military equipment and hardware, the Russian military is often seen as a direct rival (and threat) of the United States, as they possess highly-sophisticated missiles (including both hypersonic and long-range missiles), advanced aircraft, and a powerful navy comprised of one aircraft carrier and 70+ nuclear submarines. Enhancing these already impressive numbers is a land force comprised of 12,420 tanks, 30,122 armored vehicles, 14,000+ artillery pieces, 3,391 rocket projectors, and a force of 17,000+ special forces. Taken together, the Russian military possesses the largest tank force in the world, with their total number of aircraft and submarines rivaling that of the United States and China.

How Powerful is the Russian Military?

Regarding their overall strength and power, the Russian military is an exceptionally powerful force on the world stage, and is bolstered by an impressive 6,000+ nuclear weapons at their disposal. Maintaining close ties to China and Belarus, the Russian Federation maintains a prominent role in world affairs (despite attempts by the West to sanction and limit their overall influence, especially after the Russian-led invasion of the Ukraine).

Augmenting their military might is a highly-sophisticated intelligence agency known as the “Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation” (“FSB”). Serving as the spiritual successor of the infamous KGB, the FSB is experts at counter-intelligence, counter-terrorism, as well as surveillance along domestic and international fronts. When utilized alongside in conjunction with Russia’s highly-trained special forces (known collectively as “Spetsnaz”), the Russian military is truly one of the most powerful armies in the world.

United States Military.

United States Military.

1. United States Military

  • Total Number of Troops: 1,832,000 (Active and Reserve)
  • Size of Navy: 484 Ships
  • Air Power: 13,247 Aircraft
  • Military Budget (Annually): $601 Billion
  • Nuclear Arsenal: 4,000+ Nuclear Weapons

Topping our list of the world’s most powerful militaries is the United States military (also known as the “United States Armed Forces”). Characterized as both large and technologically advanced, the United States military is regularly cited as a technologically-superior force on the world stage, and maintains the most highly-trained military units on the planet. As of April 2022, the military is comprised of six different branches, which includes the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Space Force, and Coast Guard. Possessing 1,832,000 troops (both active and reserve), 484 advanced warships, and 13,247+ aircraft (including bombers, fighter jets, and helicopters), the United States military is capable of placing “boots on the ground” anywhere in the world within hours.

Spending an astounding $601 billion dollars a year on their defense budget, the United States regularly purchases (and develops) some of the world’s most advanced and sophisticated weaponry imaginable. Included in their impressive arsenal are switchblade drones, pinpoint-accurate missiles, stealth aircraft, as well as a superior naval force consisting of 11 aircraft carriers, 68 submarines, and 92 destroyers. In terms of land forces, the American military is supported by 6,612 tanks, 45,193 armored vehicles, 3,000+ artillery pieces, and 1,366 rocket projectors. As if this wasn’t enough, the United States maintains one of the largest elite forces in the world, with 70,000+ operators across the military’s six branches.

How Powerful is the United States Military?

The United States military is the most powerful fighting force the world has ever known, and is bolstered by 4,000+ nuclear weapons. Adding to this impressive firepower is their large number of allies, which stem from their active participation in NATO, the G7, as well as their permanent position (and membership) on the UN Security Council. When combined, their nuclear capabilities (capable of striking anywhere in the world), highly-trained military personnel, and strategic alliances offer an effective deterrence against any would-be aggressors to the United States.

Augmenting the United States military is their reliance on both the Central Intelligence Agency (“CIA”), as well as the National Security Agency (“NSA”). Combined, these two agencies are capable of providing the United States military with critical foreign (and domestic) intelligence, as they are experts at cyber-espionage, counter-terrorism, counter-intelligence, and the performance of clandestine activities abroad. When utilized in conjunction with their impressive array of special forces (including the world-famous Navy SEALS, Marine Raiders, Army Rangers, and Force Recon), the United States truly possesses the most powerful (and advanced) military in the entire world.

Works Cited

Articles/Books:

  • “Global Firepower Assessment.” Power-Index Database (2022). Accessed: 4 April 2022. Web.
  • Marples, David. Russia in the Twentieth Century. New York, New York: Pearson Educational Limited, 2011.
  • Roberts, J. A. G. A History of China, 2nd Edition. New York, New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2006.
  • “The Five Most Powerful Armies in the World.” Military.com. Accessed: 3 April 2022. Web.

Images/Photographs:

  • Pixabay Commons.
  • Wikimedia Commons.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Larry Slawson