A strong military is considered a sign of a strong nation.
This is a fact that powerhouse nations like the United States, China, and Russia have all embraced, despite having entirely different governments and cultures. In the U.S. especially, military service is honored and rewarded through certain government discounts and benefits. Because this service is entirely voluntary, that makes it all the more impressive.
So, what makes a nation’s military strong? Is it their bulk of personnel? Their number of military aircraft and ships? How about money?
Global Firepower’s 2020 Military Strength Rankings take about 55 of these factors into account, including manpower, weapons, geography, natural resources, economy, and much more. 137 countries received a power index score — determining, to the best of human ability, who has the most powerful militaries and why.
So, let’s take a look at the top 10 most powerful militaries in the world and what makes them the best of the best. We’ll include their power index scores (for reference, 0.0000 is a perfect score), manpower, and defense budget.
Who takes the crown?
Most Powerful Militaries in the World
- Power index score: 0.1988
- Manpower: ~1,674,500
- Defense Budget: $29.3 billion
It may come as a surprise to Americans that Brazil rounds out the top 10 most powerful militaries in the world. However, it is the sixth-most populous country in the world, and places precedence on military strength.
- Power index score: 0.1872
- Manpower: ~920,000
- Defense Budget: $4.4 billion
Though its budget is considerably smaller than every other nation on this list, Egypt’s manpower is fairly large at nearly one million service members. It actually ranks ninth in the world in total aircraft power, with 1,092 aircraft. It’s also a strong contender on the sea and has 319 naval assets.
8. United Kingdom
- Power index score: 0.1717
- Manpower: ~233,000
- Defense Budget: $47.5 billion
With less than 0.4% of its population in the military, it’s safe to say that U.K. citizens don’t place priority on military service. However, their country does. The U.K.’s healthy defense budget allows it eighth-place on this list.
- Power index score: 0.1702
- Manpower: ~388,635
- Defense Budget: $40.5 billion
France’s ability to spend over $40 billion on its military is the driving factor for its place at No. 7. It’s ranked abysmally in the combat tanks category, with only 406, but it makes up for it with eighth-place in total aircraft strength (1,248).
6. South Korea
- Power index score: 0.1509
- Manpower: ~5,837,150
- Defense Budget: $38.3 million
With around 11.3% of its population serving in the military, South Korea has by far the most military manpower, which is the biggest reason it holds the title as one of the most powerful militaries in the world.
South Korea has the fifth-most aircraft (1,614), sixth-most fighter aircraft (406), and ninth-most combat tanks (2,654). It also boasts 166 naval assets.
- Power index score: 0.1501
- Manpower: ~303,157
- Defense Budget: $47 billion
Ranking at No. 6 in 2019, Japan jumped up one place this year. Despite being a relatively small island nation, Japan’s high defense budget and 131 naval assets contribute to its impressive military strength. It is also ranked sixth in total aircraft strength (1,572) and eighth in fighter aircraft (297).
- Power index score: 0.0953
- Manpower: ~3,462,500
- Defense Budget: $55.2 billion
India’s massive 1.3 billion population definitely contributes to its large amount of military personnel. Their defense budget is also nothing to sniff at, though it represents only about 1/14th of America’s. Both of these things allow India to pull a No. 4 ranking.
Boasting around 2,100 military aircraft, India is ranked fourth in total aircraft strength and fighter aircraft. It also holds sixth-place for combat tanks (4,184).
- Power index score: 0.0691
- Manpower: ~2,693,000
- Defense Budget: $224 billion
Given that it has a population of nearly 1.4 billion people, you would have to assume China has one of the most powerful militaries in the world by size alone. However, its military manpower is still much fewer than Russia’s, who has a measly 140 million total population in comparison.
China also spends over five times the amount Russia does on its military, yet still ranks behind them. But at No. 3, China’s military is not to be trifled with. This economic powerhouse has the second-most fighter aircraft and combat tanks in the world, with 1,222 and 13,050, respectively.
China’s power index score is only slightly worse than Russia’s, but much better than India’s, solidifying the top three militaries as truly the best in the world.
- Power index score: 0.0681
- Manpower: ~3,586,128
- Defense Budget: $44 billion
Russia has long placed importance on its military. With well over 3.5 million troops, they have the second-largest military manpower (with South Korea at No. 1). That means around 2.5% of the nation serves in the military. In comparison, less than 1% of Americans serve, and only around 0.4% serve on active duty.
Russia easily ranks first in combat tanks, with almost 22,000 at their disposal. It also ranks second in total aircraft strength (4,078) and third in fighter aircraft (869).
1. United States
- Power index score: 0.0606
- Manpower: ~2,141,900
- Defense Budget: $716 billion
Unsurprisingly, the United States takes the cake. As the most powerful military in the world, no one can hope to compete with America’s sheer spending power.
As the saying goes: money talks. It’s well known that America spends far more on its military than any other country in the world. The current 2021 budget proposal would up defense spending to $750 billion — more than half of the federal government’s discretionary spending. Put in another way, it’s an amount that could cover all Veteran medical care for the past 51 years. Or pay for more than 74 days of Super Bowl ads.
Interestingly enough, the majority of American taxpayers don’t seem to mind footing this massive bill (one that even Jeff Bezos couldn’t dream to afford). According to a February 2019 Gallup poll, 43% of Americans believed that the U.S. was spending just the right amount on its military, while 25% thought it was too little. Just under a third of the respondents categorized it as “too much.”
So what exactly is $719 billion buying us? Well, a large portion goes toward the VA and upkeep of the Department of Defense. Another large portion goes toward foreign involvement, given that we have military presence all over the world and have been entrenched in Middle Eastern conflict for nearly two decades.
It should be noted that the U.S. ranks first in the world in both fighter aircraft and total aircraft strength, with around 13,400. We rank third in combat tanks, and boast 415 naval assets.
Did any of these rankings surprise you?