Forces: Ranking All Armed Forces


August 25,2008: We recently updated the Armed Forces of the World database. The regional charts there give evaluations of the quantity and quality of each nation's armed forces in that region. The quantity of each combat unit has been derived from various open sources. Quality has been determined by evaluating historical performance. All armed forces are not equal, and this inequality has been expressed numerically. In calculating the numerical value of total strength it is important to differentiate between what floats and what doesn't. Aircraft carriers and tank divisions are very different instruments of destruction. Both cost about the same, but a carrier cannot march on Moscow, nor can a tank division hunt submarines in the Atlantic. For this reason, land force capabilities only are listed. In reality, they are not entirely separate. Naval forces, particularly carriers, can support ground combat. Tank divisions can seize ports needed by naval forces for their sustenance. Destructive effect was the main consideration in assigning values. This was modified by the mobility and flexibility of the system. Tank divisions can move over a wide area to fight while most air defense forces are limited in their capabilities and mobility. While the numbers of men and weapons are fairly accurate, estimates of quality factors are subjective. Readers may impose their own evaluations. The assessments given are based on current conditions and historical experience. Don't underestimate the historical trends.

Naval power is difficult to compare to land power, as it is with land power that you ultimately defend yourself or overwhelm an opponent. For nations that are not dependent on seaborne trade, naval power is less important than those that are. For most industrial nations, and many third world countries that have periodic food shortages, loss of sea trade is a serious problem.

The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 led to the second largest fleet in the world rapidly decaying in the 1990s. Russia lost about 80 percent of its naval power. It's still the second largest fleet in the world, but the U.S. Navy now has over half the naval combat power in the world, and even more of the kinds of ships that can be sent anywhere on the planet. We are now in the third century of either Britain or the United States as the dominant naval power in the world.

When the Cold War ended, all navies shrunk, even the U.S. Navy. But those of the European nations were reduced the most. In the Pacific, Japan, South Korea and China continued to expand their fleets. So did India. But the U.S. naval forces in the Pacific are still the major player in that region.

In addition to the charts, there is a brief text description of each nations military situation. The regional chart also reveal some interesting trends.

European Nations are still dominated by Russia. Despite the sharp (about 80 percent) decline in the Russian military in the 1990s, this still left them with the most powerful combat force in Europe. That's largely because most European also cut their military spending, and manpower, in the 1990s. Russia is much less of a military threat to Europe, than it was during the Cold War, because their ground forces now largely consist of paramilitary troops, and army combat units that are no longer trained for offensive warfare. Russia can still invade neighbors, as it recently did in Georgia, but that was done with one mechanized infantry division, and another division worth of local militias and paramilitary troops.

Middle East Nations are still dominated by Israel. The third ranking nation, Iran, is powerful more because of the large number of men in uniform. Their weapons and equipment are in poor shape and largely obsolete. Because of Israel's dominating land combat power, many Middle Eastern nations spend a lot of money on ballistic missiles. These would be the only weapons they would have a chance of doing any damage to Israel with.

American Nations are still dominated by the United States. Because of decades of combat, and recent upgrades in training and equipment, the number two power is Colombia. Brazil is close behind, because it is the largest nation in South America, and has a large and well equipped military.

East Asian Nations are, as usual, dominated by China. But number two is South Korea, which has greatly increased its combat power over the last two decades, as its booming economy enabled it to equip the troops with the most modern weapons. Meanwhile, it's nemesis for the past half century, North Korea, has declined because of a collapsing economy and inept communist dictatorship.

African Nations have a strange lineup. The two top military powers, Ethiopia and Eritrea, have been at war with neighboring Eritrea for a decade. There has been a ceasefire for the last eight years, but not a demobilization. The number three power is South Africa, which is the best equipped, trained and led on the continent.

South Asian Nations are, as always, dominated by India. Pakistan is a distant second.




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