Ranked: the strongest militaries in the world

#41: Colombia

Colombia works slightly differently when it comes to their military, as they have a Public Forces sector, along with their Military Forces sector, making up their armed forces (known as the Colombian Constitution). In total, there are just over 470,000 personnel making up the various divisions of the Colombian armed forces, with over half of these being part of the Army. While the National Police of Colombia is not technically part of the military and is part of the Public Forces, it is highly militarized and controlled by the Ministry of Defense.

#40: The Philippines

The Armed Forces of the Philippines was first founded in 1935 as part of the National Defense Act of 1935. There are three major services within the Philippines military; the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force. However, there is also the Philippines Marine Corps, which is considered a branch of their Navy. According to the latest statistics, there are over 22 million men and women fit for military service in the Philippines. However, there are just over 172,000 active personnel along with 385,116 reserve personnel – just in case!

#39: Denmark

The Danish armed forces, known as Danish Defence, consists of their Army, Navy, Air Force and Home Guard. While the country had been involved in conflicts over the centuries, they didn’t have a unified armed forces until 1949, after the events of World War II. Technically, any male over the age of 18 is a conscript to the Danish armed forces, however, with so many volunteers there are very few conscripts actually needed. As Denmark rarely gets involved in conflict, there are less than 500 out of nearly 20,000 active personnel deployed right now.

#38: Spain

Way back when, Spain used to be the most powerful country in Europe thanks to Christopher Columbus taking over huge amounts of land in the Americas. Not forgetting the Spanish Empire during the reign of Charles V and Philip II, which covered around 13% of the earth’s surface! However, Spain has reigned it in (a lot) since those days, especially since becoming part of NATO in 1982. There are still over 140,000 active personnel, however, along with over 77,000 Civil Guards who are only called upon during times of war.

#37: The Netherlands

The Netherlands is the first country on our list to have a military age of under 18 – you can actually be in the armed forces of the Netherlands from the age of 17. While there is no conscription in the Netherlands itself, there are a few conscript forces in Curacao and Aruba as part of the Royal Netherlands Navy and Marines. There are less than 60,000 active personnel out of a possible 6.3 million who are fit for military service.

#36: North Korea

While they may have the fourth highest number of active personnel in the world, they only come in at number 36 on our list. Why, you may ask? While they may have an estimated 1.2 million active personnel and spend around 25% of their GDP on their armed forces, the Korean People’s Army isn’t without its fair share of problems. Firstly, with that many servicemen and women, it can be hard to train everyone up to the same standard. Not only that but as most countries refuse to trade with North Korea, many of their weapons haven’t been upgraded in decades.

#35: Malaysia

The Malaysian Armed Forces consists of three branches; the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force. Over these three branches, there are thought to be around 110,000 active personnel and 310,000 ready and waiting as back up should they ever be needed. Since 2004, there has been a compulsory National Service programs for Malaysians who turn 18. While participants are currently chosen at random, there are plans to roll this out for all 18-year-olds.

#34: Austria

From 1958 until 2006, this landlocked country operated naval patrols up and down the River Danube, but since then funding has been cut, and the Austrian Armed Forces has been getting smaller and smaller. The military age here is 17, and there is a six month conscription period for those fit for military service. Currently, there are just under 26,000 active personnel, of which around 12,000 are conscripts. Less than 1% of Austria’s GDP goes toward their armed forces.

#33: Norway

In times of peace, Norway is pretty relaxed about their whole armed forces. Currently, there are around 23,000 active personnel, including some conscripts and civilians. However, if times get tough, then Norway has around 45,000 reserve personnel in the Norwegian Home Guard. Norway has quite a weak mandatory military service, with around 63,000 men and women being called in for examinations back in 2012 and less than 10,000 being conscripted. Interestingly, the Norwegian Armed Forces has something called ‘Meatless Monday’ where vegetarian rations are served, in order to help fight climate change.

#32: South Africa

The armed forces in South Africa are collectively known as the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), and has been in its current form since 1994 – so pretty new, in terms of armed forces! There are four service branches, including the Army, Navy, Air Force, and the Military Health Service. Currently, there are just under 80,000 active personnel in the South African National Defence Force with a further 15,000 available as reserve. In times of peace, the SANDF spends most of its time in UN peacekeeping missions.

#31: Mexico

There are two parts that make up the Mexican Armed Forces; the Mexican Army (which includes the Mexican Air Force) and the Mexican Navy (including the Naval Infantry Force and Naval Aviation). There are also branches such as the Military Police and Special Forces which are part of the Mexican Army, but which have their own chains of command. The military age in Mexico is 16, which is much younger than anywhere else on our list so far! Having such a young enlistment age certainly contributes to Mexico having the 28th highest number of active personnel in the world, with around 280,000.

#30: Switzerland

Despite the misconception that the Swiss just don’t get involved in conflict, the Swiss Armed Forces is actually the 38th largest in the world – and, for us, the 30th strongest. While they do try to remain neutral in conflict, that doesn’t mean they can’t train up their servicemen and women to be some of the best. At last count, in 2017, there were over 158,000 active personnel in the Swiss Armed Forces which could be due to their mandatory military service for all 19-34-year-old able-bodied males.

#29: The Czech Republic

As a country, the Czech Republic hasn’t always had the best of times during conflict; losing a lot of their land during the Munich Agreement in World War II, then all of the troubles during the Cold War before its dissolution with Slovakia. So, it only makes sense that one of the main priorities for the Armed Forces of the Czech Republic is to ensure the territorial integrity of the country. The Army of the Czech Republic has around 24,000 active personnel and another 2200 in reserve.

#28: Saudi Arabia

From the age of 17, you can join the Armed Forces of Saudi Arabia voluntarily (there is no conscription here), and it seems as though many people have decided the military is the path for them! There are around 478,000 active personnel and 325,000 reserve personnel, making the Armed Forces of Saudi Arabia one of the best stocked in the world. They are also one of the best-funded defense forces in the Middle East, spending a whopping $63.7 billion on armed forces (the 4th highest in the world).

#27: Algeria

Considering Algeria certainly isn’t one of the biggest countries on our list, we were surprised to learn that they have an impressive 520,000 active personnel at last count! Along with 400,000 reserve personnel – just in case! The Algerian People’s National Armed Forces is made up of an Army, Navy, Air Force, and a Territorial Air Defence Force. One of the likeliest reasons the Algerian Armed Forces has so many servicemen and women is likely due to their 12-month compulsory conscription for 19-30-year-olds.

#26: Singapore

There are three services within the Singapore Armed Forces; the Army, the Air Force, and the Navy. As with many of the militaries on our list with a large number of active personnel, Singapore relies heavily on their conscripts. It is compulsory for those who turn 18 to complete 22-24 months in the military, but anyone can join from the age of 16 and a half. There are thought to be around 71,000 active personnel in the SAF, with nearly 46,000 of these being conscripts. What is seriously impressive, however, is the number of reserve personnel this country has… An estimated 1.3 million!

#25: Ukraine

Due to the recent hostilities between Ukraine and Russia, this Eastern European country has significantly increased the size of its military forces. It is believed that there are around 250,000 active personnel in the Armed Forces of Ukraine, with a further 85,000 in reserve. In the National Security and Defense Budget in 2018, it was announced that Ukraine would be spending $6.3 billion on their armed forces (around 5% of their GDP). These guys are proving they mean business, it would seem!

#24: Sweden

Founded in 1521, the Swedish Armed Forces are one of the oldest on our list and will be celebrating their 500 year anniversary in the next few years! Consisting of the Army, Air Force, Navy, Home Guard and, the rather cool sounding, Swedish Amphibious Corps, the sheer strength of this Armed Forces certainly earns it a place so high up on our list. However, since they have abolished peacetime conscription (back in 2010), their number of active personnel has dropped to under 23,000.

#23: Iran

The Armed Forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran was described by retired US General John Abizaid as the “most powerful military force” in the Middle East, with the exception of Israel. This is quite a compliment when you consider they lack a lot of the modern equipment and weaponry that other countries in the Middle East can afford. Currently, there are over 520,000 active personnel (around half of which are conscripts) and 350,000 in reserve.

#22: Brazil

There are several branches making up the Brazilian Armed Forces, including the Brazilian Army (which includes the Army Aviation), the Brazilian Air Force, and the Brazilian Navy (which includes the Marine Corps and Naval Aviation). As the third largest armed forces in the Americas and 14th largest in the world, there is no denying that Brazil will be ready for action should they ever enter a conflict. They also have over 1.3 million reserve personnel, which is the fifth largest pool of backups in the world.

#21: Vietnam

The Vietnam People’s Armed Forces includes their Army, the Vietnam People’s Public Security and the Vietnam Civil Defense Force which is their militia. Within the People’s Army of Vietnam, you’ll find the Coast Guard, Navy, Air Force, Border Defence Force and their Ground Forces, with a total of around 482,000 active personnel split over the different branches. It is also believed that Vietnam has a whopping 3 million potential reserve personnel, which is likely due to their 24-month conscription required for all able-bodied men.

#20: Thailand

The Royal Army, Royal Navy (with their Marine Corps), and Royal Air Force make up the Royal Thai Armed Forces, who have earned their place on the top half of our list. It is believed that around 0.8% of Thailand’s population is either on active duty or in reserve, which is higher than the US but lower than Vietnam. Interestingly, the Thai Armed Forces have an extremely large number of generals and admirals compared to other militaries in the world. Perhaps that’s how they manage to keep everyone in check?

#19: Poland

The Armed Forces of the Republic of Poland abolished conscription back in 2009, but it certainly hasn’t impacted their size or strength. Their Land Forces, Air Forces, Navy, Special Forces and Territorial Defence Forces has around 105,000 active personnel and a further 75,000 in reserve. In 2018, it was announced that around 2% of Poland’s GDP goes towards their armed forces; around $12.33 billion (41.1 billion Polish Zloty). Fun fact – the Armed Forces of the Republic of Poland is the only military in the world to use a two-finger salute!

#18: Egypt

If you’re able-bodied and of military age, you would be expected to join the Egyptian Armed Forces as a conscript for 1-3 years, depending on your level of education. Those without a university degree would be expected to serve three years as an enlisted soldier. According to the latest figures, there are nearly 44,000 active personnel ready to fight for their country, and anywhere between 290,000-320,000 of these are conscripts. There is also a healthy pool of reserves to call upon if needed.

#17: Pakistan

The Pakistan Armed Forces is the sixth largest in the world when it comes to active personnel – they have an incredible 643,800 at last count. Not only that, but they have a further 513,000 reserve personnel should they be needed. Pakistan also ranks 23rd in the world when it comes to their Armed Forces budget, spending 2.9% of their GDP at $8.7 billion! There is no conscription in Pakistan, but the military age starts from 16.

#16: Italy

There are four branches of the Italian Armed Forces; the Army, Navy, Air Force, and the Carabinieri who are the military police but also double up as a combat force in operations abroad. The Guardia di Finanza is also classed as part of the military, although it is not a branch of the Italian Armed Forces (technically). Overall, there are nearly 350,000 active personnel in Italy’s military, with the majority serving in the Army and the Carabinieri. For the most part, Italy spends most of its manpower on UN and NATO peacekeeping operations.

#15: Taiwan

The Republic of China Armed Forces is not to be confused with the huge armed forces of mainland China (we’ll get to them later) but is, in fact, the Army, Navy, Air Force and Military Police of Taiwan. Back in 2003, the Taiwanese military accounted for a whopping 16.8% of the budget for the year, however, they have since scaled it back to a cool $10.7 billion making it the 20th biggest military budget in the world. There are currently around 290,000 active personnel, and a huge 2.8 million in reserve.

#14: Canada

While it’s generally believed that Canadians are peaceful and chilled, they have a military force in the top 15 in the world! So, you know they mean business. Set up in its current form in 1968, the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) consists of an Army, Navy and Air Force, much like many of the others on our list. Of their nearly 66,000 active personnel there are currently around 1700 deployed in various parts of the world. Canada is also one of the only countries on our list that has a military age of 16-60 years old!

#13: Australia

Considering the size of Australia, you’d think they would have a rather large armed forces, especially as they are responsible for countries such as Papua New Guinea too. However, there are under 60,000 active personnel serving in the Australian Defence Force currently, along with nearly 22,000 in reserve. While that may seem small in comparison to many of the others on our list, it is, in fact, the largest military force in Oceania. Their large budget, however, allows them to train the best servicemen and women, while also having up-to-date equipment and weaponry.

#12: Indonesia

The Indonesian National Armed Forces consists of the TNI-AD (Army), TNI-AL (Navy), and the TNI-AU (Air Force) and was formed during the Indonesian National Revolution back in the 1940s. According to the 1945 Constitution, it is a legal requirement for citizens to defend their country, however, a draft has never been needed due to the sheer number of volunteers. The Indonesian National Armed Forces currently has around 476,000 active personnel!

#11: Israel

Israel may be a small country, but they certainly pack a punch when it comes to their military… And their special forces are some of the best in the world. There are around 176,500 active personnel currently, along with 445,000 in reserve with a total of 6.2% of their GDP being spent on military services. There are a lot of things that the Israel Defense Forces do differently, such as close relations between all branches of the military and mandatory conscription for women as well as men.

#10: Turkey

Figuratively speaking, the Turkish Armed Forces have existed in some form or another since 209 BCE! However, their Army, Navy and Air Force has been in its current form since 1920. According to recent figures, the Turkish Armed Forces is the second largest in NATO with a total of 512,000 active personnel and nearly 379,000 in reserve. Interestingly, the military age here is 21 – much higher than most of the armed forces on our list. Conscription is also based on your education level and ranges from 6 to 12 months.

#9: Japan

The Japan Self-Defense Forces have been keeping themselves to themselves in recent years, focusing mainly on UN peacekeeping missions. However, recent tensions with North Korea means that the Japanese are likely ensuring their 56,000+ reserve personnel are ready, should they be needed. The armed forces in Japan consists of their Ground Force, Maritime Force, and Air Force, with around 247,000 active personnel currently. After World War II, Japan was forced into being a pacifist nation, which means that their armed forces can only be used as a form of self-defense.

#8: Germany

The German Armed Forces, known as Bundeswehr, has some quite interesting service branches, including the usual Army, Navy, Air Force, and then a Joint Support Service, Joint Medical Service, and a Cyber and Information Space Command. As the second largest military force in Europe, with nearly 180,000 active personnel, it is quite clear why they decided to pause mandatory conscription for the time being. The Bundeswehr is also one of the best-funded forces in the world, while still keeping well below the NATO target of 2% of their GDP.

#7: South Korea

After the division of Korea in 1945, South Korea founded the Republic of Korea Armed Forces and have since grown to become one of the largest military forces in the whole world. There are 625,000 active personnel currently, but a further 3.1 million are thought to be in reserve should they be needed. There are also over 1,000 deployed personnel in Lebanon, Somalia, South Sudan and the United Arab Emirates. It’s not just their size that is impressive, however, as their training and equipment makes them one of the most professional militaries in Asia.

#6: France

As the largest armed force in Europe, with the sixth largest budget in the world, it comes as no surprise to see the French Armed Forces so high up on our list. Within this military force, the French have their Army, Navy, Air Force, National Guard, and National Gendarmerie, which serves as a form of military police. There are an estimated 365,835 active servicemen and women in the French Armed Forces currently, with a further 52,680 in reserve.

#5: The United Kingdom

The British Armed Forces, sometimes known as Her Majesty’s Armed Forces, may not be the biggest in the world or have the largest budget, but it certainly deserves a spot near the top on our list. With some of the most intense training regimes in the world, the British Armed Forces often trains up other militaries around the globe. So, while there may only be just under 154,000 active personnel, each of those has been trained to the highest of standards. The UK also has nearly 82,000 servicemen and women in reserve.

#4: India

With the second highest number of active personnel and the fifth biggest budget in the world, India certainly earned a spot in the top five of strongest militaries in the world. There are an incredible 1.4 million active personnel serving in the Indian Armed Forces currently, along with a further 1.5 million in reserve. There is no conscription in India, either, which means every single one of these servicemen and women are volunteers.

#3: China

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army has the second largest budget in the world, with an impressive $151.5 billion – yet that is still only 1.3% of their GDP! While conscription is compulsory by law, it isn’t always enforced, and the military age here is over 20. So, how have they managed to encourage a whopping 2.3 million active personnel and a further 2.3 million in reserve?! In August 2017, the PLA marked the 90th Anniversary of their current form with one of their biggest parades ever.

#2: Russia

After the breakdown of the Soviet Union, the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation was established in 1992. Since then, they have grown to become the third best-funded military force in the world, along with having the fifth biggest number of active personnel. However, it’s not just their over 1 million active servicemen and women that have got the rest of the world shaking in their boots. Taking over parts of Ukraine and Georgia, while also being heavily involved in the Syrian conflict has proven Russia means business. Always.

#1: The United States of America

Are you surprised that the United States Armed Forces are the strongest military in the world?! With an impressive budget of $611 billion, they are the highest spending country by nearly $400 billion! It’s thought that the US Armed Forces has around 1.3 million active personnel with over 800,000 in reserve, but that’s not all. The level of training and modern equipment is second to none, landing the USA at the top spot on our list.