South Africa’s military strength vs the rest of the world

Military website Global Firepower has released its strength rankings for 2020 – showing how the world’s largest armies compare to one another.

The ranking is based on over 50 individual factors with categories ranging from military might and financials to logistical capability and geography.

However, the ranking does not simply rely on the total number of weapons available to any one country but rather focuses on weapon diversity within the number totals to provide a better balance of firepower available.

In addition, nuclear weapons are not recognised directly (but receive an indirect score bonus), while geographical factors, logistical flexibility, natural resources and local industry influence the rankings.

The US was ranked as having the strongest military in the world in 2020 with 1.4 million active personnel, 13,264 aircraft, 6,289 tanks and a budget of $750 billion.

Russia was ranked second with just over 1 million active personnel, 4,163 aircraft, 12,950 tanks and a budget of $48 billion. China, India and Japan round up the top five.

# Country Active personnel Reserve personnel Air force Tanks Naval Vessels
1 USA 1 400 000 860 000 13 264 6 289 490
2 Russia 1 013 628 2 000 000 4 163 12 950 603
3 China 2 183 000 510 000 3 210 3 500 777
4 India 1 444 000 2 100 000 2 123 4 292 285
5 Japan 247 160 56 000 1 561 1 004 155
6 South Korea 580 000 3 100 000 1 649 2 614 234
7 France 268 000 183 635 1 229 528 180
8 United Kingdom 192 660 83 000 733 227 88
9 Egypt 440 000 480 000 1 054 4 295 316
10 Brazil 334 500 1 340 000 715 437 112

South Africa 

South Africa was ranked as having the 29th greatest military strength in the world – only behind Egypt (9th) and Algeria (28th) in Africa.

While the country has retained its ranking as one of the strongest forces on the continent, funding issues means that the future of the defence force remains in doubt.

In November 2019, the inister of Defence and Military Veterans, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, said that current plans to get the SANDF back on track are entirely dependent on its funding.

“The prevention of the SANDF capabilities from declining further is entirely dependent on the budget allocation of the Defence Force, which has been decreasing at an alarming rate over the years with a negative impact of the entire capabilities,” she said.

“The Defence Review 2015 has been developed with a plan to arrest the decline of the SANDF but unfortunately no funding has been received to attend to the declining capabilities of the SANDF.”

According to the Global Firepower ranking, South Africa has 66,300 active personnel and 15,000 reserve personnel.

It also estimates that the country has around 14,175,119 citizens who would be fit-for-service should the country enforce conscription laws.

Note: Some vehicles can fall under multiple classifications.

Air power

South Africa has a total aircraft strength of 226 assets. This includes:

  • 17 fighter aircraft
  • 23 transport aircraft
  • 88 trainer aircraft
  • 7 special-mission aircraft
  • 91 helicopters
  • 12 attack helicopters

Army/Land power

South Africa’s total land strength is made up of the following:

  • 195 tanks
  • 2,000 armoured fighting vehicles
  • 43 self-propelled artillery
  • 72 towed artillery
  • 50 rocket projectors

Naval power

South Africa’s total naval strength is made up of the following:

  • 4 frigates
  • 3 submarines
  • 31 patrol craft
  • 2 mine warfare vessels

Read: South Africa’s army has run out of money – this is how much trouble it is in

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South Africa’s military strength vs the rest of the world