South Africa’s military strength vs the world in 2024

 ·17 Jan 2024

Military website Global Firepower has published its military strength ranking for 2024, featuring 145 countries, with the ranking utilising more than 60 different factors to determine a given nation’s Power Index.

The Global Firepower Power Index is calculated by focusing on weapon diversity rather than the total number of weapons available to any country to provide a better balance of firepower.

The formula also allows smaller, more technologically advanced nations to compete with larger, lesser-developed powers, and special modifiers – in the form of bonuses and penalties – are applied to refine the list further, which is compiled annually.

One such special modifier is a nation’s access to nuclear weapons, and while they are not recognised directly, these nations receive an indirect score bonus.

However, some categories directly influencing the rankings include geographical factors, logistical flexibility, natural resources and local industry, among others.

In the 2024 ranking, the most powerful military forces have not changed significantly, with the United States still ranked as having the world’s strongest military power.

The only major change among the top 10 compared to last year is that Turkiye is now ranked eighth – kicking France out of the top 10.

Other changes include South Korea and Japan moving up one spot each, and Pakistan dropping two places to ninth from seventh in 2023.

Russia remains the second strongest military force, followed by China and India in third and fourth place, respectively.

Italy also remained in 10th place in 2024, while France (ranking ninth in 2023) is now 11th.

The US, with a $832 billion military budget, is bigger than the remaining top 10 combined ($757 billion).

While the US doesn’t have the largest front line or the largest fleet of tanks, its massive military budget puts it far ahead of the rest in the rankings.

Top 10 military spenders (Defence Budget)

  • US: $832 billion
  • China: $227 billion
  • Russia: $109 billion
  • India: $74 billion
  • Saudi Arabia: $72 billion
  • UK: $63 billion
  • Germany: $56 billion
  • Japan: $53 billion
  • Australia: $53 billion
  • France: $50 billion

The USA has the largest air force among the top 10 global military powers, China has the most troops and naval vessels, and Russia has the most tanks – twice as many as the USA.

Note: Some vehicles can fall under multiple classifications.

#CountryActive FrontlineReserveCombat tanksAir ForceNaval Vessels
1US1 328 000799 5004 65713 209472
2Russia1 320 0002 000 00014 7773 304781
3China2 035 000510 0005 0003 284730
4India1 455 5501 155 0004 6142 296294
5South Korea600 0003 100 0002 5011 576200
6United Kingdom184 860924 000213664117
7Japan247 15056 0005181 459155
8Turkiye355 200378 7002 2311 069186
9Pakistan654 000550 0003 7421 434114
10Italy165 50018 500200800309
33South Africa71 23529 35019519447

South Africa 

South Africa is ranked as having the 33rd greatest military strength globally – maintaining its spot from 2023.

The country also maintains its ranking as the 3rd strongest military force in Africa after dropping from 1st in 2022, behind Egypt (1st) and Algeria (2nd) on the African continent.

The ranking shows South Africa has 71,235 active and 29,350 reserve personnel.

It also estimates that the country has around 14,395,986 citizens who would be fit for service should it enforce conscription laws.

Notably, South Africa stands out for its land power but has fallen behind other nations in recent years regarding air and naval power. The defence budget is estimated at $2.7 billion.


South Africa has a total aircraft strength of 194 assets.

This includes:

  • 2 fighter aircraft
  • 6 special mission aircraft
  • 16 transport aircraft
  • 79 trainer aircraft
  • 91 total helicopters (of which 12 are attack helicopters)

Army/Land power

  • 195 combat tanks
  • 12,140 armoured fighting vehicles
  • 49 self-propelled artillery
  • 104 towed artillery
  • 101 rocket projectors

Naval power

South Africa has a total naval strength of 47 assets.

Notably, the country currently has no aircraft carriers, destroyers or corvette-class vehicles.

This includes:

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

Read: New laws for schools in South Africa – the clock is ticking

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