South Africa’s military strength in 2022 vs the world

 ·24 Jan 2022

Military website, Global Firepower, has published its military strength ranking for 2022 featuring 140 countries, with the ranking utilising more than 50 different factors to determine a given nation’s PowerIndex.

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

Nuclear weapons are not recognised directly but do receive an indirect score bonus, while geographical factors, logistical flexibility, natural resources and local industry influence the rankings.

In the 2022 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 change among the top 10 is Pakistan moving up one place pushing Brazil to tenth on the list.

The US, with a $770 billion military budget, is bigger than the remaining top 10 combined ($642 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.

Top 10 military spenders (Defence Budget)

  • US: $770 billion
  • China: $250.2 billion
  • Russia: $154 billion
  • UK: $68 billion
  • India: $49.6 billion
  • Japan: $47.5 billion
  • South Korea: $46.3 billion
  • France: $40.0 billion
  • Brazil: $18.8 billion
  • Pakistan: $7.7 billion

Among the top 10 global military powers, the USA has the largest airforce, China has the most troops and the most naval vessels, and Russia has the most tanks – twice as many as the USA.

Note: Some vehicles can fall under multiple classifications.

# Country Active Frontline Reserve Combat tanks Air Force Naval Vessels
1 US 1 390 000 442 000 6 612 13 247 484
2 Russia 850 000 250 000 12 420 4 173 605
3 China 2 000 000 510 000 5 250 3 285 777
4 India 1 450 000 1 155 000 4 614 2 182 295
5 Japan 240 000 55 000 1 004 1 449 155
6 South Korea 555 000 500 000 2 624 1 595 234
7 France 205 000 35 000 406 1 055 180
8 United Kingdom 194 000 37 000 227 693 75
9 Pakistan 640 000 500 000 2 824 1 387 114
10 Brazil 360 000 1 340 000 439 679 112
26 South Africa 72 000 15 000 195 225 47

South Africa 

South Africa is ranked as having the 26th greatest military strength globally – up from 32nd in 2022. The country ranks as the strongest military force in sub-Saharan Africa, but is behind Egypt (12th) on the African continent.

According to the ranking, South Africa has 72,000 active personnel and 15,000 reserve personnel.

It also estimates that the country has around 14,130,701 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 when it comes to air and naval power. The defence budget is estimated at $2.9 billion.

Air power

South Africa has a total aircraft strength of 225 assets.

This includes:

  • 17 fighter aircraft
  • 7 special mission aircraft
  • 22 transport aircraft
  • 88 trainer aircraft
  • 91 total helicopters (of which, 12 are attack helicopters)

Army/Land power

South Africa has a total land strength of 2,935 assets.

This includes:

  • 195 combat tanks
  • 2,565 armoured fighting vehicles
  • 43 self-propelled artillery
  • 82 towed artillery
  • 50 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
  • 6 unspecified

Military problems

South Africa’s army has been in decline for several years, with the defence department warning of its poor financial state, while being asked to “do more for less” is putting it in an untenable position.

In its 2020/21 annual report, former defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula warned that the army will eventually reach a point where it simply will not have the resources available to defend the country when called upon.

“It’s not simply about turning on the taps for funding, but rather the understanding that defending a country takes people who have to be paid and who have to train on equipment that is at least equal to the level of sophistication and scale that their enemies will use against them,” she said.

“The sad reality is that our equipment is old and becoming older, while the nature of the threats we face are becoming exponentially more technologically advanced, especially in the realm of cybersecurity.

“Training costs money, whether it’s keeping soldiers on target with their marksmanship or fighter pilots flying sorties to ensure they are ready to meet the threat.”

This issue was thrust into the public eye over the last two years, where the South African National Defence Force was not only deployed to help the South African Police Services uphold the Covid-19 lockdown, but was also called in to handle unrest and rioting in July 2021.

And despite the increased need for the SANDF, the department was hit with budget cuts in 2021, in line with a move to cut spending by National Treasury.

Mapisa-Nqakula said at the time that the R15 billion reduction will have a devastating impact – not only on the defence force but also on the wider defence industry, and many smaller businesses in the supply chain.

“If we are honest with ourselves, we now face the reality that if we do not intervene in a decisive manner, we will lose our state-owned defence industrial base and the ability to repair, maintain and overhaul most of our defence systems.

“This not only compromises our ability to maintain our current equipment in service, but also fundamentally impacts our longer-term ability to remain relevant and ready to conduct effective operations in the future.”

Read: South Africa is making changes to its borders in 2022 – here’s what to expect

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