South Africa’s military strength vs the world

A new index has ranked countries by the size of their armies and armed forces, with the USA, Russia and China predictably dominating in terms of raw military power.

This is according to Global Firepower (GFP), an independent group which aims to provide an unbiased measure of global military strength using publicly available information.

The GFP list ranks 126 countries according to effective military strength, and makes use of over 50 factors to determine each nation’s Power Index score.

Military data is taken from the CIA World Factbook, public domain print and media sources and user contributions.

The USA in top spot commands an active frontline force of over 1.4 million people, with 1.1 million more in reserve – this on top of close to 55,000 military vehicles, 14,000 aircraft and a naval force of 500 vessels.

Russia has an active frontline of 770,000, with 2.5 million in reserve, and boasts a vehicle force exceeding the USA’s at over 61,000.

The country has fewer aircraft, however, at 3,500, and fewer naval vessels at 352.

The United States is the world’s biggest military spender, with a budget exceeding $610 billion. Russia is third at $84.5 billion, behind China’s $216 billion spend.

China – the third most powerful military according to GFP – exceeds both the USA and Russia in frontline soldiers (2.3 million, with 2.3 million in reserve) – but has fewer land and air vehicles.

The country has the strongest naval strength of the three super powers, at 670 vessels.

World’s top 10 military powers

# Country Active Frontline Reserve Land Vehicles Air Force Naval Vessels
1 United States 1 400 000 1 100 000 54 474 13 892 473
2 Russia 766 055 2 485 000 61 086 3 429 352
3 China 2 330 000 2 300 000 23 664 2 860 673
4 India 1 325 000 2 143 000 21 164 1 905 202
5 United Kingdom 146 980 182 000 6 624 936 66
6 France 202 761 195 770 7 888 1 264 113
7 South Korea 624 465 2 900 000 12 619 1 412 166
8 Germany 179 046 145 000 6 481 663 81
9 Japan 247 173 57 900 4 329 1 613 131
10 Turkey 410 500 185 630 13 849 1 020 115
32 South Africa 88 565 17 100 2 650 209 30

GFP makes the following points about its data:

  • It’s not a simple numbers game – a bigger military force doesn’t necessarily mean a more powerful militia;
  • Nuclear capability is not taken into account;
  • Natural resource reliance – in terms of use and production – is taken into account;
  • Current economic health is taken into account;
  • Current political/military leadership is not taken into account.

Land-locked countries are not penalised for a lack of naval forces

Read: The world’s biggest military spenders in 2014 

South Africa’s military strength

South Africa was ranked as having the 32nd most powerful military force on the index.

It is ranked third in Africa, below Egypt and Algeria, and ahead of Nigeria (4th) and Ethiopia (5th).

South Africa’s military budget was R40.2 billion in 2013/14, and R42.8 billion was budgeted for the 2014/15 financial year.

According to the GFP data, the country has an active frontline personnel totalling 88,565 people, with 17,100 in reserve.

This is out of approximately 14 million individuals who are fit for service.

The GFP notes that South Africa has a war-ready labour force of 18.5 million people.

“War s as much a battle of logistics – moving man and marching from points all over – as it is direct combat,” the group said.

“Labour force reflects possible wartime industry strength.”

Looking at military strength by vehicles, South Africa has the following stats:

  • Total land units: 2,650

This is largely made up by 2,265 armored fighting vehicles (AFVs). Also included are 196 tanks, and 50 multiple-launch rocket systems.

  • Total aircraft: 209

This is including 17 interceptors and 12 attack helicopters.

  • Total naval strength: 30

This includes 4 frigates, 3 submarines and 9 defense craft.

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South Africa’s military strength vs the world