The military is one of a country’s greatest assets and it’s tasked with enforcing both domestic and foreign policies and above all safeguarding the lives of it’s citizens. While the size of the army does not determine it’s military capability, factors such as technology, training and tactic also play a vital role.
The size of a country’s army is just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to military strength. Harriet James compiles the 2023 largest militaries in the world, as ranked by the Global Firepower Index
By far, the Chinese army or People’s Liberation Army (PLA) wields the world’s largest military army. Standing at two million active personnel, it is almost twice as much as America’s. It also has the second-largest defence budget in the world. China’s military expenditure was Sh41.6 trillion (US$292 billion) in 2022, accounting for 13 per cent of the world’s defence expenditures.
The Indian Armed Forces comprises three professional uniformed services: the Indian Navy, Indian Army and Armed Forces, which are supported by the Central Armed Police Forces. The country honours its armed forces and military personnel every year on Armed Forces Flag Day on 7th December. With strength of over 1.4 million active personnel, India’s army is the second largest in the world and has the largest volunteer army too. In addition, it has the third largest budget in defence and has engaged in a number of military operations like the Indo-Pakistani wars of 1947, 1965 and 1971, the Portuguese-Indian War (1961), the Sino-Indian War (1962), the 1967 Cho La incident, the 1987 Sino-Indian skirmish, the Kargil War (1999), and the Siachen conflict of 1984, among others.
The US military forces is collectively referred to as the United States Armed Forces and comprises of six branches: Marine Corps, Navy, the Army, Space Force, Air Force, Coast Guard. The US Armed Forces have played a significant role from its inception during the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783). They have also assisted in forging a sense of national unity and identity in the 19th century through victories in the First (1801–1805) and Second ((1815) Barbary Wars. In addition, they played a crucial role in how the US territory evolved, especially during the American Civil War of 1861–1865. They also draw their personnel from a pool of large volunteers.
4. North Korea
The Korean People’s Army is the military force of North Korea and the armed wing of the Workers› Party of Korea (WPK). It comprises of five branches: The Naval Force, Ground Force, Strategic Force, the Air and Anti-Air Force, as well as the Special Operation Force. It is commanded by the WPK Central Military Commission, which is chaired by the WPK general secretary, and the president of the State Affairs and currently both posts are headed by President Kim Jong Un. As of 2021, North Korea had the second largest military organisation in the world (1.3 million active personnel), with 29.9 per cent of its population actively serving, in reserve or in a paramilitary capacity.
The Armed Forces of the Russian Federation or the Russian Armed Forces are the fifth-largest military force in the world, with 1.15 million active personnel and at least two million reserve personnel. The country has plans to increase its active personnel force to 1.5 million by 2026 and this will make it the third largest after China and India. As of this year, Russia has the world’s third-highest military expenditure, allocating a budget of approximately Sh12.4 trillion (US$86.4 billion) to the military. The armed forces also maintain the world’s largest stockpile of nuclear weapons, and possess the world’s second-largest fleet of ballistic missile submarines. In addition, they are one of the only three national militaries (alongside those of the US and China) that operate strategic bombers. Russian law mandates one year of military service for all male citizens aged 18–27 with certain exceptions.
Pakistan has the world’s sixth-largest military measured by active personnel of about 651,800. It consists of three formally uniformed services —the Army, Navy, and the Air Force, which are backed by several paramilitary forces such as the National Guard and the Civil Armed Forces. Since the 1963 Sino-Pakistan Agreement, the Pakistani military has had close relations with China, working jointly to develop the JF-17 combat aircraft, the K-8 light attack aircraft, and various weapon systems. As of 2021, China was the largest foreign supplier of military equipment to Pakistan in major arms. This cooperation has accelerated the pace of joint military exercises, and their increasingly compatible weapons supply chains and network communication systems have accelerated the integration of defence capabilities between the two sides. In addition, the two nations have also cooperated on the development of their nuclear and space technology programmes. The country also maintains relations with the US, which means that Pakistan procures the bulk of its military equipment from China, US and its own domestic suppliers.
In terms of active troupes, the Iranian Armed Forces are the largest in the Middle East and comprise of approximately 610,000 active-duty personnel plus 350,000 reserve and trained personnel that can be mobilised when needed, bringing the country›s military manpower to about 960,000 total personnel. These numbers do not consist of Law Enforcement Command or Basij. Most of Iran’s imported weapons consist of American systems purchased before the 1979 Islamic Revolution, with limited purchases from the Soviet Union in the 1990s following the Iran–Iraq War. The country has however, currently launched a robust domestic rearmament programme and has made its inventory become increasingly indigenous. Unable to import weapon systems from abroad due to international sanctions, and suffering from an increasingly aging air force fleet, Iran has invested considerable funds into an ambitious ballistic and cruise missile programme for long-range strike capability, and has manufactured different types of arms and munitions, including tanks, armoured vehicles and drones, as well as various naval assets and aerial defence systems.
8. South Korea
The Republic of Korea Armed Forces is one of the largest and most powerful standing armed forces in the world. In 2022, it had a reported personnel strength of 555,000 (active) and 3.1 million (reserve). It traces its roots back to the establishment of the Korean Republic in 1919 wherein its armed wing was called the Korean Liberation Army and it conducted warfare against the Japanese occupation by conducting large-scale offensives, assassinations, bombings, sabotage, and search and rescue missions. Formally founded in 1948 following the establishment of the Republic of Korea›s government after the liberation of Korea in 1945, the military is responsible for maintaining the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the state and also engage in peacekeeping operations, humanitarian and disaster relief efforts worldwide.
Vietnam is known as having one of the more capable militaries in South-East Asia. The People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN), also known as the Vietnamese People’s Army (VPA), is the main military force of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Its first army was created in 1944 under the directive of the late President Ho Chi Minh. As of this year, it has a reported active-duty personnel of about 482,000.
Egypt is one of the few countries in Africa and the Middle East region and the only Arab state, with a reconnaissance satellites. the latest one, EgyptSat 1, was launched in 2007. The modern Egyptian armed forces have been involved in numerous crises and wars since independence, from the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, Egyptian Revolution of 1952, Suez Crisis, North Yemen Civil War, Six-Day War, Nigerian Civil War, War of Attrition, Yom Kippur War, Egyptian bread riots, Others are 1986 Egyptian conscripts riot, Egyptian-Libyan War, Gulf War, War on Terror, Egyptian Crisis, Second Libyan Civil War, War on ISIL and the Sinai insurgency. It has 438,500 active-duty personnel.