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World's Largest Armies

1North Korea1,300,000
2United States - USA + USMC1,235,900
United States Army1,015,000
4Iran [Army+IRGC+Proxies]950,000
8South Korea495,000
US Marine Corps220,900
24South Sudan210,000
26Sri Lanka200,000
33Saudi Arabia [RSLF + SANG]150,000

This resource is updated at various intervals from time to time. The January 2020 revision elevated Iran from 13th place, based on the active regular Army alone, to 4th place, including Army, IRGC and IRGC proxy groups. This is probably a "no greater than" estimate, as many of the proxy militias operate in a grey zone between being non-state-affiliated and taking direct orders from the Revolutionary Guard. In 2019 IISS attributed a strength of about 100,000 troops to the Syrian Arab Army, which seems about right. The so-called Free Syrian Army appears to have evaporated.

The May 2016 version elevates the Korean People's Army to the world's largest army. The February 2016 iteration included several significant changes from the October 2015 version. These changes are made as new data becomes available, and as new insights are gained on foreign military formations. The intent here is to provide an apples-to-apples comparison with the US military, which is complicated by assessng the combat readiness of reserve forces. In the 19th century, reserves were cannon fodder, and today in most militaries around the world this remains the case. The US guard and reserve are not cannon fodder.

The size of the the Korean People's Army [KPA] is a source of controversy. By late 2015 a number of scholars both in South Korea and other countries concluded that the North Korean army was composed of around 700,000 soldiers. This is 500,000 fewer than the South Korean governments official estimate of 1.2 million soldiers. The DPRK's Reserve Military Training Unit [RMTU] consists of about 600,000 members, and upon reflection it seems that the organization, training and equipment ofthis formation are not substantially inferior to the North's regular forces, and so now it is counted here. South Korea has a large mobilization individual reserve force, but it is more a force of desperate last resort than the sort of routinely deployable force like the US Army Guard and Reserve [or the DPRK's RMTU]. Even though the ROK army is less than half the size of the KPA, it has higher overall combat effectivness.

There are over three dozen armies around the world with more than 100,000 soldiers. Arguably, the United States has the world's largest army, combining the troops of the US Army and the US Marine Corps. While the US Army is not a marine corps, the US Marine Corps is an army by any usable definition of the term. While the Marines might quibble, the distinction was probably lost on the enemy in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Somewhat surprisingly, the world's most populous country [China], seems not to have the world's larget army. No one seems to know the size of the Chinese army. According to some Western sources such as the IISS Military Balance, the size of the Chinese ground forces is the largest in the world with approximately 1.6 million personnel. IISS reports that about half this number are conscripts, while the other half are professional. In a white paper titled "The Diversified Employment of China's Armed Forces", which was published by the State Council Information Office in May 2013, the PLA disclosed the strength and formation of its ground force, air force, navy and missile arm. According to the document, the eighth of its kind issued by the Chinese government since 1998, the mobile operational units of the PLA ground force consisted of 18 combined corps and several independent combined combat divisions or brigades. These units were reported, to demonstrate the transparency and openness of the Chinese military, to have a strength of 850,000. The US Departement of Defense seems to have split the difference, reporting 1.25 million active duty PLA personnel as of 2012.

China on 17 April 2013 revealed the military strength of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) for the first time, saying it had 1.483 million personnel divided into 18 different corps. Titled, the "national defence white paper", it also revealed for the first time, the identities of the "group armies", or the 18 different corps the PLA has. In terms of numbers, the paper was a marked departure from earlier similar documents. "China now has about 850,000 army servicemen in 18 combined corps and additional independent combined operational divisions (brigades)," the paper said. Troop numbers, currently at less than 3 million after 10 reductions from a peak of 6.27 million in 1951, would be reduced to 2 million 1 million in the national guard and 1 million in the army, navy and air force. The army will bear the brunt of the reductions, being cut from 850,000 at present to 490,000. The navy would go from 235,000 to 210,000 and the air force from 398,000 to 300,000. In April 2015, the PLA Daily reported that the army would cut a large number of non-combat posts, including medical, communications and artist troupes.

The major military powers of Western Europe are comparative light-weights, with barely more than 100,000 soldiers, while any number of developing countries not normally thought of as major players have twice as many soldiers.

Russia was in second place in the list of the strongest military powers in the world. This is the conclusion analysts of the financial conglomerate Credit Suisse. They ranked the armies of the world, depending on their military capabilities - without nuclear weapons and non-conventional weapons. In the first place were the United States, and the third by a small margin from Russia is China. Army evaluated on six criteria: personnel, tanks, aircraft, attack helicopters, aircraft carriers and submarines.

This rating can be considered very sketchy, said a member of the Association of Military Political analyst Alexander Perendzhiev. "Evaluate the military force only on the number of tanks, planes and aircraft carriers, I think a little bit incorrect. Because, firstly, there are still nuclear weapons, and secondly, we probably have more to say about the quality of personnel, his professionalism, and of the concept of military force included not only material but also non-material means. What is meant by them: First, it is the people's spirit, morale, readiness to sacrifice their lives - these moments are also present."

Strangely absent from this list is Nigeria, the world's seventh most populous state, normally thought of as a military heavy-weight in Africa, but with only 62,000 soldiers it may be large by local standards, but not by world standards. Two other demographic heavyweights are punching below their weight - Indonesia, with a population of 250,000,000 has an army of 230,000, while Brazil, with a population of 200,000,000, has an army of 190,000.

This is a list of the world's largest armies, measured by the number of soldiers in uniform. This is not a list of the world's "strongest" armies, since military power is not simply a function of headcount. But headcount is an interesting measure, nonetheless. Counting heads is perhaps not as straigtforward as might be imagined. The first problem is the terminological ambiguity of the word "army" which can mean either ground force troops, as in the US Army, or in many countries the ground forces are called ground forces, or words to that effect, while the entire military establishment is called the army.

This is a list of ground forces only, not the entire military establishment. Except for the United States, these totals do not include Marine Corps or Naval Infantry, which in other countries with such formations are typically rather small, and are counted in another list. These totals also generally do not include gendarmerie or interior ministry formations. In the Soviet Union, the Interior Ministry had tank divisions, in China today the People's Armed Police are admirably equiped, and some European gendarmeries have low intensity conflict combat potential. But the range of variation from one country to another in the roles and capabilities of these organizations is too great to warrant their inclusion.

Afghanistan is an exception to this rule. In June 2011, the Afghan government approved an increase of the Afghan National Security Force [ANSF] to a total end strength 352,000 by October 2012 to include 195,000 in the Afghan National Army [ANA] and 157,000 in the Afghan National Police [ANP]. By March 2012 the force strength of the ANSF was 337,516 (187,874 in the ANA; 149,642 in the ANP). The Afghan National Police is engaged in the same counter-insurgency fight as the Afghan National Army.

Bangladesh is another exception, since the 60,000-strong Bangladesh Border Guard [BBG] is officered by regular army officers, and has internal security duties that are not readily distinguisable from the internal security operations of the regular Army, which is 200,000 strong [not counting 50,000 individual reservists]. Curiously, IISS places the Army at only 126,000. Bangladesh is also an exception, since the regular Army spends time enaged in activities not normally associated with an "army", such as collecting delinquent telephone bills and checking up on absenteeism among civil servants.

Cambodia is another extremely poor country that presents even more difficult methodological problems. IISS reports about 75,000 soldiers, while Wikipedia reports 175,000 soldiers. In fact, the Royal Government of Cambodia does not have a clear idea as to the actual size of the Army. The present Army was formed in 1993 through the amalgamation of three formerly hostile armies, with a plan to demobilize 70% of that force, but demobilization never happened. There may have been some 165,000 personnel on the rolls 1999 [twice as many as had been in service in 1993], and in 2001, there were officially 129,449 Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) personnel. But many commanders inflate their personnel rolls, keeping ghost soldiers on the books and pocketing the monthly wages of the ghost soldiers.A large number of the regular force is reaching the end of service life and was ready for retirement. The Armys report released in the 5 Year Work Achievement Review revealed that officers accounted for up to 77 percent of the force as of 2006. In December 2011 Janes reported that "some sources estimate that up to 30,000 army personnel are medically or otherwise unfit for service. This would leave the army with a strength of around 110,000 on paper and an effective field strength of around 70,000 regular and provincial militia troops."

At one time the 125,000 troops of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps would have been counted along with the 350,000 soldiers of the regular army, but the Guard Corps now appears to have been reconfigured as an internal security force. The Afghan National Army reached its goal of 134,000 trained Afghan soldiers in August 2010, and a year later the force numbered just over 171,600. But about 90 to 95 percent are illiterate. Attrition in the Afghan national security forces continues to run very high, as much 32 percent per year. And between January and June of 2011, there were more than 24,000 Afghan soldiers who went AWOL.

The actual headcount of the Sri Lankan Army is a bit of a puzzle. Since 1995 the authoritative Military Balance, published by the International Institute of Strategic Studies, has estimated the total number of troops on active duty at more than 100,000 and less than 120,000, up from 50,000 in the year 1990. But the number of maneuver battalions has increased from about 18 in 1990 to over 100 by the year 2010. On 25 July 2010 Army Commander Lt. General Jagath Jayasuriya said that the Sri Lanka Army (SLA) had over 200,000 men.

Myanmar is widely reported to have an army of about 375,000. But most maneuver units in Myanmar's Army are somewhere between under-manned and badly undermanned, with far fewer troops assigned than would be expected based on their notional Tables of Organization and Equipment [TOE] or the manning levels of foreign counterpart units. Or maybe Myanmar's Army is not badly under-manned, but rather Army as a whole is seriously over-officered. IISS reports a strength of 375,000 as of 2011 [implying a typical battalion strength of 86 soldiers]. As of 2009 reports a total authorized strength of 450,000 with only 250,000 actually on hand.

By 2013 two years of civil war had reduced the Syrian army from 220,000 [21st place] to perhaps 110,000 [35th place]. The army of Indonesia grew from 233,000 troops in 2012 to over 300,000 troops in 2013 [according to IISS], for no apparent reason.

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Page last modified: 13-01-2020 18:58:49 ZULU