How do U.S. military capabilities stack up against those of China and Russia? If World War 3 erupts, which country would win? In a world of rising tensions between the U.S. and its Western allies on one side and Russia and China on the other, the possibility of World War 3 can no longer be ruled out.
For years, Washington, Moscow and Beijing have engaged in an arms race in order to gain an edge in a possible military confrontation. There have been plenty of opportunities for the U.S., Russia and China to show off their might – whether it’s in military parades or on real battlefields (Syria, Afghanistan, Ukraine, South China Sea, etc.) – so let’s figure out which country would win World War 3 if it happened in 2017.
U.S. vs Russia vs China: Military spending and manpower
The U.S. spends more on its military than the rest of the world combined. Although Washington spent nearly $600 billion on defense in 2016, U.S. President Donald Trump has pledged to substantially increase military spending from 2017.
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But $600 billion is enough to give a headache to both China and Russia, which spend about $150 billion and $80 billion annually, respectively. While the U.S. is an unmatched military power in terms of defense spending, it loses profoundly when it comes to manpower and active military personnel.
It’s no secret that China’s significant advantage is that it’s the world’s most populated country with nearly 1.4 billion people (by contrast, the U.S. has 323 million and Russia only 142 million). China’s manpower available for service at any given time reaches more than 385 million men, which is more than five times higher than U.S. manpower. Interestingly, China’s manpower available for service is 2.5 times higher than Russia’s entire population. China boasts about 2.4 million active military personnel, while the U.S. has 1.5 million and Russia’s active military personnel barely even reaches 770,000.
Who wins? While the U.S. has a clear advantage in terms of military spending, China is a true beast when it comes to available manpower and active military personnel. Russia poses no real threat to the U.S. in none of these three areas, though its military spending has been on the rise since the Ukrainian crisis erupted in 2014.
U.S. vs. Russia vs. China: land systems and tanks
The U.S. is the weakest of of the three nations when it comes to the number of active tanks available for military service. With only 8,800 active tanks in its possession, Washington loses to both Beijing, with its 9,150 tanks, and Moscow, with its whopping 15,500 tanks. Russia and China’s nearly 25,000 tanks combined present the greatest challenge for the U.S. military.
Russia wins not only in terms of the number of active tanks it possesses but also the quality of technology advances it has made. Though it’s fair to say that America’s M-1 Abrams is the best main battle tank currently available, Russia’s revolutionary T-14 Armata tank is the largest and by far the scariest tank the world has seen thus far.
The T-14 Armata tank boasts a next-generation 125mm extended-length smoothbore cannon and is able to fire laser-guided missiles as far as 5,000 meters. It even has a tracked platform that can host a fifth-generation conventional land tank, missile launcher, heavy armored personnel carrier and artillery.
There have been reported plans to make T-14 Armata tanks invisible to enemy radars. Russia reported earlier that it plans to produce 2,300 T-14 Armata tanks by 2020. Until the tank becomes fully operational, Russia’s military relies on the T-90A, which features a 125mm cannon, remote-operated machine gun and autoloader. A T-90A survived a direct hit from a TOW missile in a military confrontation in Syria recently.
Meanwhile, the U.S. military’s M-1 Abrams tank is equipped with a 120mm main gun, remote-operated weapons stations and a unique armor configuration. While developing new tank technologies to catch up to Russia and the U.S., China has the Type 99 tank in its possession. Its survivability on the battlefield doesn’t quite match that of the T-90A or the M-1 Abrams, but the tank is no toy for China’s potential tank-to-tank military engagement enemies, as it features a 125mm smoothbore gun that is capable of firing missiles.
But there’s one more word to say about Russia’s military land-based capabilities. During the Ukrainian crisis, Russia showed that its military is able to bombard a 1km square area of land, cleaning it out entirely.
Who wins? In terms of the number of active tanks, Russia and China present a great threat to the U.S. However, looking at the hardware tech of their current tanks, it’s a draw, at least until Russia officially replaces its T-90A tanks with the T-14 Aramata tanks, the most advanced new tanks with unmatched capabilities in combat.
U.S. vs. Russia vs. China: air power
The U.S. has air supremacy and unmatched technological advantage in terms of its air power. Even if the Russians and Chinese combined their aircraft fleets into one army, they still would not be able to compete with the U.S. in terms of numbers.
The U.S. has nearly 14,000 active military aircraft, while the Russians own about 4,000 units and the Chinese have fewer than 3,000. Washington also owns the greatest helicopter force in the world. Out of the 8,400 active attack helicopters in the world, the U.S. has 6,400 of them. The Russians, meanwhile, have about 1,000 active helis.
While the Pentagon already boasts an impressive technological advantage in most of its air power units, it continues to work on new technological developments to maintain an edge against Russia and China. However, the Russians and Chinese could create a headache for the U.S., as they are working on new stealth fighters to challenge America’s F-22s and even the F-35. In fact, the U.S. owns the only fielded fifth-generation fighter, but both Moscow and Beijing have stepped up their military spending and efforts to catch up.
The most likely threat to America’s F-35 and F-22s is China’s J-20, which is believed to be in full-scale production, and the J-31. Russia, meanwhile, is working on its own stealth fighter that would pose a significant threat to the F-22. The T-50, which is expected to enter Russia’s service in 2017, is a more maneuverable version of America’s F-22.
Who wins? The U.S. holds a significant air power lead and has unmatched aerial warfare capabilities, but Russia and China could be catching up to Washington in some departments of air power – namely, stealth fighters.
U.S. vs. Russia vs. China: naval might
Although China has nearly 2.5 times more active warships, submarines and warfare boats than the U.S. and Russia, the Americans hold a significant advantage when it comes to active aircraft carriers and submarines.
China, which has been boosting its naval might since the South China Sea dispute triggered a heated confrontation with the West, may possess nearly 700 warships, submarines and warfare boats combined. However, it cannot possibly compete with the U.S. in terms of active aircraft carriers.
The U.S., which has 273 active vessels overall, owns 10 full-sized active aircraft carriers and nine landing helicopter docks, while the Russians and Chinese have only one aircraft carrier each. Russia, which has more active vessels overall than the U.S. (280 units), may have only one aircraft carrier in 2017, but the nation is creating the world’s biggest aircraft carrier to carry up to 100 fighters and bombers simultaneously.
While such an aircraft carrier would certainly pose a big threat to the U.S., even the smallest ships of the Russian fleet can be put to use, as seen from Russia’s launch of Kalibr cruise missiles at ground targets in Syria not so long ago. China, however, has the greatest ambition when it comes to developing the world’s strongest Navy to safeguard the disputed South China Sea islands.
Beijing is said to be making a breakthrough in naval power, as the Chinese already boast the biggest and most heavily armed Coast Guard ships, which complement the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s surface ships with advanced missiles.
In terms of submarines, the U.S. has a visible advantage over Russia and China, boasting as many as 14 ballistic missile submarines equipped with 280 nuclear missiles; 4 guided-missile submarines equipped with more than 150 Tomahawk cruise missiles each; and 54 nuclear attack submarines. Not only is America’s submarine fleet impressive in its numbers, but it also presents a great threat to the enemy’s fleet because it’s heavily armed and stealthy.
Russia, meanwhile, has 60 submarines, but they are no less technologically advanced than America’s subs. In fact, Russia’s nuclear submarines can challenge U.S. nuclear subs, while the Pentagon has yet to catch up to Russia in terms of the incredible quietness of its diesel boats. Russia is also developing a 100-megaton city-killing nuclear torpedo to equip its submarines.
China owns 53 diesel attack submarines, 5 nuclear attack subs and 4 nuclear ballistic missile subs. But the Chinese have seen the great importance of submarines to safeguard the South China Sea, which is why they are bent on introducing new technologically-sophisticated designs in naval power.
Who wins? The U.S. has a visible advantage in terms of naval might. However, if Russia, which has been a vocal supporter of China’s stance on the South China Sea dispute, combined its naval fleet with China, the Americans would be in big trouble. Besides, if the U.S. fights in enemy waters, it would likely suffer big losses against China’s Coast Guard ships and surface ships with missiles and Russia’s diesel submarines.