U.S. vs. Russia – Military Might

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Which of the two superpowers has the greater military provisions?

US or Russia?

The historical relationship between the United States and Russia can hardly be described as rosey. The two countries are inextricably linked due to the Cold War era, with the world’s two modern superpowers having enjoyed an extremely suspicious relationship with one another for decades during the 20th century.

This suspicion led to the infamous Cuban Missile Crisis. What is perhaps not so infamous about this particularly tense situation is that the world was nearly blown to smithereens. It was only due to decisions taken on board a Russian nuclear submarine by Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov that full-scale of nuclear war was averted. This was acknowledged in 2002 by former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, who stated that the world has been much closer to nuclear war than is often realized.

Such history is rather chilling, particularly when one considers that the diplomatic relationship between the two nations has diminished recently. With tensions in the Ukraine, and some underlying economic and political reasons for the United States and Russia to be in military opposition, there is once again the tension between the two countries.

In March, 2014, Forbes gave seven reasons why the United States will never go to war with Russia. One would certainly hope that this is the case, but it is still interesting and informative to compare the relative military might of the world’s most powerful nations.


The United States has more than double the population of Russia, and so it is not hugely surprisingly that it has a significant edge in available manpower. The United States has over 145 million people who could theoretically serve in the armed forces, whereas Russia has under 70 million by comparison. Of course, the notion of a draft would be hugely controversial in either nation, and this figure only really is relevant in theory.

Active Military Personnel

Of more relevance is the current levels of active military personnel in the two nations. The US certainly has a much larger armed forces to draw upon than Russia, with nearly 1.5 million military personnel of various denominations currently active in the United States. Russia actually has a higher level of military personnel per capita, but the total number of 766,000 is significantly less than the United States.


Movies such as Top Gun have created a collective imdge in our mind which suggests that the United States is associated with military might in the air. And this is certainly reflected in figures related to military aircraft. Of course, many of the world’s largest defense contractors operate out of the United States, and companies such as Lockheed Martin ensure that the US is pretty spectacularly endowed with military aircraft.

According to recent figures, the United States has over 13,500 military aircraft ready to be deployed at any given time. The Russian air force is paltry by comparison, with the Eastern European nation not even in possession of 4,000 active military aircraft.


The aerial supremacy of the United States is also underlined with regard to helicopters. Again, military history intrinsically associates this vehicle with the United States, as helicopters are indelibly linked with critical conflicts for the US in the 20th century such as Vietnam and Korea.

It comes as no surprise then that the United States has a huge amount of active military helicopters; just over 6,000 in total. This is clearly not an area which has been prioritied by Russia, with the former Eastern Bloc nation having less than 1,000 active military helicopters by comparison.

Tank Strength

When one pictures Soviet tanks rolling into Afghanistan, for example, the tank strength of the former Eastern Bloc Russia would be presumed to be significant. And this impression garnered from history would not turn out to be inaccurate.

Russia currently has 15,500 active tanks available for military service, and this is significantly more than the United States. The US tank provision is not as overshadowed as the Russian military is in some departments, but nonetheless the United States currently has around 8,325 tanks as part of its military capabilities. In terms of ground battles, Russia would appear to have the edge.


As mentioned previously, it was a Russian nuclear submarine which almost prompted complete disaster during the Cuban Missile Srisis. But both the United States and Russia are associated with underwater technology, and as such there is no significant difference between the two in this department. The United States has slightly more deployable submarines, 72 as opposed to 63, but one cannot say that there is a significant difference in military strength in this department.

Defense Spending

Given that President Obama famously signed off a $1 trillion defense budget, and the notion of the military-industrial complex was coined by a 1961 speech by Dwight Eisenhower, it wouldn’t come as a huge surprised if US defense spending was significantly higher than Russia. And, of course, this turns out to be the case, with admitted defense spending in the United States currently equal to around $612 billion. This dwarfs any nation on the planet, and Russia is no exception, with the Eastern European powerhouse spending $76 billion annually on its defense.

Nuclear Weapons

Both countries have been reducing their stockpiles of nuclear weapons under various disarmament and non-proliferation treaties. But the bulk of nuclear weapons which remain in the two nations is a constant reminder of the potential stakes involved. This is one department in which Russia has the edge over the United States, with the Eastern European nation currently boasting around 8,000 active nuclear warheads. This is reckoned to be nearly 1,000 more than the United States.

In an estimation published in 2012, graphic designer Maximilian Bode stated that the estimated tonnage of nuclear warheads in the world today would easily be enough to obliterate the entire human population. Given that the United States and Russia is responsible for 75 percent of these nuclear weapons, we must hope that diplomatic relations between the two nations thaw somewhat in the near future.

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