Special Report

The 25 Largest Air Forces in the World

In 2020, the United States armed forces budget exceeded $778 billion, which was by far the largest defense budget of any nation on Earth. The United States Air Force has more jets, planes, and helicopters than the five runners-up, combined. While the Air Force is most associated with aircraft, in fact every major military branch utilizes some number of them. The American fleet of aircraft makes up almost one-quarter of the world’s total, with over 13,000 aircraft, when last counted. 

To determine the 25 countries with the largest air forces, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the 2021 report from FlightGlobal, an online news and information website that covers the aviation and aerospace industries. Countries were ranked by the number of aircraft in their active military fleet. Military expenditure data came from Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

The countries with the next largest air forces after the United States are Russia and China, with 4,173 and 3,285 aircraft, respectively. Here are the countries with the largest militaries.

Military aircraft include combat jets and helicopters as well as in training, transport, and special missions aircraft. The F-16 Fighting Falcon is the most common combat aircraft in the world, with 2,248 active worldwide, including 930 in the U.S. Air Force. Originally developed by General Dynamics for the U.S. Air Force, to date, over 20 other countries have procured F-16s. The second most common combat aircraft is the Soviet-designed Sukhoi SU 27/30, with 1,063 in service, including 423 in Russia. 

The total number of active military aircraft in the world is 52,271, 292 fewer, or 0.6%, than the previous year. Reductions in the number of aircraft can generally be attributed to the retiring of certain models of older aircraft. 

The Asia-Pacific region boasts eight of the 25 countries with the largest air forces in the world. The region’s fleet size declined by 2% from the previous year. Japan retired the last of its nearly 50-year-old F-4 Phantom fighter jets in 2021. Meanwhile, the Royal Thai Airforce retired 33 of its Aero L-39 Albatros training jets and 76 of its Bell UH-1H “Huey” helicopters.

The Middle East was the only region that increased its total fleet size, with the addition of 73 aircraft, representing an almost 2% rise. Four of the 25 countries with the largest air forces are in the Middle East, two are in Northern Africa, eight in Europe, and three in the Americas. While massive militaries can often equate to global power, there are some countries that do not have a military budget at all. Here are the nations without a military.

Click here to see the world’s largest air force

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