Special Report

How Russia's and NATO's Military Capabilities Compare

nato+Helicopters | 150730-A-VO006-435
39955793@N07 / Flickr

In 1949, with the goal of deterring Soviet aggression in Europe, 12 countries — including France, the United Kingdom, and the United States — formed the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. But in the three decades since the Soviet Union fell, many world leaders, including former President Donald Trump, have questioned NATO’s continued relevance. The alliance’s critics got answers on Feb. 24, 2022, when Russia launched a full-scale military invasion of Ukraine. 

NATO now counts 31 members among its ranks — including nine countries that share a border with either Russia, Ukraine, or both. Under Article 5 of the founding treaty, an attack against one NATO ally is an attack against all, and while Ukraine is not a NATO member, if the ongoing war spreads across a NATO border, it could trigger a collective military response and expand the conflict to a global scale. (Here is a look at 13 major wars happening right now.)

Though Russia is one of the world’s leading military powers, the threat posed by the combined forces of the defensive alliance make a deliberate Russian attack on a NATO country unlikely. 

Using data from Global Firepower’s 2023 report on international military capabilities, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed how NATO’s military strength compares to Russia’s. We also reviewed 2022 military spending from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute and estimated 2023 nuclear warhead inventory from the Arms Control Association.

In the event of a conflict between Russia and NATO, individual NATO members would not likely be able to commit all military assets to the war effort. Global Firepower therefore assumed a minimum 25% contribution from each NATO ally to each category listed in this story — from active-duty troops and reserve forces to weapons and material. 

Similarly, Global Firepower assumed only 75% of Russian military assets to be available and operational. Still, for each category, we also listed the estimated full military assets for Russian and NATO forces. 

Despite its size, Russia’s military assets are outnumbered by NATO’s in the majority of categories on this list. One notable exception, however, is nuclear warheads, as Russia has the largest nuclear stockpile of any country in the world. (Here is a look at every country’s nuclear weapons arsenal, ranked.)

Here is how Russia’s and NATO’s military capabilities compare.

Combined military personnel

Source: DIMUSE / E+ via Getty Images
  • NATO’s projected force: 1,486,175 (Est. total available: 6,755,100)
  • Russia’s projected force: 998,175 (Est. total available: 1,330,900)

Personnel: Active-duty (front line)

Source: Alexandros Michailidis / iStock Editorial via Getty Images
  • NATO’s projected force: 845,250 (Est. total available: 3,382,000)
  • Russia’s projected force: 623,175 (Est. total available: 830,900)

Personnel: Reserve

Source: CatEyePerspective / iStock Editorial via Getty Images
  • NATO’s projected force: 640,925 (Est. total available: 2,620,700)
  • Russia’s projected force: 187,500 (Est. total available: 250,000)

Personnel: Paramilitary

  • NATO’s projected force: 188,100 (Est. total available: 752,400)
  • Russia’s projected force: 187,500 (Est. total available: 250,000)

Total airpower

Source: usairforce / Flickr
  • NATO’s projected force: 5,200 units (Est. total available: 20,799 units)
  • Russia’s projected force: 3,137 units (Est. total available: 4,182 units)

Airpower: Fighters / Interceptors

Source: Artyom_Anikeev / iStock Editorial via Getty Images
  • NATO’s projected force: 863 units (Est. total available: 3,453 units)
  • Russia’s projected force: 580 units (Est. total available: 773 units)

Airpower: Dedicated attack aircraft

Source: my_public_domain_photos / Flickr
  • NATO’s projected force: 277 units (Est. total available: 1,108 units)
  • Russia’s projected force: 558 units (Est. total available: 744 units)

Airpower: Transports (Fixed-wing)

  • NATO’s projected force: 379 units (Est. total available: 1,517 units)
  • Russia’s projected force: 333 units (Est. total available: 444 units)

Airpower: Special-mission aircraft

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons
  • NATO’s projected force: 243 units (Est. total available: 971 units)
  • Russia’s projected force: 110 units (Est. total available: 147 units)

Airpower: Aerial refueling

Source: USAF / Getty Images News via Getty Images
  • NATO’s projected force: 154 units (Est. total available: 615 units)
  • Russia’s projected force: 14 units (Est. total available: 19 units)

Airpower: Helicopters

Source: 39955793@N07 / Flickr
  • NATO’s projected force: 2,159 units (Est. total available: 8,634 units)
  • Russia’s projected force: 1,148 units (Est. total available: 1,531 units)

Airpower: Attack helicopters

  • NATO’s projected force: 360 units (Est. total available: 1,439 units)
  • Russia’s projected force: 403 units (Est. total available: 537 units)

Ground vehicles: Tanks

Source: usarmyeurope_images / Flickr
  • NATO’s projected force: 3,154 vehicles (Est. total available: 12,647 vehicles)
  • Russia’s projected force: 9,425 vehicles (Est. total available: 12,566 vehicles)

Ground vehicles: Armored fighting vehicles

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons
  • NATO’s projected force: 249,919 units (Est. total available: 1,010,212 units)
  • Russia’s projected force: 113,731 units (Est. total available: 151,641 units)

Ground vehicles: Self-propelled guns

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons
  • NATO’s projected force: 1,151 vehicles (Est. total available: 4,647 vehicles)
  • Russia’s projected force: 4,931 vehicles (Est. total available: 6,575 vehicles)

Ground vehicles: Towed artillery

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons
  • NATO’s projected force: 1,765 pieces (Est. total available: 7,216 pieces)
  • Russia’s projected force: 3,252 pieces (Est. total available: 4,336 pieces)

Ground vehicles: Rocket artillery

  • NATO’s projected force: 429 pieces (Est. total available: 3,347 pieces)
  • Russia’s projected force: 2,915 pieces (Est. total available: 3,887 pieces)

Total naval assets

  • NATO’s projected force: 599 hulls (Est. total available: 2,397 hulls)
  • Russia’s projected force: 449 hulls (Est. total available: 598 hulls)

Naval forces: Aircraft carriers

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons
  • NATO’s projected force: 4 hulls (Est. total available: 16 hulls)
  • Russia’s projected force: 1 hulls (Est. total available: 1 hulls)

Naval forces: Helicopter carriers

  • NATO’s projected force: 3 hulls (Est. total available: 13 hulls)
  • Russia’s projected force: 0 hulls (Est. total available: 0 hulls)

Naval forces: Destroyers

  • NATO’s projected force: 28 hulls (Est. total available: 112 hulls)
  • Russia’s projected force: 11 hulls (Est. total available: 15 hulls)

Naval forces: Frigates

Source: vale_t / iStock Editorial via Getty Images
  • NATO’s projected force: 34 hulls (Est. total available: 135 hulls)
  • Russia’s projected force: 8 hulls (Est. total available: 11 hulls)

Naval forces: Corvettes

  • NATO’s projected force: 14 hulls (Est. total available: 55 hulls)
  • Russia’s projected force: 65 hulls (Est. total available: 86 hulls)

Naval forces: Submarines

Source: Serega / iStock via Getty Images
  • NATO’s projected force: 36 hulls (Est. total available: 143 hulls)
  • Russia’s projected force: 53 hulls (Est. total available: 70 hulls)

Naval forces: Mine warfare vessels

  • NATO’s projected force: 43 hulls (Est. total available: 167 hulls)
  • Russia’s projected force: 37 hulls (Est. total available: 49 hulls)

Nuclear weapons

Source: rusm / iStock Unreleased via Getty Images
  • NATO’s projected force: 5,759 warheads
  • Russia’s projected force: 5,889 warheads

Combined military budget

Source: DanielBendjy / E+ via Getty Images
  • NATO’s projected spending: $309.3 billion USD (Est. total available: $1.2 trillion USD)
  • Russia’s projected spending: $86.4 billion USD (Est. total available: $86.4 billion USD)

Oil production

Source: curraheeshutter / iStock via Getty Images
  • NATO’s projected capacity: 6.8 million barrels-per-day (Est. total available: 27 million barrels-per-day)
  • Russia’s projected capacity: 10.8 million barrels-per-day

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