According to the ranking done by Global Firepower, a list of the top 25 fleets of combat tanks has been formed, with Russia taking the lead.
When the tank, an armoured all-terrain fighting vehicle, was developed during the First World War, it completely changed the way we fight. Since then, despite some analysts forecasting the end of the tank era, they continue to be the backbone of armies in the 21st century.
This infographic shows the ranking of combat tank fleet sizes for 2023 as provided by Global Firepower.
The list covers main battle tanks like the German Leopard 2 and the American M1A2 Abrams as well as lighter, more lightly equipped medium and light tanks like the Thai Stingray. Armoured personnel carriers and infantry fighting vehicles are not included in the figures.
With 12,556 tanks, the Russian Federation possesses by far the greatest fleet in its arsenal, ranging from the highly developed T-14 Armata to the workhorse T-72 series. This surpasses the combined total of the second- and third-placed nations, North Korea (6,645) and the United States (5,500).
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The headline figure, however, ignores subtle distinctions in the make-up of the Russian tank fleet.
Only a small portion of Russia’s almost 13,000 combat tanks are main battle tanks. According to a 2021 Russian source, the operational main battle fleet of that country consisted of more than 2,600 T-72, T-80, and T-90 tanks, with a further 400 T-72 versions being utilised as range tanks.
Additionally, just 25% of those tanks—the T-72B3/B3M, T-80-BVM, and T-90A/M—are regarded as modern tanks, meaning they are equipped with cutting-edge sighting and fire control systems. Because of this, Russia has struggled to perform on the Ukrainian battlefield despite having more than six times as many tanks, in addition to low morale, weak logistics, and rigid tactics (12,556 vs. 1,890).
A Pentagon representative said in early November 2022 that Russia had lost half of its tanks since the start of its “special military operation” on February 24, 2022. Thousands of civilians have also been hurt or killed, millions have been displaced, and the post-Cold War security system has been completely upended by the violence.
With a combat fleet of 6,645 tanks, North Korea has the second-largest tank fleet in the world.
Since the Korean War (1950–1953), when its first armoured unit, the 105th Armored Brigade, took part in the invasion of South Korea armed with 120 Soviet-built T–34/85 tanks, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has retained armoured capabilities.
After the battle, the North Korean army was rearmed with Soviet T-34/85 tanks, followed by T-55s and Type 59 tanks with Chinese variants. These are undoubtedly still in use even though they are decades old, coupled with native designs like the Chonma-ho “Flying Horse” and the Pokpung-ho “Storm.”
Despite their size, it is believed that these tank forces cannot compete with current main battle tanks. When compared to South Korea’s fourth-generation K2 Black Panther, considered one of the most advanced tanks in the world, one military blogger termed them “weak and pathetic.”
In preparation for the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) centenary in 2027, the PLA recently expedited fleet modernization plans during the 20th Party Congress, although there is still more work to be done.
Their 4,950 battle tanks are a mix of new and old, placing them in fourth place (pdf below).
Third-generation Type 99 main combat tanks are China’s most advanced main battle tanks. It is rugged and nimble, with a main cannon that is 125mm in diameter (slightly larger than the NATO requirement of 120mm) and a 1,500hp diesel engine. The Type 99A, an improved version, made its debut in the middle of the 2000s.
There are various rumours that the Type 99/99A could compete with the American M1 Abrams. However, it still falls short of fourth-generation designs like the T-14 Armata from Russia, the K2 Black Panther from South Korea, or the Type 10 from Japan.
But China’s defence sector is able to produce military equipment at or near world-class standards, including tanks, thanks to a massive $293 billion military budget and extensive industrial espionage. Even unmanned tanks, such as the Type 59 in 2018 and the lightweight Type 15 in 2019, were tested in the nation.
Despite ranking #13 with 1,890 tanks and earlier forecasts of an easy victory for Russian invaders, Ukrainian forces have effectively stopped and then turned back their adversaries who are numerically superior.
Ukraine’s tank forces, which were initially outfitted with modified T-64s from the Soviet era as well as gifts of T-72s from Poland and Czechia, have grown as a result of seized military hardware left behind by fleeing Russian soldiers.
As of the beginning of 2023, according to Oryx, a Dutch defence analytical website that has been monitoring battlefield developments in Ukraine using open-source intelligence, 533 tanks, including many top-of-the-line T-90s, have been captured. A U.S. defence official claims that Ukraine may currently possess “more tanks in the battlefield than the Russians do.”
Arsenal of Democracy?
In the future, as it prepares to wrest control of the rest of its land from Russia, including the Donbas and Crimea, Ukraine is requesting modern Western main battle tanks. Due to concerns over further provoking Russia, NATO members had been hesitant to move in that direction, but resistance appears to be waning.
France decided to send the first Western nation, Ukraine, an AMX-10 RC light tank on January 4, 2023. The United States and Germany both promised to deliver their own armoured vehicles, the Bradley and Marder, respectively, on January 6.
The UK has also stated that it intends to donate a small number of Challenger 2 main battle tanks, and Poland has indicated their intention to donate Leopard 2 tanks (though the latter will need Germany’s permission to export). These developments may be another indication that public opinion has changed.
We will see how these new weapons alter the balance of tank fleets both on and off the battlefield as the spring campaign season draws near.