Chinese service personnel during Vostok 2018 exercise

China's Military Power: How Does It Compare To The UK And US?

We have compared China's military power with that of the British and American militaries.

Chinese service personnel during Vostok 2018 exercise

Chinese military might has been a topic of concern for the modern western world.

Months after announcing a sixth consecutive single-digit increase to its defence budget, China has been forced to defend its development as "peaceful".

The International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) has examined the power of China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) as NATO leaders pursue diplomatic solutions.

Here is what we do know of China's military capability during an era of great competition, comparing stats with the UK and its most powerful military partner, the US.


China's transparency has been called into question by the West, the public left to speculate where a 2021 defence budget would allocate increased funds.

While the destination for the money was left undisclosed, some have also contested the figures themselves.

The following information is taken from the IISS, the latest reliable data in 2021:

Defence Budget (2020) [US dollars] – China $193.3bn, US: $738bn, UK: $61.5bn

Active Personnel – China: 2,035,000, US: 1,388,100, UK: 148,500

Reserve Personnel – China: 510,000, US: 844,950, UK: 78,600

Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) Launchers – China:104, US: 400

Watch: China boosts its defence budget amid 'security risks'

Air Power

Bomber Aircraft – China: 221, US: 157

Fighter and Ground Attack Aircraft – China: 1,820, US: 3,318, UK: 162

Attack Helicopters – China: 278, US: 867, UK: 40

Heavy Unmanned Aerial Vehicles – China: 26, US: 625, UK: 10

Heavy/Medium Transport Helicopters and Tilt-Rotor Aircraft – China: 418, US: 3,033, UK: 108

Heavy/Medium Transport Aircraft – China:113, US: 686, UK:42

Tanker and Multi-Role Tanker/Transport Aircraft – China: 18, US: 567, UK: 10

Airborne Early-Warning and Control Aircraft – China: 43, US: 125, UK: 3

Land Power

Armoured Infantry Fighting Vehicles – China: 6,710, US: 3,419, UK: 388

Main Battle TanksChina: 5,650, US: 2,509, UK: 227

Artillery – China: 9,406, US: 6,941, UK: 637

Watch: Boris Johnson stated ths mont that NATO is not seeking a 'new Cold War' with China

Sea Power

Ballistic-Missile Nuclear-Powered Submarines – China: 6, US: 14, UK: 4

Attack/Guided Missile Submarines – China: 52, US: 54, UK: 7

Aircraft Carriers – China: 2, US: 11, UK: 2

Cruisers, Destroyers and Frigates – China: 78, US: 113, UK:19

Principal Amphibious Ships – China: 6, US: 32

Special Operations 

China has special operations brigades in its army, marines and Airborne Corps.

Elite units are also present in three of five theatre commands dividing the military structure.

The United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) oversees global special operations and activities, bringing together a network of elite commands from the US Army, navy, marine corps and air force.

Reconnaissance, hostage rescue and recovery, countering weapons of mass destruction and counterterrorism are all part of the USSOCOM mission.

UK Special Forces includes Army, Navy and RAF units, including the SAS, SBS and Special Reconnaissance groups.

China outnumbers every other military in the world when it comes to active personnel (Picture: PA).

Cyber and Space

The PLA's Strategic Support Force was set up in 2015 and combined space, cyber, electronic and psychological warfare capabilities.

The force exists to gather and manage information but also to war theatre commands with the data.

The US Cyber Command is commanded by the National Security Agency and contains 133 Cyber Mission Teams, maintaining the ability to ability to conduct cyber attacks across all warfighting domains, as part of a 'defend-forward' strategy.

This is similar to the front-foot approach taken by the National Cyber Force in the UK, while the British forces also have dedicated cyber units within the services.

The US Space Force continues to establish itself in the newly-declared warfighting domain, with over 2,000 personnel drawn from around the military.

China and the US both possess Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance equipment, alongside communications and satellite equipment.

The UK has officially formed its Space Command, a Joint Command staffed by personnel from the Royal NavyBritish ArmyRoyal Air Force and Civil Service

The US possesses counter communications systems in space, although the IISS recognises similar capabilities reportedly owned by China.

Cover image: Chinese service personnel in 2019 (Picture: PA).