Norwegian Army Winter Exercise

Norway vs Russia: How Do Their Militaries Compare?

Norwegian Army Winter Exercise

The Norwegian Army's non-commissioned officer school on a winter exercise (Picture: Ministry of Defence of Norway).

Hundreds of Royal Marines and their support arms are deploying to Norway as Britain strengthens its focus on the Arctic.

It will boost Norwegian forces, which are made up of around 24,000 full-time personnel.

The Defence Secretary has accused Russia of staking a claim in the region and militarising its frozen expanses, but how strong is the Norwegian military, and how does it compare to Russia's strength?


Norway is a founding member of the NATO, which was created in 1949 to counter military threats from the Soviet Union.

Its population of 5.3 million has a 196-kilometre (122-mile) border with Russia (population: more than 142 million) and there are concerns that tensions between NATO and Russia could spill over into the Scandinavian country.

It is unlikely that, as a member of NATO, Norway would be left to face Russia alone, but although the Norwegian military is small (23,950 active personnel) they are also ranked among the most modern forces in the world.

According to figures from the International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS), Norway’s military looks like this:

  • Norwegian Army: 9,350 personnel. Armoured vehicles include 36 Leopard 2A4O main battle tanks and 89 CV9030 Fighting Vehicles as part of the Army's mechanised infantry.
  • Norwegian Navy: 4,300 personnel. Five Fridtjof Nansen-class frigates and six Ula-class submarines.
  • Norwegian Air Force: 3,600 personnel. Seventy-three aircraft including 57 F-16 Fighting Falcons. Norwegian F-16s have participated under operations in Afghanistan, and two jets are constantly on 15-minute standby for NATO.

For the past 50 years, British personnel have gone through a cold weather survival course in the Arctic Circle

In 2015 Norway received the first of a planned fleet of 52 F-35 stealth fighters which are intended to replace the F-16s. Ten F-35s are now in service.

Since Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, Norway has been lobbying its partners in NATO to focus on collective defence of its territory.

Last year, the country was at the centre of Trident Juncture, NATO’s biggest military exercise in the decades, involving 31 nations.


After years of decline, Russia has been striving to rebuild its military power.

The T-14 Armata main battle tank and the PAK-FA next-generation fighter are among high-profile projects.

Analysts say Russia's plan is to field more professional forces held at high readiness.

Russian carrier Admiral Kuznetsov
Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov (Picture: MOD).

According to figures from the IISS, Russia’s current military strength stands at:

  • Army: 280,000 personnel
  • Navy: 150,000 personnel
  • Air Force: 165,000 personnel.

In addition to its conventional forces Russia can also call on additional personnel, including:

  • Paramilitary: 554,000
  • Strategic Rocket Force Troops: 50,000
  • Airborne Troops: 45,000
  • Special Operations Force: 1000

In recent years Russia has also been staging a series of large scale military drills.

Vostock 2018 was the largest exercise since 1981 and featured around 300,000 troops, 1,000 aircraft, 36,000 combat vehicles and 80 ships, according to Russia's Defence Ministry.

Join Our Newsletter


How is Estonia dealing with heightened Russian threat to its security?

RAF airman John Nichol's life-saving decision to eject from burning Tornado jet

Tough three-day course BEFORE starting Royal Marine Commando training