(Picture: Russian MOD/UK MOD).
Russia

Russia vs Britain: How do their militaries stack up?

Russia has been ranked as the second-most-powerful military power – so how does its military strength compare to Britain's?

(Picture: Russian MOD/UK MOD).

Russia is a formidable military power, with large numbers of ground troops and a range of high-tech weaponry.

According to Global Firepower, it is the second-strongest country globally, and the CIA World Factbook and IISS's Military Balance 2022 both estimate that it spends about 4% of its GDP on the military.

Here's how the military capabilities of Russia stack up in comparison to the UK, using data taken prior to the invasion in February 2022 and the UK's subsequent hardware donations.

Manpower

Global Firepower ranks Russia as having the second-most-powerful military force in the world, trailing only the US, and this is with a population base that is half as large – 142 million, compared to approximately 335 million for the United States.

Of this total, Russia is listed as having just under 70 million people available for military service, with just under 47 million who are deemed fit for service. It has 850,000 active personnel and 250,000 in reserve, for a total of 1,350,000, according to Global Firepower, while the IISS's Military Balance estimates Russia's active personnel strength to be 900,000.

The CIA World Factbook also gives figures of 200,000 to 250,000 Federal National Guard (i.e .reservists) and 850,000 full-time military personnel, which it breaks down into 375,000 ground troops, of which 40,000 are airborne; 150,000 in the Russian Navy; 160,000 Aerospace Forces; 160,000 Strategic Rocket Forces and approximately 90,000 other uniformed forces, including 20,000 special operations forces.

Unlike the UK, Russia's military is made up of both volunteers and conscripts, with around 1.3 million reaching military age annually. Though in 2019, Russia did signal its intention to eventually end conscription and move towards a smaller, more professional, all-volunteer force.

The CIA World Factbook also says that while conscription has gone on, males have been registered for service at 17 and have had a service obligation of one year – giving the country a rolling stock of reservists to boost its numbers annually. Although now there is the option to do a two-year contract, as opposed to a single year of conscription service.

By contrast, the MOD's mid-2021 figure for all personnel serving in the UK Armed Forces is 198,000, approximately 137,000 of whom are full-time, trained personnel.

Global Firepower ranks the UK eighth in its list of military powers.

Watch: Why the weather could affect a Russian invasion of Ukraine (Video thumbnail image: Erik Romanenko/TASS/ITAR-TASS News Agency/Alamy).

Land Power

Here too, the numbers are stacked heavily in Russia's favour – Global Firepower lists the following figures:

Britain: tanks: 227; AFVs or armoured vehicles: 5,015; self-propelled guns: 89; towed artillery: 126; rocket projectors: 44.

Russia: tanks: 12,420; armoured vehicles: 30,122; self-propelled artillery: 6,574; towed artillery: 7,571; rocket projectors: 3,391. 

Naval Power

The UK has a total fleet of 76 naval vessels, or 87 if one counts the 11 vessels in the RFA (Royal Fleet Auxiliary).

These vessels break down as follows: Aircraft Carriers: 2; Destroyers: 6;  LPD (Landing Platform Docks): 2; Frigates: 12; Survey Ships: 4; Mine Countermeasure vessels: 11; Mine Threat Exploitation vessels: 2; Offshore Protection Vessels: 8; Coastal Forces Squadron: 14; Ballistic Missile Submarines: 4; other submarines: 6; Faslane Patrol Boats: 2; Gibraltar Patrol Boats: 2; RFA vessels: 11; and 1 Ice Patrol Ship.

Russia, meanwhile, has only 1 aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov. However, it has 70 submarines, as well as 15 destroyers, 11 frigates, 86 corvettes, 59 patrol vessels and 49 vessels for submarine warfare. In total it has 605 vessels.

The Great Patriotic War
Russian troops on parade for the 67th anniversary of the end of the 'Great Patriotic War' in 2012, or, from a western perspective, the end of World War 2 (image: kremlin.ru)

Air Power

The MOD listed 555 fixed-wing aircraft, 285 drones and 301 helicopters as being in it possession as of 2021, with these being spread around the RAF, the Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm and the Army Air Corps

These include 137 Typhoon and 21 F-35B Lightning fighter aircraft.

Russia, meanwhile, has 4,173 aircraft in total, according to Global Firepower.

These breakdown as 772 fighter/interceptor aircraft; 739 dedicated attack aircraft; 445 transport aircraft; 20 tankers, 132 for special missions, 1,543 helicopters, including 544 attack helicopters; and 522 training aircraft. 

Budgets

Despite a drop in oil prices due to reduced demand during the COVID pandemic, and a subsequent reduction of 3.1% in Russian GDP, the Military Balance points out that Russia's military budget increased in 2020. The core budget rose from 2.7% to 3%, while the more inclusive figure, which includes things like military housing, increased from 3.9 to 4.2% of GDP.

While 2021 saw an increase in GDP growth in Russia, something that ought to have increased military spending, in real terms there was a decrease due to an inflation rate of 5.9%. The percentage figure for military spending was 3.8%, which amounted to $41bn USD, a drop from the equivalent of $41.7bn in 2020.

The UK spent the equivalent of $68bn USD on its defence in 2021, or £50.6bn.

The US spends the most. Its 2021 budget was more than $750bn, more than 10 times that of the UK, while its population is five times as large as the UK's – 335 million as compared to 65 million for the UK.

There are almost certainly a number of factors that contribute to Russia's relatively low budget and high military power – since it now spends less in absolute terms than the UK, but is more militarily powerful – although exchange rates may be part of the story.

It must also be borne in mind that Britain would only ever fight Russia as part of the NATO alliance, and thus, its military strength must be considered in that context.