Taiwan and China: How do their militaries stack up?

Taiwan is seen as a breakaway rebel by China, the world's third largest force.

Not for the first time, Taiwan is under significant, rising threat from neighbouring China and has observed exercises from the Chinese military close by.

In the David and Goliath situation, China is the giant casting a shadow over Taiwan – Taiwan has 974 miles of coastline to defend, compared to China's 9010 miles.

Should Taiwan fear China's annual exercises in the sea surrounding it?

Professor Alessio Patalano, a War and Strategy Expert at King's College London, told Forces News: "What we're seeing now, it's a particularly large scale and a sort of expanded version of these drills, that, in their execution, are being mobilised to leave a specific political microsignalling to the Taiwanese, to the Japanese, the the United States and anybody else who's watching."

Taiwan's principal defence ally is the US, which in 2019 approved the transfer of new F-16C/D Block 70 combat aircraft to the country.

Notifications have been issued in the US regarding the possible sale of MQ-9B UAVs, HIMARS launchers and a variety of long-range precision-strike missiles to Taiwan.

The data used here is from the IISS military balance 2022 document. We will show how China compares (in bold).


Defence Spending (2021): 3.3% of total Asia expenditure China 42.5%

Active Personnel: 169,000 (Army 94,000, Navy 40,000, Air Force 35,000) China: 2,035,000 (Ground Forces 965,000 Navy 260,000 Air Force 395,000)

Reserve Personnel: 1,657,000 (Army 1,500,000, Navy 67,000, Air Force 90,000) China: 510,000

Gendarmerie & Paramilitary 11,800 (China 500,000)

Watch: China performs missile firing drills into waters around Taiwan.



Main Battle Tanks: 650 China: 5,400

Light Tanks: Around 100 China: 750

Infantry Fighting Vehicles: 257 China: 7,200

Armoured Personnel Carriers: 1,318 China: 4,350

Artillery: 2,093 (1,060+ Towed) + 54 Coastal Defence China: 9,834+

Attack Helicopters: 96 China: 300+

Multi-Role Helicopters: 38 China: 208

Transport Helicopters: 38 China: 398

Surface to air missiles: 76+ China: 614+


Hunter-Killer Submarines: 4 China: 46

Destroyers: 4 China: 36

Frigates: 22 China: 45

Patrol and Coastal Combatants: 44 China: Around 196

Mine Warfare: 7 China: 57

Landing Ships: 6 China: 49

Landing Craft: 44 China: 60

Logistics and Support: 9 China: 157

Naval Aviation

Anti-Submarine Helicopters: 20 China: 32

Multi-Role Helicopters: 10 China: 18

Watch: China shows further signs of ambition to be major maritime power.


Main Battle Tanks: 100 China: N/A

Amphibious Assault Vehicles: 202 China: Around 240

Anti-Tank/Infrastructure and Towed Artillery Capability RCL 106mm China: MANPATS HJ-73; HJ-8 RCL 120mm Type-98

Air Force

Fighter/Ground Attack aircraft: 474 combat capable China: 1,489+

Bombers: N/A China: 45

Anti-Submarine Warfare aircraft (ASM): 12 China: N/A

Electronic Warfare aircraft (EW): 1 China: 21

Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition, and Reconnaissance (ISTAR): 7 China: 48

Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW & C): 6 China: 19

Transport: 33 China: 247+

Transport Helicopters: 17 China: 31+

Air Defence and Missile Command

Surface-to-Surface missile launchers: Around 12 China: N/A

Surface-to-Air missile launchers: 202+ China: 832+

Gendarmerie & Paramilitary

Personnel 11,800 (Around 175,000 in China's Strategic Support Force)

Patrol and Coastal Combatants: 168 China: N/A