America and China: Which Country Has the Most Powerful Military Force?

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America and China: Which Country Has the Most Powerful Military Force? Joe Raedle/Getty Images

America is the world's military superpower, spending hundreds of billions of dollars more on its defense than any other nation. But Chinese President Xi Jinping wants his People's Liberation Army to equal America's military might, according to a Congress report released in November 2018. He may very well be on track to achieving this goal.

Although the Chinese army lags behind in some areas, their new developments in hypersonic weapons, cyber abilities and space defense are catching up, if not leapfrogging, U.S. efforts. "By 2035, if not before, China will likely be able to contest U.S. operations throughout the entire Indo-Pacific region," the report claims.

Another recent report from the National Defense Strategy Commission, titled "Providing for the Common Defense," warned that the U.S. would likely see a "decisive military defeat" if it faces off against China.

The report blames protracted wars in the Middle East for eroding U.S. military superiority. It also highlights China's increasing technological developments as a threat, saying it complicates America's traditional tactic of deploying overwhelming military force.

This technological prowess has not come cheap. From 2012 to 2017, China's annual research and development spending rose 70.9 percent to $279 billion.

"Innovative concepts are once again needed because Russia and China are challenging the United States, its allies, and its partners on a far greater scale than has any adversary since the Cold War's end," the report said.

A May 2018 report from the Department of Defense found that in 2017, China massively overhauled its army "to create a more mobile, modular, lethal ground force capable of being the core of joint operations and able to meet Xi Jinping's directive to 'fight and win wars.'"

Along with waging cyber warfare, China's strategy is to avoid dramatic conflict, instead gaining control of disputed areas through incremental steps.

It seems that although many traditional hard power aspects of the American military remain ahead of China, it has no reason to feel complacent. China has a clear military strategy that takes into account areas of U.S. strength, shifting the battleground to areas where its military is easiest to match.

Read more: Israel vs Iran: Which Country Has the Strongest Military Force?

We've examined a number of different aspects of U.S. and Chinese military, from boots on the ground to missile systems to economic readiness, to see how the two nations compare. While we have used a variety of different sources, most number estimates come from Global Firepower.

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America's active personnel
America has 1.28 million active military personnel, less than 0.5 percent of the U.S. population, with an additional 801,200 people in reserve. Military draft for Americans last ended in 1973, when the number of active personnel was 2.2 million people.

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China's active personnel
The Chinese army has 2.18 million active members, with 510,000 in reserve, making it the largest military force in the world.

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America's fit-for-service population
If a war was declared, America has 120 million citizens who are fit for military service. However, a recent report from the Heritage Foundation found that 27 percent of Americans aged 17 to 24 aren't eligible to join the military because of obesity, while another 37 percent ineligible due to other health problems, such as asthma.

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China's fit-for-service population
China has an enormous 619 million people who are fit for military service. The country has a total population of 1.4 billion, over a billion more people than America.

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America's military budget
The U.S. will spend $716 billion on its military in 2019, the highest in the world, making it best-equipped military on the planet. Around 17 percent of America's $4 trillion federal budget is spent the military, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

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China's military budget
China will spend $175 billion on its military in 2018, the second-biggest budget in the world after the U.S. That represents an 8.1 percent increase in its defense budget, on top of a 7 percent increase last year. It's possible the real budget is even higher; according to the China Power Project, the number may be tens of billions of dollars higher.

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America's tanks
America has 5,884 tanks in its arsenal. Among these are the new enhanced M1A2 battle tanks, which have a 120mm main gun, improvements to counter IEDs, improved connectivity and enhanced power generation systems. Modern sensors and fire-control systems make it one of the most advanced in the world. American tanks are also being modified with explosive reactive armor blocks that damage projectiles attempting to penetrate the vehicle.

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China's tanks
China currently has 7,716 tanks to its name, but only about half of its land equipment is serviceable in terms of modern combat, according to the BBC. China's military efforts have largely been in the Pacific Ocean, making land warfare low priority. But China's best tank, the Type 99, can equal Western designs, with 125-millimeter cannons capable of piercing the frontal armor of an American Abrams tank. China's third-generation VT-4 main battle tank has 125mm smoothbore cannon, which can fire anti-tank warheads at a range of over three miles.