Saudi Arabia Vs Iran: Which Country Has the Strongest Military Force?

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Saudi Arabia Vs Iran: Which Country Has the Strongest Military Force? BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images

Although in terms of geography Iran and Saudi Arabia are separated only by the Persian Gulf, they are political worlds apart. Sunni-majority Saudi Arabia is ruled by a king with close U.S. ties, while the Shia-majority Iran is an Islamic republic that views the West—and Saudi Arabia—with suspicion.

Recent unrest in the Middle East has further deteriorated relations. Iran backed the Syrian government in the Syrian Civil War, putting itself directly at loggerheads with the U.S.-aligned Saudi Arabia.

Now the proxy conflict has moved to Yemen, where a civil war has raged since 2015. Saudi Arabia says that the Houthi rebels, who want to wrest control of the country, are backed and trained by Iran. Saudi armed forces are heavily involved in the conflict, conducting a number of deadly airstrikes targeting Houthis, which have been condemned by Iran and human rights groups alike for killing civilians.

UN-facilitated peace talks are currently underway in Sweden in an attempt to end the war, which has put 8.4 million Yemenis at risk of starvation, according to the BBC. Iran and Saudi say they support the peace talks, neither will be represented in Sweden.

Peace in Yemen would not signal peace between Iran and Saudi Arabia; tragically, the proxy war is likely a sideshow in their ongoing conflict. The two countries have built impressive armed forces, each with different strengths and weaknesses.

Iran has numbers on its side, with a large base made up of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Artesh regular military. However, sanctions have halted the army's technological advancement, and much of their equipment is now aging.

Saudi Arabia's military budget dwarfs Iran's, allowing them to import high-quality weapons from Western nations, although their failure to beat the Houthis in Yemen suggests that it may not be money well spent. As Yemen airstrikes show, their air force may be confident and powerful, but it also seems to often be misdirected and unsupported by ground troops.

Using numbers from the website Global Firepower, we've compared the two nation's armed forces side by side. From fighter jets to cyber warfare capabilities, these are the strengths and weaknesses of the Iranian and Saudi armies.

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ABDULLAH AL-QADRY/AFP/Getty Images

Saudi Arabia’s active personnel
Saudi Arabia has around 231,000 active personnel, less than half of Iran’s number. However, Saudi fighting in the Yemen civil war means its forces are experienced fighters, although they failed to defeat the Houthi opponents. Saudi Arabia has 25,000 soldiers in reserve.

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Iran’s active personnel
Iran, which has a population of around 82 million people, has 534,000 active military personnel and 400,000 in reserve. It is the largest force in the Middle East. All men over 18 must join the military or be conscripted for up to two years.

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ABDULLAH AL-QADRY/AFP/Getty Images

Saudi Arabia’s fit-for-service population
Out of a population of 28.6 million, Saudi has 14 million people who are fit for military service. In February 2018, Saudi allowed women aged between 25 and 35 to apply for military service for the first time, although not for combat roles.

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Iran’s fit-for-service population
With its far larger population, Iran has 39.6 million citizens who are fit for service. Iran’s population is young, but current fertility levels are at Western levels.

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Saudi Arabia’s defense budget
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Saudi Arabia became “the third-largest spender in 2017 following a 9.2 percent increase in military expenditure to $69.4 billion.” Their budget is more than the next five biggest spenders in the region—Iraq, Israel, Iran, Algeria and Oman—combined, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS). Aside from Israel, the Saudi Army is the best-equipped in the region.

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Iran’s defense budget
Iran spent $14.5 billion in 2017, a 37 percent increase from 2014’s levels.

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Saudi Arabia’s tanks
The Saudi military has 1,142 tanks on its roster. Although they have such high military spending, Saudi Arabia doesn't have a native arms industry. They are the second-biggest global arms importers after India, according to SIPRI. The U.S. is the biggest supplier to weapons to the nation, and in 2016, the U.S. struck a deal for a $1.2 billion sale of 153 Abrams tanks to Saudi Arabia. However these tanks have been crushed by Houthi fighters in Yemen, sometimes with Iranian-made rockets.

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BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images

Iran’s tanks
Iran has 1,650 tanks in its army. Its main battle tank is the Karrar, or Striker. The home-produced tanks have an electro-optical fire control system, laser rangefinder, ballistic computer and can fire at stable and mobile targets. Its design is based on the Soviet T-72 tank, pictured here in 2006.