When it comes to ground forces, there are few military vehicles more intimidating than a large, well-organized Main Battle Tank (MBT) force. These lumbering behemoths combine life-saving armor with fearsome fire power to overwhelm opposition forces, support infantry advances and assist in holding and securing ground. Such is their importance to a nation’s military that every country included on this list can count its MBT force numbers in their thousands. Having nearly 70 tons of weaponry bearing down on you at over 40mph is likely enough to make anyone think twice about standing up to these very strong and very modern variants of a time honoured concept.
Naturally, accurate figures for main battle tank numbers are difficult to procure. Whereas some nations pride themselves on transparency, other shadowy states would rather not give details of their military might. Conflicting numbers, even from a single source, abound. For example, one figure stated for Israel suggests a combined force of various types of Merkavas and Magachs numbering over 3,200. But the same source later states a figure of “just” 1,680 tanks. Numbers also include tanks that are currently kept in storage, as they are still capable of operation. This specifically applies to the country in first place on this list, which keeps most of its tanks in storage.
For the sake of this compilation of military might, it has been decided to use the higher figures available (although this means Israel still doesn’t claim a place in the top 10). The reason behind this is that estimates tend to be conservative, and it’s unlikely a government is ever going to release truly accurate numbers when it comes to military equipment. Israel might be reported as only having 1,680 main battle tanks, but considering the volatile part of the world in which the country is situated, it is reasonable to believe the 3,200+ figure is more likely.
10. Turkey: 3,763 Main Battle Tanks
Turkey is a military powerhouse. The country uses a lot of German and American-manufactured main battle tanks, such as the M48 Patton and the Leopard 2A4. The Leopard main battle tanks from Germany are often considered one of the best of its type in the world, with the modern 2A7+ version being specifically modified to operate successfully in urban environments. Turkey feels the need to operate such a large tank force due to the huge tank forces wielded by many of its neighbors, including Syria and Iran.
9. Ukraine: 3,784 Main Battle Tanks
Considering the current unrest afflicting this European nation, it’s not surprising to discover Ukraine is equipped with a large main battle tank force. When you are facing hostile action from a country as militarily powerful as Russia, you need to have massive ground forces available. Ironically enough, it seems the majority of Ukraine’s MBTs are T-64s – which hail from the former Soviet Union.
8. Pakistan: 4,000 Main Battle Tanks
Pakistan is one of those countries where figures for the total of MBTs seem to fluctuate wildly. However, the chances are that this Asian nation does have a large MBT force, especially considering the size of the MBT force possessed by Pakistan’s eternal enemy, India. What is surprising is the country where Pakistan appears to source most of its MBTs from: China. The Pakistani Al-Zarrar tank is based on the Chinese Type 59, and the Pakistan army also operates a large fleet of Type 85 tanks.
7. Egypt: 4,145 Main Battle Tanks
Egypt has looked to the USA for MBT supply, purchasing hundreds of units of M60-2000s and the heavy M1 Abrams. Sadly, these tanks have often been deployed on the streets of Cairo and other Egyptian locations during the country’s recent civil unrest. Egypt has also made use of Soviet Union vehicles, even basing their Ramses II tank on an upgraded Soviet T-54 (which was, strangely enough, sent to the USA to be upgraded before Egypt started producing it).
6. Syria: 4,750 Main Battle Tanks
It is no surprise that Syria operates a large MBT force. The country is in a region renowned for hostile activity, and the current violent situation means that Syria’s MBTs are frequently used on Syrians themselves. Syria has Russia to thank for most of its MBT supplies, including a large number of T-55 tanks. The T-54/55 tank is believed to be the highest-produced tank of all time, with the Soviet Union churning out up to 100,000 vehicles before production ceased in 1981 (in the USSR, they were produced until 1983 in the former state of Czechoslovakia).
5. North Korea: 5,500 Main Battle Tanks
Obviously any figure connected to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has to be taken with a pinch of salt. North Korean officials might well be suspected of inflating figures to seem imposing, or possibly downplaying figures so as to be able to take South Korea (and the US) by surprise in the case of an invasion. China and the former USSR have contributed to North Korea’s MBT force, whilst the country itself has augmented numbers with the Chonma-ho MBT (based on the T-62) and the P’okpoong-ho MBT, built by the North Korean Second Machine Industry Bureau.
4. India: 5,978 Main Battle Tanks
Every military historian and Princess Bride fan knows that you should “never get involved in a land war in Asia.” However, if a country absolutely has to be involved in limited conflict in this huge continent, then being in possession of a giant MBT force is an absolute must. Hence, four out of the top five MBT forces in the world belong to Asian countries. India has a large amount of T-72 MBTs to call upon, wielding 125 mm main guns that have been used to devastating effect in conflicts all around the world.
3. China: 9,000 Main Battle Tanks
Depending on which source you believe, China has either the third or second largest MBT force in the world, although the upper-estimate numbers used for this list put the populous Asian nation in just third position. The country is particularly fond of the Type 59 and Type 96 MBTs, but it also fields a large force of Type 99 MBTs, which are incredibly advanced vehicles. Type 99s have armor that incorporates laser defense systems and can zip around at speeds of 50 mph firing their 125 mm guns.
2. USA: 9,125 Main Battle Tanks
As the USA is neighbored by Canada and Mexico, the North American nation does not have to concern itself much with the threat of possible ground force invasion. Indeed, maintaining a vast MBT force is not particularly practical for a country with such a huge air force and navy. However, the US can still operate thousands of tanks worldwide, incorporating the ubiquitous M1 Abrams and its variants. The M1A3 Abrams is expected to be the future of American MBTs, possibly rivaling the technology of the current most advanced MBT, the South Korean K2 Black Panther.
1. Russia: 22,710 Main Battle Tanks
Anyone who knows anything about tanks would expect Russia to top this list. It makes sense for the world’s largest country to build such a massive force when it has over 12,000 miles of borders to protect (or control). Although the majority of Russia’s MBT force is currently mothballed, there are still huge numbers of T-54s, T-64s, T-72s and advanced T-90s in service. Russia’s future MBT is being named the Armata Universal Combat Platform, and it’s set to have a remote-controlled gun turret. It could, potentially, lead the way for “drone” main battle tanks being deployed onto the field of battle.