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EXPLAINED: How strong is Spain's military?

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EXPLAINED: How strong is Spain's military?
Members of Spain's Indigenous Regular Forces. Photo: OSCAR DEL POZO/AFP

Spain may be known for sun, sand and sangria, but many people don't realise that it's also a pretty serious military power.


Military might isn't exactly the first thing many people think of when they think of sun soaked Spain. Age old stereotypes like paella, bullfighting, and flamenco dancing are likely to come to mind, but not brute strength.


Yet Spain is a NATO member, and has taken a leading role in arming the Ukrainians as war with Russia rumbles on. With war in Europe for the first time in decades, many Spaniards now might be wondering what their country's military capabilities are for the first time in their lives.

But how strong is Spain's military exactly? How big is it, and how does it stack up against other nations?

Overall rankings

According to rankings from Global Firepower, a website that ranks military power along different criteria including defence budget, manpower, land, naval and air capabilities, Spain ranks 19th in the world of the 142 nations included in the standings.

Not bad at all - in terms of comparisons, Spain's overall military power is comparable to that of Australia, Israel, and Saudi Arabia.


According to Global Firepower's data, Spain has 215,000 total military personnel. Of that figure, 120,000 are active soldiers, which is around 0.3 percent of Spain's total population and ranks 31st in the world.

Spain also maintains around 15,000 reserve soldiers, 36th best in the world, and a significant number of paramilitary forces - around 80,000, 23rd best in the world.

READ ALSO: Why Spain is still in the wrong time zone because of Hitler


The Spanish military has 503 total aircraft, which is ranked 23rd in the world. Of that 503, 140 are fighter craft (18th in the world), 119 are helicopters (31st in the world) and 15 are considered 'special mission' aircraft (19th in the world).


The Spanish military boasts 139 pieces of naval equipment in total, which ranks 22nd best in the world. Interestingly, Spain has no destroyer (the smaller, more mobile ships that travel and defend convoys) but does have an aircraft carrier, something only seven other countries in the world have: Russia, India, France, China, Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Spain has just 2 naval submarines, compared to Italy (8), Pakistan (9), North Korea (35), the United States (68), Russia (70) and China (79).



Spain has 327 tanks (44th in the world) and a significant number of armoured vehicles - 5033, in fact, which ranks 22nd in the world.


If consider Spain's defence budget spending (21st overall) compared to its overall global rank (19th) then the Spanish military is relatively good value for money.

According to the Global Firepower figures, Spain spends almost $12 billion a year on its military ($11,750,000,000 to be exact) a much lower annual spend than those countries with similar military might such as Israel ($17,800,000,000 a year) and Australia ($44,618,000,000).

Unsurprisingly, these total spend rankings are dominated by the usual suspects. The United States spends a staggering $770 billion on defence, more than three times China in second place, with $230 billion, while 3rd place Russia spends around $154 billion a year.

Most of Spain's Defense budget covers personnel expenses (57.2 percent), while 16 percent is spent on operations and maintenance, and 0.8 percent on military infrastructure.

All NATO members are set a target of 20 percent spending on equipment, a threshold Spain easily surpasses - allocating 26.2 percent of its defence budget towards it.

Spanish power?

In this sense, though Spain can't realistically be considered one of the world's top military superpowers it is unquestionably a strong military country that spends its budget well - good value for money, in other words.

Though Spain will likely never be able to compete with the world's military superpowers, its role and strategic partnerships on the global stage mean that it punches above its weight and is surrounded by bigger, stronger allies. It is a NATO member, permanent guest of the G20, and a close military ally of the world's biggest military behemoth - the United States - even hosting crucial American military bases in Spain.

The Spanish military packs a punch, and has the allies to back it up.

READ ALSO: Where are the US’s military bases in Spain and why are they there?


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mick.dreamscene 2022/12/07 12:10
I do recall that this year, Spain was due to send a number of tanks to the Ukrainians but the order was cancelled as the vehicles were in such a bad state of maintenance, they were too dangerous to operate! Hope the rest of their equipment is in a better state.

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