Our annual World Air Forces directory – published in association with Embraer – details the military aircraft fleets of 161 nations, and analyses the main events of the last 12 months. To download the full report, which includes detailed fleet listings totalling more than 53,000 aircraft, scroll to the bottom of the page.
Two major conflicts dominated the headlines in 2023, requiring the involvement of air arms in Europe and the Middle East. Ukraine’s defence against invading Russian forces continued for a second year, while the Israeli military responded to unprecedented attacks made on its territory by Hamas terrorists.
All eyes were on Ukraine for the first nine months of the year, with international momentum gathering in support of president Volodymyr Zelensky’s “fighter coalition” campaign.
While Kyiv had already secured pledges to help re-stock its depleted air force with RAC MiG-29s and Sukhoi Su-25s donated by Poland and Slovakia, its leader had called on NATO nations to supply it with more advanced Western types, and specifically the Lockheed Martin F-16.
After many months of deliberation by supportive partners and Washington DC – whose approval would be vital in enabling any transfer of US-built jets – Zelensky’s call was answered by Denmark and the Netherlands. Together, the nations have promised to supply a combined 61 surplus F-16A/Bs, available as they field replacement Lockheed F-35s.
European nations and the USA are providing personnel training in advance of the first F-16s being transferred in 2024.
Belgium also indicated in October that it will transfer an undisclosed number of its in-service F-16s to Ukraine, while there have been discussions between Kyiv and Stockholm over a potential future transfer of some Saab Gripens from Swedish stocks.
Other notable events from the European conflict in 2023 included the first use of MBDA SCALP EG/Storm Shadow cruise missiles – gifted by France and the UK – released from Ukrainian Su-24 ground-attack aircraft after a rapid integration effort.
Difficulties with verifying combat losses mean that the Cirium fleets data which powers FlightGlobal’s 2024 World Air Forces directory remains largely static from last year’s report for both parties involved. Russia’s total of 4,255 active military aircraft – which ranks it second globally, behind the USA – in fact marks a net rise of 73, while Ukraine’s inventory has climbed by nine, to 321.
Israel’s air force played a major part in conducting large-scale strikes against Hamas infrastructure and personnel in the Gaza Strip after the 7 October attacks. Israel has more than 600 in-service assets, including a combined 280 F-16, F-35 and Boeing F-15 combat aircraft.
Separately, instability in Sudan involving fighting between rival factions in late April prompted multiple nations to deploy transport aircraft to evacuate civilians and embassy staff. The unrest also depleted Khartoum’s military aircraft fleet, which now stands at 170: down 21 from 12 months ago.
China, meanwhile, continued a policy of forcefully asserting its territorial claims near disputed islands in the South China Sea, with Australia, Canada and the USA all alleging “unsafe” operations by its fighters near their aircraft in the region. Beijing’s military also has maintained heightened tensions with the breakaway province of Taiwan, with its combat aircraft and unmanned air vehicles routinely encroaching on Taipei’s airspace.
In another development of note, Finland in 2023 completed the accession process to join NATO, and Sweden is poised to follow suit. Once confirmed, Stockholm will become the alliance’s 32nd member.
Our new directory details some 53,401 aircraft in active use with the armed forces of 161 nations around the globe: a net increase of 136 from 12 months earlier. Our review covers one country fewer than last time, after Gambia retired its lone Su-25 combat aircraft.
Four regions underwent percentage-scale fleet size increases during our review period, with the Middle East’s 2% climb (to 4,573: up 88) the largest. Africa (4,177, up 59), Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) (5,114, up 61), and the Asia-Pacific (14,743, up 184) each boosted their collective inventories by 1%.
Net decreases affected Europe (-1%, to 8,065), North America (-1%/13,584), and Latin America (-3%/3,145).
Additions in the Middle East included Bahrain taking its first single-seat F-16 Block 70 fighter – initially to support pilot instruction in the USA – and three Bell 505 training helicopters. Iran’s air force also boosted its training fleet, fielding six MiG-29UBs and two Yakovlev Yak-130s. Qatar, meanwhile, bolstered its combat strength, completing 36-strong fleets of F-15s and Dassault Aviation Rafales.
In Africa, Benin added two Airbus Helicopters H125M transports, transferred from the French army, and Chad introduced a trio of Turkish Aerospace Hurkus C turboprop-powered trainers. Niger boosted its fleet of ex-US Air Force (USAF) Lockheed C-130H tactical transports to three, and Tunisia took its last of eight Beechcraft T-6C basic trainers.
South African airframer Paramount confirmed Mozambique as the first recipient for its Mwari reconnaissance and light-attack aircraft, and named the Democratic Republic of the Congo as its second buyer for the type. In September, the company said three examples were in use and another six on order.
Orders included an Egyptian deal for 12 Boeing CH-47F Chinook transport helicopters, and Nigeria will take a dozen MD Helicopters Cayuse Warrior Plus rotorcraft, in a commitment that could subsequently rise to 36. But Senegal axed its order for four Aero Vodochody L-39NGs.
Eritrea retired its six Aermacchi-built MB-339 trainers, and put its seven MiG-29s in storage. Guinea ended operations with the Mikoyan MiG-21, retiring three, and Togo axed its six MB-326 trainers.
Notable changes to Russia’s inventory included its Su-25 fleet contracting by 21, to 176, and an increase in its stealthy Su-57 fleet, with 14 now recorded as in use.
CIS member Azerbaijan ordered Leonardo’s C-27J tactical transport, with its commitment believed to be for a single example. It also ended operations with the MiG-21.
In the Asia-Pacific region, Australia received the first three of 40 Sikorsky UH-60M Black Hawks ordered to replace its 46 NH Industries NH90s – locally named the MRH90 Taipan. The latter type was permanently removed from operational use in July, after four personnel died in a crash. Canberra also has ordered 20 new C-130Js.
Bangladesh’s air force completed its 24-strong fleet of Grob Aircraft G120TP trainers.
The Indian navy is to acquire 26 Rafale M fighters, and in late October retired its last four Ilyushin Il-38 maritime patrol aircraft. Indonesia, meanwhile, welcomed three of its five ordered C-130Js, and made advances in the fighter sector. It has now ordered 24 Rafales, against a 42-unit commitment, and signed a memorandum of understanding with Boeing for up to 24 F-15IDNs.
Japan ordered its fifth and sixth Boeing KC-46A Pegasus tankers, and signed a follow-on deal with Leonardo Helicopters for an undisclosed number of additional MCH101 mine countermeasures aircraft.
Malaysia’s army fielded six MD Helicopters MD530s, while retiring its last three Sikorsky S-61s. Its air force ordered 18 of a potential 36 Korea Aerospace Industries FA-50 lead-in fighter trainer/light combat aircraft, and will buy two ATR 72MP maritime patrol aircraft from Leonardo. Kuala Lumpur also retired its seven MB-339 trainers.
Myanmar introduced six Chinese-built Guizhou FTC-2000 combat aircraft.
Other retirements in the region included New Zealand’s Lockheed P-3K Orion maritime patrol aircraft, which left use after almost six decades of service.
European developments included Austria fielding its first Leonardo-supplied AW169M training helicopters. It will take a dozen in this role, and 24 armed utility examples. The nation also plans to buy four Embraer C-390 transports, to replace C-130Ks, and retired its Aerospatiale SA316 light helicopters.
The Czech Republic received its first Bell AH-1Z attack helicopters, and removed 11 Mil Mi-24/35s from use, gifting them to Ukraine. It launched negotiations for two C-390s, and approved a planned $5 billion acquisition of 24 F-35As, to be delivered from early next decade.
Germany in December 2022 also approved plans to purchase 35 F-35As, to replace some of its Panavia Tornados, and Romania in 2023 outlined its ambition to acquire up to 48 of the fifth-generation type.
Elsewhere, the first four F-35As to arrive in Denmark were received in mid-September, Greece welcomed its lead pair of Leonardo M-346 advanced jet trainers, and Hungary took its first two of 16 H225Ms.
Other arrivals included two Airbus Defence & Space C295 maritime surveillance aircraft for the Irish Air Corps, and the Italian army’s last of 60 NH90s.
Latvia now has three of its four UH-60Ms, and Poland took its first anti-submarine warfare-roled AW101, from an initial four-unit buy. It also ordered two Saab 340 airborne early warning and control aircraft from Sweden, and secured approval for a $12 billion purchase of 96 Boeing AH-64E Apache attack helicopters.
The Spanish air force received its first of 11 H135 training helicopters, while Madrid ordered a further 16 Pilatus PC-21s, to add to 24 examples already in use.
Multiple retirements were recorded in Europe, among them the French navy’s 22 SA316s; Georgia’s 10 Su-25s and four L-29 trainers; Norway’s trio of P-3C/Ns; and Spain’s P-3Ms and S-61s. In the UK, the Royal Air Force ended operations with its last C-130Js, and the Army Air Corps retired its remaining Aerospatiale SA341 Gazelle light helicopters.
North American updates included Canada confirming a programme to field nine Airbus Defence & Space A330 multi-role tanker transports: four new-build examples and five which will be converted from airliners. Ottawa also announced plans to acquire 16 Boeing P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft.
The USAF received its first additional Bombardier Global Express-based E-11 BACN communications relay platform. In April, a first of the service’s Boeing E-3 airborne warning and control system aircraft was retired from use – it has now trimmed its fleet to 21, down 10 from last year’s report.
The USAF also continued to adjust its inflight refuelling force to the KC-46A, with 72 of the 767-based model now in use. This process included halving its already reduced McDonnell Douglas KC-10 inventory to 20, and retiring its aged MC-130Hs.
Also leaving use were the USAF’s 11 Swearingen Merlin IV/Metro-based RC-26B reconnaissance aircraft.
In Latin America, Belize received a Cessna 208B Grand Caravan EX configured for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance duties. Brazil began operations with the Saab Gripen, with six of its 36 on-order E/Fs now introduced, and Guatemala took delivery of two Subaru Bell 412EPX transport helicopters.
Chile retired its 19 CASA-built C-101 jet trainers. The Colombian air force’s 14 aged Cessna A-37 Dragonfly combat aircraft were retired; it also ended operations with its 17 Cessna T-37 trainers, and lone Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI)-built Arava transport. Ecuador withdrew its nine IAI Cheetahs, leaving the nation with no combat aircraft capability.
In terms of regional balance, Asia-Pacific operators have the largest combined fleet, at 14,743 aircraft. That betters North America’s 13,584 – of which the USA has a 97% share – by 1,159 platforms; up from 883 last time.
The USA owns 25% of all operational military aircraft, and also heads all six of our equipment listing categories. Its numerical advantage ranges from having 19% of all combat aircraft to 27% of combat helicopters and 75% of tankers. Its total of 13,209 is more than the combined assets held by second- to sixth-ranked Russia, China, India, South Korea and Japan.
Now available to download as a 36-page report, our annual fleet review – produced in association with Embraer – excludes those aircraft recorded by Cirium as not being in day-to-day use, such as assets which are in storage, or involved in or awaiting upgrade.
Also excluded are more than 700 aircraft permanently assigned to performing VIP, government or private duties, and almost 130 flown by paramilitary/reserve organisations in Belarus and Russia.
Other omissions include 365 platforms employed as dedicated experimental or research and development assets, and over 150 assigned to tasks such as calibration, satellite tracking, skydiving, surveying, target towing, and weather reconnaissance.
Our directory – the initial data for which was drawn on 19 October – also includes information about firm orders for some 3,903 aircraft, and letters of intent or options for up to another 7,701 (denoted by an asterisk next to a figure in the Ordered column). The latter total includes a potential 2,668 F-35s which have yet to come under contract.
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