U.S. Maintains the World’s Largest Air Force, F-16 Most Popular Aircraft: According to the “World Air Forces 2022” directory, which is published by FlightGlobal, the online news and information website which covers the aviation and aerospace industries, the United States military maintains an active fleet of 13,232 aircraft – accounting for 25 percent of the world’s military aircraft. Russia is second with 4,172 military aircraft, or 8 percent of the top number, and China is third with 6 percent, or 3,285 military planes and helicopters currently in service. India, with 2,182 aircraft (4 percent) while South Korea has 1,581 aircraft or 3 percent, rounded out the top five nations with the most military aircraft.
Further down the list were Japan (1,449, or 3 percent), Pakistan (1,387, or 2 percent), Egypt (1,062, or 2 percent), Turkey 1,057, or 2 percent) and France (1,055, or 2 percent). The remaining nations have a total of 22,781 aircraft in service, accounting for the remaining 43 percent. As of December 2021, a total of 53,271 military planes and helicopters are in service worldwide.
World’s Largest Air Force: The U.S. Remains the Powerhouse
The United States military not only has more aircraft than the next five nations combined, but it also has the most aircraft in each respective category that FlightGlobal compiled.
“The US military heads all six of our Top 10 equipment categories by nation, with its comparative advantage including owning 36% of all special mission aircraft and 76% of the world’s in-service tankers,” the report noted.
The most “popular” combat aircraft in the world has remained the F-16 Fighting Falcon. The active global fleet of the fourth-generation, single-engine multirole fighter aircraft, which was originally developed by General Dynamics for the United States Air Force and is now produced by Lockheed Martin, is 2,267 – accounting for 15 percent of the market. More than 4,600 of the Fighting Falcons have been produced since production was approved in 1976. While the F-16 is no longer being purchased by the U.S. Air Force, improved versions are still being built for export customers.
The current F-16 Block 70/72, which is the newest and most advanced variant of the fourth-generation combat aircraft, was developed to leverage structural and capability upgrades to ensure the international Fighting Falcon fleet can remain operation to 2060 and beyond.
According to the World Air Forces 2022 directory, the U.S.-built F-15 Eagle/Strike Eagle is the third most active aircraft, with 956 in service, accounting for 7 percent of the world’s total combat aircraft; while the F-18 Hornet/Super Hornet was fourth, with 884 (6 percent) in service worldwide.
Russia is Second Best
In addition to having the second-highest number of total combat aircraft in service, two Russian-built aircraft rounded out the top five. There are currently 1,057 Sukhoi Su-27/30 fighters in service, making it the second most popular military aircraft in the world today with a 7 percent global market share.
The Russian Mikoyan MiG-29 was the fifth most widely employed combat aircraft – and 817 (6 percent of the market) are now in service. In addition, there are now 470 Su-25s in service (3 percent) and 389 Su-24s operational globally (3 percent).
Other “popular” aircraft in the top 10 included the Eurofighter, with 514 in service (3 percent); the Chinese Ju-7, with 418 operational (3 percent); and the aging Northrop F-5 with 403 (3 percent) still flying.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.