Military might: How Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un's armed forces compare

Andy Wells
Freelance Writer
The military might of North Korea and the United states are vastly different (Rex)

With tensions escalating between North Korea and the United States, a war between the two countries is looking more likely by the day.

Donald Trump responded to threats against the US from North Korea, warning the reclusive state would be met with “fire and fury like the world has never seen”.

North Korea fired back at the warning, saying America would “pay by a thousand-fold” if they attacked.

The country, led by Kim Jong-Un, then said they were looking into plans to attack the US territory of Guam – bringing the prospect of a devastating war closer than ever.

But is North Korea equipped to deal with the military might of the United States – and how do their armed forces actually compare?

North Korea’s nuclear capabilities pale in comparison to the United States (PA)


The secrecy of North Korea’s nuclear programme and the underground nature of its test explosions make it very difficult to properly assess its capabilities.

In order to launch a nuclear attack on its neighbours, the country needs to be able to make a nuclear warhead small enough to fit on to a missile – something it claims to have but is disputed by nuclear expert Siegfried Hecker, who has visited the country’s nuclear facilities on several occasions. In fact the country is estimated to have less than 10 nuclear warheads.

By contrast, the United States has a staggering 4,000 nuclear warheads, with a maximum missile range of over 9,000 miles by land – more than is needed to reach North Korea.

Despite its limitations, North Korea has one of the largest armies in the world (Rex)


Despite the country’s limited resources, North Korea boasts a powerful standing army, dedicating 16% of its total budget to defence. There are some 1.19 million service members and another 7.7 million reservists on top of that – making it one of the largest ground forces anywhere in the world.

However, despite another 200,000 highly-trained paramilitary soldiers, bolstering the numbers of the North Korean army, soldiers are generally underpaid and lacking motivation. They are also underfed, meaning soldiers are often smaller in height and lacking in physical strength.


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The United States has one of the largest military budgets in the world and employs 1,066,600 soldiers. Unlike North Korea, the US also has 800 overseas military bases in 70 countries in strategic areas around the world, as well as some 151,000 soldiers stationed across 150 countries.

The US Navy Ohio-class guided-missile submarine USS Michigan comes into port for supplies in Busan, South Korea (Rex)


Both North Korea and the United States have 72 submarines, with North Korea also boasting hundreds of boats able to launch missiles and torpedoes.

The Korean People’s Navy operates mainly within the 50 kilometer exclusion zone, while the fleet consists of east and west coast squadrons, which cannot support each other in the event of war with South Korea. Vessels have a limited range and therefore would not be able to travel from one coast to another.

The US Navy is the largest and most capable navy in the world, boasting the highest combined battle fleet tonnage. It also has the world’s largest aircraft carrier fleet, with eleven in service and two in the reserve fleet. The service has 322,421 personnel on active duty and 276 deployable combat vessels.

The US Air Force is one of the most technologically advanced in the world (Rex)


North Korea has an impressive 302 helicopters and 563 combat aircraft. The Korean People’s Army Air Force has 110,000 personnel but its aircraft are mostly of old Soviet and Chinese origin.

The US Air Force is far greater in numbers and might, with 13,900 aircraft and 920 attack helicopters ready to strike.

It has a budget of £124 billion and is the largest and one of the most technologically advanced air forces in the world, home to aircraft like the B-2 stealth bomber, which can drop thermonuclear weapons while avoiding detection.