Visualizing The Nuclear Warheads of Countries Since 1945
Despite significant progress in reducing nuclear weapon arsenals since the Cold War, the world’s combined inventory of warheads remains at an uncomfortably high level.
Towards the late 1980s, the world reached its peak of stockpiled warheads, numbering over 64,000. In modern times, nine countries—the U.S., Russia, France, China, the UK, Pakistan, India, Israel, and North Korea—are estimated to possess roughly 12,700 nuclear warheads.
The animated chart above by creator James Eagle shows the military stockpile of nuclear warheads that each country has possessed since 1945.
Nuclear Warheads Currently in Possession by Countries
The signing of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) brought about a rapid disarmament of nuclear warheads. Though not immediately successful in stopping nuclear proliferation, it eventually led to countries retiring most of their nuclear arsenals.
As of 2022, about 12,700 nuclear warheads are still estimated to be in use, of which more than 9,400 are in military stockpiles for use by missiles, aircraft, ships and submarines.
Here’s a look at the nine nations that currently have nuclear warheads in their arsenal:
|Country||Military Stockpile||Retired Weapons||Total Inventory|
|🇺🇸 United States||3,708||1,720||5,428|
|🇬🇧 United Kingdom||180||45||225|
|🇰🇵 North Korea||20||0||20|
The U.S. and Russia are by far the two countries with the most nuclear warheads in military stockpiles, with each having close to 4,000 in possession.
Timeline: Key Events in the Nuclear Arms Race
At the dawn of the nuclear age, the U.S. hoped to maintain a monopoly on nuclear weapons, but the secret technology and methodology for building the atomic bomb soon spread. Only 10 countries have since possessed or deployed any nuclear weapons.
Here are a few key dates in the timeline of the nuclear arms race from 1945 to 2022:
August 6 & 9, 1945:
The U.S. drops two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, decimating the cities and forcing the country’s surrender, ending the Second World War.
August 29, 1949:
The Soviet Union tests its first nuclear bomb, code-named First Lightning in Semipalatinsk, Kazakhstan. It becomes the second country to develop and successfully test a nuclear device.
October 3, 1952:
The UK conducts its first nuclear test at Montebello Islands off the coast of Western Australia, and later additional tests at Maralinga and Emu Fields in South Australia.
February 13, 1960:
France explodes its first atomic bomb in the Sahara Desert, with a yield of 60–70 kilotons. It moves further nuclear tests to the South Pacific, which continue up until 1996.
October 16–29, 1962:
A tense stand-off known as the Cuban Missile Crisis begins when the U.S. discovers Soviet missiles in Cuba. The U.S. intiaties a naval blockade of the island, with the crisis bringing the two superpowers to the brink of nuclear war.
October 16, 1964:
China becomes the fifth country to test an atomic bomb in 1964, code-named Project 596. The country would conduct an additional 45 atomic bomb tests at the Lop Nor testing site in Sinkiang Province through 1996.
July 1, 1968:
The NPT opens for signatures. Under the treaty, non-nuclear-weapon states agree to never acquire nuclear weapons, and nuclear powers must make a legal undertaking to disarm.
May 18, 1974:
India conducts an underground nuclear test at Pokhran in the Rajasthan desert, code-named the Smiling Buddha. Since conducting its first nuclear test, India has refused to sign the NPT or any subsequent treaties.
September 30, 1986:
Through the information provided by Israeli whistleblower and nuclear technician Mordechai Vanunu, The Sunday Times publishes a story that leads experts to conclude that Israel may have up to 200 nuclear weapons.
October 9, 2006:
After previously signing onto the NPT, North Korea breaks from the treaty and begins testing nuclear weapons in 2006. It has since gathered 20 nuclear warheads, though the actual number and their efficacy are unknown.
Though the threat of nuclear weapons never left, the latest growing tensions in Ukraine have brought the topic back into focus. Even as work towards disarmament continues, many of the top nuclear states hesitate to fully reduce their arsenals to zero.
This article was published as a part of Visual Capitalist's Creator Program, which features data-driven visuals from some of our favorite Creators around the world.
Visualizing the World’s Top 25 Fleets of Combat Tanks
The tank remains the backbone of modern twenty-first century armies. This infographic shows what countries have the largest combat fleets.
Visualizing the World’s Top 25 Fleets of Combat Tanks
The tank, an armored all-terrain fighting vehicle, revolutionized the way we fight when introduced during the First World War. Since then, despite some commentators predicting the end of the tank era, they remain a cornerstone of 21st century armies.
Global Firepower has released their ranking of combat tank fleet sizes for 2023, which we’ve visualized in this infographic.
The ranking includes main battle tanks, like the U.S. M1A2 Abrams or the German Leopard 2, but also more lightly-armed medium and light tanks, like Thailand’s Stingray. The numbers do not include armored personnel carriers or infantry fighting vehicles.
Numbering 12,556 tanks, the Russian Federation has the largest fleet in their arsenal by far, from the workhorse T-72 series to the ultra-advanced T-14 Armata. This is more than the combined total of the number two and three spots, North Korea (6,645) and the U.S. (5,500).
But the headline number misses nuances in the composition of the Russian tank fleet.
Of Russia’s nearly 13,000 active combat tanks, only a fraction are main battle tanks. A 2021 Russian source estimated that their operational main battle fleet was closer to 2,600 tanks, made up of T-72s, T-80s, and T-90s, with another 400 T-72 variants used as range tanks.
On top of that, only one-quarter of those are considered modern tanks—T-72B3/B3M, T-80-BVM, and T-90A/M—that is, fitted with up-to-date fire control systems and sighting. That’s why, on top of poor morale, inadequate logistics, and inflexible tactics, Russia has struggled to perform on the Ukrainian battlefield despite having more than six times the number of tanks (12,556 vs. 1,890).
According to a Pentagon official speaking in early November 2022, Russia has lost half of their tanks since their “special military operation” began on February 24, 2022. The conflict has also injured or killed thousands of civilians, displaced millions, and upended the post-Cold War security architecture.
The world’s second-largest tank fleet belongs to North Korea, with a combat fleet of 6,645 tanks.
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has maintained armored capabilities since the Korean War (1950-1953) when their first armored unit, the 105th Armored Brigade, participated in the invasion of South Korea armed with 120 Soviet-made T-34/85 tanks.
After the war, the North Korean army rearmed with Soviet T-34/85s, and later with T-55s and Chinese-variant Type 59 tanks. Despite now being decades-old, these are likely still in service, alongside indigenous designs such as the Chonma-ho “Flying Horse” and the Pokpung-ho “Storm.”
Ultimately, these tank forces are considered to be no match for modern main battle tanks despite their numbers. One military blogger called them “weak and pathetic”—especially when compared to South Korea’s fourth-generation K2 Black Panther, considered one of the most advanced tanks in the world.
China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) recently accelerated fleet modernization plans at the 20th Party Congress, in anticipation of the army’s centenary in 2027, but they still have a ways to go.
Their fourth-place 4,950 combat tank fleet contains a mix of modern and obsolete tanks.
China’s most modern main battle tank, the third-generation Type 99, is a domestic design. Armed with a 125mm diameter main gun—slightly larger than the NATO standard 120mm—and 1,500hp diesel engine, it is tough and maneuverable. An upgraded variant, the Type 99A, debuted in the mid-2000s.
There is some speculation that the Type 99/99A could rival the U.S. M1 Abrams. However, it still falls short of fourth-generation designs, such as Russia’s T-14 Armata, South Korea’s K2 Black Panther, or Japan’s Type 10.
But thanks to a whopping $293 billion military budget, and significant industrial espionage, China’s defense industry is capable of producing military equipment at or near world-class standards, including tanks. The country even began testing unmanned tanks, including the Type 59 in 2018 and lightweight Type 15 in 2019.
Despite coming in at #13 with 1,890 tanks and initial predictions of a quick victory for Russian invaders, Ukrainian forces have successfully halted and then turned back their numerically superior foes.
Originally armed with upgraded Soviet-era T-64s, as well as donations of T-72s from Poland and Czechia, Ukraine’s tank forces have swelled thanks to captured military equipment left behind by fleeing Russian soldiers.
Oryx, a Dutch defense analysis website that has been tracking battlefield progress in Ukraine using open-source intelligence, estimates that 533 tanks, including several top-of-the-line T-90s, have been captured as of early 2023. According to a U.S. defense official, Ukraine may now have “more tanks in the battlefield than the Russians do.”
Arsenal of Democracy?
Looking ahead, Ukraine is asking for advanced Western main battle tanks, as it seeks to liberate the rest of its territory from Russia, including the Donbas and Crimea. NATO nations had been reluctant to take that step, as they were wary of further antagonizing Russia, but resistance seems to be diminishing.
On January 4, 2023, France agreed to deliver AMX-10 RC light tanks to Ukraine, the first Western country to do so. On January 6, the U.S. and Germany each agreed to deliver armored vehicles of their own, the Bradley and Marder, respectively.
And as another possible sign that sentiment has shifted, the UK has also said that it plans to donate a small number of Challenger 2 main battle tanks, while Poland has signaled their intention to donate Leopard 2 tanks (though the latter will need Germany’s permission to export).
As the spring campaign season approaches, we will see how these new weapons affect the balance of tank fleets both on and off the battlefield.
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