Some researchers (Collin Meisel, Jonathan D. Moyer and Sarah Gutberlet) have recently published a “Military Equipment Index” (MEI) that seeks to provide a comprehensive, quantified, and internationally comparable tally of the military equipment at each country’s disposal:
“The ultimate yardstick of national power is military capability.” So declared RAND analysts in a monograph on measuring national power twenty years ago. Yet, no go-to measure of military assets currently exists beyond one-off net assessments of fighting forces, simple comparisons of military spending, or point estimates of firepower that conflate capabilities with combat power.
We need a better yardstick—a military equivalent to the apocryphal king’s yard, perhaps—to measure military capability and understand its relationship with various inputs. To that end, our research team has constructed the Military Equipment Index (MEI). While still a work in progress, the index highlights important insights. Based on it, for example, we see that the Russian share of global military spending in 2015 was 4 percent, while the MEI estimates its share of capabilities to be at 9.1 percent. On the flipside, Saudi Arabia accounts for over 5 percent of the world’s military spending but has around 1 percent of total capabilities. Not all defense spending, it seems, translates to a proportionate increase in capability. …
The MEI is a general, weighted, relative measure of total medium and heavy equipment stocks possessed by each country’s military in a given year. It measures the relative quantity, modified by technological capabilities, of military hardware by domain for all countries from 1970 to 2015.
So far as I can see it does not seek to proxy military power as such, which would also involve assessing factors such as the size of the national armed forces, and their combat effectiveness (something that can be proxied from historic data, results of modern day competitions, etc).
Nonetheless, the numbers they generate happen to be very similar to my own numbers for the Comprehensive Military Power index that I developed back in 2015, one of the main components in which was an estimate of the “military capital stock” at each country’s disposal. Though my approach was much simpler than theirs, I just assumed that a certain percentage of annual military spending would go towards weapons purchases, and that it would subsequently “depreciate” at a constant annual rate (i.e. a direct analogy of investment and capital stock in macroeconomics).
Anyhow, here is their assessment of the MEI of the world’s only superpower and its two “near peer” competitors:
And here is my index of Comprehensive Military Power from 1945-2015:
As you can see, they track each other almost perfectly, down to the USSR marginally overtaking the US sometime in the 1970s, Russia collapsing after 1991, and gradually being overtaken by China (which I estimate happened in 2010, whereas they date it to 2015). We also come to the similar conclusion that Chinese and Russian aggregate military power constituted a third of that of the US around 2015.
Either way, impressive level of concurrence, given the different methodologies, and that my index sought to incorporate all aspects of warfighting capacity, whereas theirs focused on a painstakingly detailed tallying of military capital stocks.
Actually, to compare like with like, I had the value of the military capital stock owned by the United States (PPP dollars) pegged at $2.7 trillion, Russia’s at $1.0 trillion, and China’s at $0.9 trillion. My projection was that China would overtake Russia on that subcomponent in 2018, whereas eyeballing theир graph, it looks like that would happen around 2016-17. So, basically identical.
The generality of my approach – as someone with the resources of a blogger with but a passing curiosity in such matters – precluded me from generating good estimates for subcomponents of national military forces.
Calculating separate CMPS for land and sea is unrealistic. However, one can make reasonable estimates of the share of national CMP that is land based vs naval based. In the US, for instance, I would estimate that the Navy and Marines (sea), and the Army and Air Force (land), each account for about half of its CMP. In the USSR, this split was more like 25%:75%. China during the Cold War was even more exclusively land-based, not possessing a blue water fleet at all. However, this is now changing fast. The Army is getting downsized, while as early as 2020 the PLAN will begin to resemble a smaller version of the USN.
But since the Modern War Institute’s approach involved bean-counting the actual military capital stocks, this was something that they were in a position to accomplish.
For instance, here is a graph showing the submarine MEI, which tallies with common sense:
Hopefully we will get more details about this project.