Top 10 smallest air forces in the world

Giorgio Ciarini / Wikipedia

The article was first published on September 6, 2020.

Everybody knows everything about the largest and the most powerful air forces. They juggle billions of dollars, fly their shining 5th generation jets and send drones to fight their wars for them. Boring. Let’s check out the opposite of that – the world’s smallest and most underfunded air forces!

Several caveats have to be made for that, though. First, a country has to have an air force to be included into this list. Otherwise, an entire list could be filled just with nations that do not have a single military aircraft in their disposal – Vatican, Monaco, Nauru, Tuvalu, San Marino, and other microstates. Some of them do not even have enough land for an aircraft to land on, let alone an air force. 

As for those that have an actual aerial branch of their army, its strength is measured here by the combat capability of their aircraft. Only operational ones are counted, using the latest data that could be scrapped off the internet. No surprise that most of them do not employ a single combat aircraft. Nevertheless, communication and transport are some of the most important parts of modern warfare and should not be disregarded. Even if they are performed by an old Cessna. 

Also, capabilities of a nation’s air force do not denote the nation’s military strength, as many have capable armies and just don’t bother with aircraft or have stronger allies who can cover the skies for them. Even more importantly, neither an army, nor an air force denote a nation’s wellness, worth, or overall political standing. Making fun of a country’s inability to have enough airplanes is allowed only in good-hearted and non-offensive fashion – a rule that will undoubtedly be followed by every responsible citizen of the Internet.

With that in mind, let’s dive into the world of dwarfs!


Honorary mention: Somali and Liberian air forces 

The two African nations currently possess air forces with pilots, but no operational aircraft. Somalian lineup of old Soviet-made jets and helicopters, as well as several newer Western aircraft was destroyed in the onset of the civil war in early 90s, while Liberian Air Force was formally disbanded in 2005. Both countries have started training new pilots in 2014 and 2018 respectively, with an intent to purchase aircraft in the future. Meanwhile – the air force with no aircraft is not a real air force. Let’s move on.


10. Air Army of Madagascar

Madagascar Mig-15

What used to be Madagascar’s MiG-15 (Photo: Rand-wi / Wikipedia)

Madagascar can be proud, because, unlike other nations on this list, they have at least a couple of dozens of fighter jets. The only problem is that those are MiG-17s and MiG-21s from the 60s and they remain in an “open air storage” – that is, thrown away at the edge of an airport. Operational aircraft include four light transporters, at least five relatively new utility helicopters, VIP transport airliner and an unknown amount of old Cessnas for communications and training. 


9. Air Arm of Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces

Not much can be established about them, sadly. The official webpage of SLAF says that they have 2 attack helicopters, 2 support helicopters and 2 fixed wing aircraft. At least according to the pictures, their Mi-24 Hinds and Sea King Commando Mk4s are still operational, but as for the fixed wing aircraft, doubts can be raised. Small African republic received a couple of Saab MFI-15 Safari trainers in the 70s, but their status is unknown.


8. Estonian Air Force

Estonian An-2

Shiny Estonian An-2 (Photo: Giorgio Ciarini / Wikipedia)

Estonian air force has a long and rich history, but very few planes. Their several utility helicopters are supposed to be written off in 2020. They still have several transporters, including two antique Soviet An-2 biplanes and at least one operational L-39 trainer capable of ground attack. Unluckily for them, Estonian border guard, which employs several modern patrol and utility aircraft, is considered as part of the police force, rather than army. Thus, the small Baltic nation lands on this list. 


7. Air Wing of the Armed Forces of Malta

Malta is a small island nation whose aerial capabilities are focused on patrolling and surveying its borders, hence four small maritime patrol airplanes and three helicopters in their disposal. Several additional utility helicopters complete the lineup, with none of them weaponized.


6. Latvian Air Force

Presently it consists of a couple of An-2 biplanes and several Mi-27 and Mi-2 helicopters, all used for transport. Four Sikorsky UH-60Ms were recently ordered and scheduled for delivery in 2021, pushing Latvia out of this list.


5. Central African Republic Air Force

An aerial warfare branch of CAR Armed Forces, which is conducting its aerial warfare with two Britten-Norman BN-2 light transport turboprops, one AS350 utility helicopter and maybe a couple of other older helicopters and transport planes whose fate is unknown. 


4. Moldovan Air Force

Reportedly, Moldova has conducted their last airshow in 2015, demonstrating one operational Yak-18T trainer and An-2 biplane. Their several Mi-8 helicopters remain grounded and unable to take off, although steps to repair them may have been taken since then. They also have one An-26 and maybe one An-30 of unknown level of disrepair. Reportedly, a lot of discussions in regards to purchasing new aircraft happened in Moldova, but the situation has not changed.


3. Suriname Air Force

With three HAL Chetak (Indian-built Aérospatiale Alouette III) under their belt, Suriname made attempts to purchase some passenger turboprops, but nothing came of it. Presently, three utility helicopters are used for transport, SAR and patrolling.


2. Royal Bhutan Army Air-Arm

Decade or so ago, Bhutan has purchased several helicopters and transport planes from India. Reportedly, just two Mil Mi-8Ts are operational now, with their real status being indiscernible in the mist of Himalayan Mountains. Maybe they fly, maybe they don’t. If you have seen them, please, be polite in the comments.


1. Luxembourg Army Air Force

Luxembourg A400M

Half-Luxembourgeoise Airbus A400M Atlas (Photo: Airbus)

The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, until recently, had a half of Airbus A400M Atlas transporter, the other half being in Belgium. Technically, the whole airplane was Belgian, although the nation shared it with Luxembourg and operated from a Luxembourgeoise airport. Technically, Luxembourg itself has another A400M, but that one is still at Airbus, undelivered due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Luxembourg considers the latter as already operational, though. So, do two halves of A400M constitute one? It’s complicated.

Luckily, the grand Duchy also has one Airbus H145 utility helicopter, but that one has bright inscription “Police” on its side. So, does it belong to the Air Force? Is it the same half-half situation as with A400M? Who knows. Luxembourgers probably do, but until they bother to tell anybody, we will keep them here. 

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