The newly-released Global Firepower Index 2020 has put Cambodia 107 out of 138 countries for military strength. Coming only second to Laos in the Asean grouping which sits at 131. Brunei was not included in the study.
Indonesia is ranked as having the most powerful armed forces in Asean, followed by Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar, Malaysia, Philippines and Singapore.
The rankings are based on a country’s ability to wage war or defend itself against attacks. There are 50 indicators that factor in the ranking, including manpower, equipment, logistics, geography, finances and natural resources.
The report outlines that while Cambodia has no shortage of experienced and battle-tested soldiers, its main deficiency is a lack of modern equipment. Cambodia has a fleet of main battle tanks (mostly Russian-made T-54/T-55 and Chinese Type 59), armoured personnel carriers, helicopters, truck-mounted multi-barreled rocket launchers (Russian BM-21 and Czech RM-70) patrol boats, transport planes and medium artillery.
In addition, Cambodia’s relatively small military budget only allows for purchases of basic military items, unlike many of many its neighbours, such as Thailand and Vietnam, which routinely splurge on multi-million dollar arms purchases, according to the report.
According to Trending Economics, Cambodia spent $525 million on its military in 2018, a figure that the online data platform said will slightly decrease to $507 million by the end of 2020. Thailand, with which Cambodia has an ongoing border dispute centred on the Preah Vihear temple area, has spent billions of dollars to purchase big-ticket items from the United States, China, Spain, Sweden, Ukraine and other countries.
These include Saab JAS 39 Grippen jet fighters from Sweden, an aircraft carrier from Spain (HTMS Chakri Naruebet), T84 main battle tanks from Ukraine and warships, armoured personnel carriers and other weapons from China. Thailand is also waiting for the delivery of three Chinese-made Yuan Class S26T submarines and a landing ship.
For its part, Vietnam, which has one of the biggest standing armies in the world, has continued to expand and modernise its armed forces.
Vietnam’s latest acquisitions include air-defence radar systems and Spyder surface-to-air missiles from Israel, Kilo-class submarines, Gepard-class missile frigates and other weapons from Russia
Cambodia is reported to have spent $20 million on arms purchases in China last year on top of the $200 million that it spent for similar purposes in the past.
The funds were used to purchase Z-9 Harbin multi-purpose helicopters and MA-60 Xian medium transport planes, both of which are manufactured in China. It is believed that other funds have been used to buy or maintain small arms, main battle tanks, truck-mounted multi-barreled rocket launchers, trucks, small arms and other small-ticket items. Prime Minister Hun Sen has said that Cambodia intends to purchase L-39 trainer jets and light attack planes from the Czech Republic and China.