The purpose of the navy, like the air force and army, is to defend and protect the territorial seas of any sovereign state against potential attacks or foreign invasion. The naval troops are typically entrusted with investigating and fending off the impending danger at the first sign of potential harm to a country’s territorial security.
Despite being the first line of defense against immediate danger, the Navy is typically not given substantial consideration in most African nations.
As a result of the deteriorating economic circumstances in several African nations, like Libya and Somalia, maritime prowesses have gradually diminished over time. Other nations, like Ethiopia, have completely lost their coastal capabilities due to losing their coastline. Ethiopia is, however, currently planning to revive its marine force organization.
We used the Canadian Navy’s ranking system, which was created as a standard for all naval forces worldwide, to try to rank this list of the best navies in Africa.
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Unsurprisingly, these large African nations have the strongest navies in Africa, considering their militarily advanced naval forces. They are also regarded as having the greatest influence when it comes to making important decisions that affect the continent.
Millions of dollars are committed to these nations’ defense budgets as they strengthen their fleet, particularly when an armory upgrade is required. According to an analysis by Leadmark Strategy, the following factors determine how powerful a nation’s fleet is:
Rank 1: Major Global Force Projection Navy (Complete)
This fleet is equipped to perform all the military functions of naval forces worldwide. It is fully. Equipped with amphibious and carrier capabilities, nuclear attack submarines, ballistic missile submarines, and sea command forces, it has enough of each to carry out major operations independently. The US Navy is a perfect illustration of this kind of navy.
Rank 2: Major Global Force Projection Navy (Partial)
These naval forces have the majority, if not all, of fully functional global navy force projection abilities but only have sufficient proportions to conduct one significant outside-the-area operation, such as France and Britain.
Rank 3: Medium Global Force Projection Navy
While these naval forces might not be filled, they have a reliable and satisfactory capacity in most areas and are willing to use such areas outside of their home coastlines in collaboration with other Force Projection Navies.
Examples include Canada, Australia, and the Netherlands.
Rank 4: Medium Regional Force Projection Navy
These fleets are capable of projecting naval force into the nearby maritime basin. Although they might, they can use their powers in other regions for whatever reason, they don’t frequently do so.
Rank 5: Adjacent Force Projection Navies
These naval forces can demonstrate their capabilities somewhat offshore but cannot conduct complex naval operations across vast oceanic distances.
Rank 6: Offshore Territorial Defence Navies
This category of navies can conduct high levels of defensive and constabulary missions up to 200 miles from their coastlines thanks to the sustainability provided by frigates or big corvette naval ships and/or a good submarine force.
Rank 7: Inshore Territorial Defence Navies
These forces can engage in coastal battle rather than only carry out constabulary operations because they primarily focus on inshore territorial defense. This suggests a force comprising fast-attack ships equipped with missiles, close-range aviation, and a few submarines.
Rank 8: Constabulary Navies
These are sizable fleets only meant to serve as a policing force, not engage in combat.
Rank 9: Token Navies
These are navies with only rudimentary capabilities, which frequently amount to little more than a nominal organizational structure and a few small coastal vessels. These nations, which are among the weakest and smallest in the world, are only capable of performing the barest of constabulary duties.
Given that the main duty of the navy is to maintain peace and stability in any nation’s riverine region and seaports, you might be able to guess the category that powerful nations like Nigeria, Libya, Egypt, and South Africa will fall under using the given ranking method.
Which African countries are, therefore, home to the best navies continent?
We researched and identified the top ten African nations with the most formidable naval
1. The Egyptian Navy
The Egyptian Armed Forces’ naval division is called the Egyptian Navy or Egyptian Naval Force. It is the largest naval in the Middle East and Africa, with about 20,000 active personnel and roughly 16,000 reserve personnel, and the 11th largest (by the number of naval ships) worldwide.
It was established around 1800.
Its naval fleet includes submarines of the type 033 Romeo class, type 209/1400 Mod class, and mistral-class amphibious assault vessels, among other powerful military hardware. As a result, the Egyptian navy is among the best-equipped in Africa.
Its control headquarters is based in Alexandria. Its uniform is made up of blue, red, white, and black, among some other hues. Egyptian naval forces have fought in numerous wars, including the Battle of the Delta against the Sea Peoples and the First and Second Egyptian-Ottoman Wars in 1831 and 1839, respectively.
The Soviet Union assisted Egypt in developing the majority of its modern navy throughout the 1960s. In the 1980s, the navy received vessels from China and other Western powers. In 1989, there were 18,000 servicemen of the Egyptian Navy and 2,000 members of the Coast Guard.
In 1990, the US donated ships to the Navy. About 30 boats, including survey ships, mine hunters, and aluminum and steel patrol boats, have been constructed by the US shipbuilder Swiftships for the Egyptian Navy.
The surface fleet of the Navy is presently being modernized. As part of a broader agreement (including 24 Rafales and procurement of missiles) totaling €5.2 billion, the Egyptian Navy acquired one FREMM multipurpose frigate from the French shipbuilder DCNS on February 16, 2015, to join operations before the inauguration of the New Suez Canal.
Egypt and DCNS have also agreed to a €1 billion deal for purchasing 4 Gowind 2,500 ton corvettes, with an offer for two extra.
Beginning in 2016, when the initial shipment of four German-built Type 209 submarines for €920 million begins to arrive, the fleet of aging submarines will be replaced.
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Egypt is also the owner and operator of 4 Type 209 German submarines as well as 4 ex-Chinese Romeo-class submarines that have been modernized with Western periscopes, passive sonars, trailing GPS, a fire control system, and the capacity to shoot US-made harpoon missiles.
A second contract for six 28-meter Coastal Patrol Craft material manufacturing kits, Zodiac RIBS, and military hardware was given to Swiftships in April 2022 as part of a US Foreign Military Sales (FMS) transaction with Egypt. The 900 nautical mile range of a Swiftships’ 28-meter boat can be increased by refueling while afloat.
2. The Algerian Navy
The Algerian military’s naval wing is the Algerian Naval Force (ANF). The main duty of the Algerian naval force is to monitor and protect Algeria’s maritime borders from external military intrusion. It conducts its operations from several bases scattered along the nation’s nearly 1,440 km (890 mi) coastline. Additional responsibilities include those related to maritime safety, coastguard operations, and deployment of marine force (fusiliers marins).
The Algerian Navy, the oldest in Africa and ranked as the continent’s second-most formidable navy, was established in 1516. Its headquarters is based in Lamiraute. With roughly 17,000 active navy personnel, it also ranks among the largest navies in size. So far as the Western Mediterranean is concerned, the Algerian military is a significant player.
Its arsenal boasts 80 naval vessels, 30 helicopters, and several boats for rapid military response and patrol. An accurate number of active vessels is hard to obtain because the Algerian military has always maintained a thick shroud of secrecy around its structure and equipment. The information provided by open sources about various features of Algerian weaponry is known to differ greatly.
Nevertheless, the Naval force is being modernized with certain technological advancements: the current units are being upgraded, and the submarine force is being bolstered by adding 2 new Kilo-class submarines (last generation).
3. South African Navy
The South African Navy underwent modernization in 1962. Its headquarters is at Saldanha Bay in Simons Town, Durban. It has approximately 7,700 active members and 1,000 reserve members. The color of its uniform is green and white. The strong officers of the South African Navy have fought in several naval warfare, particularly against sea pirate strikes.
The South African Navy is currently one of the most equipped naval forces on the African continent, boasting approximately 7,000 members, including a marine force, to operate a combined force of modern warships, patrol craft, submarines, and auxiliary vessels.
The first naval organization to emerge was the South African Division of the British Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve in 1913, which later transformed into a largely autonomous naval service for the Union of South Africa in 1922. The South African Division originally had deep political and historical ties to the UK.
South African naval forces have historically participated in the South African Border War, the First and Second World Wars, and other battles. The South African Navy was closely allied with NATO and other Western powers against the Soviet Bloc during the apartheid post-war years.
Since the South African Navy only has four main surface warships, 3 formerly decommissioned Warrior-class attack craft (SAS Isaac Dyobha, SAS Galeshewe, and SAS Makhanda) were revamped and redesignated as offshore patrol vessels (OPVs) between 2012 and 2014.
This increased asset effectiveness in regular coastal patrol operations and reduced the strain on sophisticated but unsuited warships. Since then, SAS Galeshewe has been formally placed in reserve.
In addition, 3 German-built Type 209/1400 submarines were received as a resembling replacement for the outdated Daphné-class submarines between 2004 and 2008.
As of 2020, South Africa was the only country in the sub-Saharan region and one of just three countries on the African continent (the other two being Egypt and Algeria) that presently command submarine assets. With nearly complete underwater dominance, the SA Navy maintains a powerful standard subsurface naval deterrence against any potential continental hostile state.
4. Nigerian Navy
The Nigerian Navy, currently regarded as the fourth-strongest in Africa, was established in 1958 and has since fought in numerous wars, including the civil war, the Boko Haram insurgency, and conflicts with militants in the Niger Delta, among others.
Nigeria ranks among the most powerful nations in Africa and has a large military budget. There are over 16,000 active officers and about 2000 reserve personnel.
It frequently receives support from the federal government in the form of high-tech weapons and ammunition, such as three amphibious tanks, two offshore patrol vessels, three frigates, and four patrol cutters, among other forms of empowerment. 6 new Ocea speed patrol boats and 10 new small boats were commissioned by the Nigerian Navy on
September 3, 2018, during an official ceremony at the Naval Dockyard in Lagos.
The patrol boats are comprised of four smaller FPB 72 MKII hulls: Shiroro (P185), Ose (P 186), Gongola (P 189), and Calabar (P 190) and two FPB 110 MKII hulls — Nguru (P 187) and Ekulu (P 188) was supplied earlier this year by France’s Ocea Shipbuilding company.
Delivery of all vessels took place between the end of 2017 and April 2018.
The Nigerian Navy had received 2 new Ocea FPB 110 MK II Fast Patrol Boats before the six new Ocean swift patrol boats arrived. Seven FPB 72 MK II boats from Ocea had already been delivered in three batches: 3 in 2012, 1 FPB 98 in 2013, 2 in 2017, and 2 in January 2018. The Nigerian Port Authority ordered the FPB 72 and FPB 98, which were afterward given to the Nigerian Navy.
According to Paramount Maritime Holding, a South African defense company, The Nigerian Navy ordered fifteen brand-new Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats (RHIB) in 2018. The procurement, which includes, among other things, 8.5 and 9.5 meters Guardian quick patrol boats, will also feature training for the Nigerian Navy and marine employees.
Due to its reputation and structure, the Nigerian Navy remains one of the most recognized navies in the world.
5. Moroccan Navy
The Royal Moroccan Navy of the Moroccan Armed Forces carries out the country’s naval
missions. Its duties include overseeing Morocco’s 81,000 square nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone and defending Moroccan sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Due to Morocco’s coastline stretch of 2,952 km and a key position near the Strait of Gibraltar, Morocco, with Spain and the United Kingdom, is heavily involved in safeguarding this crucial international waterway. Although the Moroccan Navy has existed since the eleventh century, modernization began on October 1st, 1960.
The Moroccan Navy may not have as many personnel as others, but it has a wealth of military expertise. According to research, they have over 89 naval ships, including 17 boats, making them one of the best-equipped naval forces in Africa.
The fourth-placed Moroccan navy has 8,000 active personnel and 500 reserve personnel. It ensures the country’s international waterway is fully protected and secured.
6. Somalian Navy
The Somali Navy is a division of the Somali Armed Forces specializing in naval operations. The Somali naval force mostly conducted maritime patrols during post-independence to stop vessels from trespassing the country’s maritime borders.
This military arm was founded in 1964 and is currently classified as Africa’s sixth-strongest naval force. About the number of active personnel, the Somalian navy ranks among the largest on the continent. The color of its uniform is a blue-gold color.
It boasts two missile boats in addition to numerous excellent vessels. The SA Navy inventory in 1990 featured two Soviet Osa-II missile-armed swift attack craft, 4 Soviet Mol PFT torpedo-armed swift attack craft, and numerous patrol craft.
The navy also owned 4 smaller landing craft and a Soviet Polnocny-class landing ship that could transport 120 men and 5 tanks.
7. Tanzanian Navy
The naval military division of the Tanzania People’s Defence Force is known as the Tanzania Naval Command (TPDF). It was founded in 1971 with support from China.
The Tanzanian navy, like the others on this list, is a formidable navy that was included in this ranking, not merely due to its size but rather owing to the amount of high-tech ammunition and weaponry it holds and/or acquires.
The Tanzania Naval Command’s arsenal, as of 2016, consisted of the following assets:
- 4 Huchuan class torpedo boats
- 2 27-foot Defender-type patrol boats
- 2 Ngunguri class vessels
- 2 Shanghai II class patrol craft
- 2 Yuch’in class landing craft.
The headquarters of the country’s navy is at Kigamboni, Dar es Salaam. The Navy also took part in Operation Democracy War.
8. Libyan Navy
The Libyan Navy was established in 1962, and its headquarters was in Tripoli. In light of the crisis that has engulfed the nation over the years, the Libyan Navy, which would perhaps have been the greatest in Africa in terms of weaponry, is now ranked eighth.
With a handful of missile frigates, corvettes, and patrol boats to protect the coastline but very little in self-defense equipment, the Libyan Fleet is a pretty typical modest navy.
Having always been the smallest of Libya’s military, the Navy has historically relied on foreign suppliers for supplies, replacement parts, and training.
When the Libyan Navy engaged the US Sixth Fleet in combat in the Gulf of Sidra in October 1986, one missile boat, a corvette, and several ships were all destroyed by A-6s, and this was the first time they had experienced military action. Oddly, some offensives were successfully carried out using CBUs such as the Mk.20 Rockeye, an anti-tank armament.
The Libyan Navy has about 3,000 active physically fit personnel and 500 reserve personnel. The Navy has stations in Tripoli with international engineers for repairing ships with up to 6,000 tonnes of dead weight (DWT), a floating dock with a 3,200-ton lift, and floating docks in Tobruk and Benghazi.
9. Kenya Navy
The 9th Best African Navy is the Kenyan Navy. Founded in 1964 and with its headquarters in Nairobi, the Kenyan Navy notably took part in the Operation Linda Nchi War in Somalia, which began on October 16, 2011, and ended on May 13, 2012.
The Kenya Navy fleet is divided into two combat squadrons and a logistical support squadron, namely the original 66 Squadron, the 76 Squadron, and the 86 Squadron, all of which are reinforced by the Fleet Maintenance Unit, a Special Operations Squadron, and a recently created elite Marine Ranger Regiment.
At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the Kenya Navy showed a significant interest in forming specialized groups within its forces to deal with new challenges like terrorism, drug trafficking, and piracy.
As a result, a Special Operations Squadron (SOS) was created to serve as a unit akin to the
Special Operations Regiment of the Kenyan Army offers a cohesive command structure for its multiple special units.
The Special Boat Unit (SBU) has benefited from collaborative training workshops with the U.S. military since it was established in 2010 with help from the U.S. Navy’s Special Warfare Combatant-craft Crewmen (SWCC) personnel. It is stationed at the renovated Manda Naval Base close to Lamu and mostly monitors the northern coastline near the Somali border at Kiunga.
They are reputed to have Defender-Class response boats for swift high-seas patrols and interdictions. Many of the older ships from the early years of the Kenyan Navy have been replaced; most of them were transfers from the Royal East African Navy through the Royal Navy.
The Kenyan Navy’s ranks differ from traditional naval ranks because they resemble ranks used in ground forces more closely.
Its officer ranks consist of the following:
- Second Lieutenant (Midshipman)
- Lieutenant (Sub-Lieutenant)
- Captain (First Lieutenant)
- Major (Lieutenant Commander)
- Lieutenant Colonel (Commander)
- Colonel (Captain)
- Brigadier (Commodore)
- Major General (Rear-Admiral)
- Lieutenant-General (Vice Admiral)
- General (Admiral)
Its arsenal includes weaponry like P3134KNS Harambee II missile boats, modern ships, fleets, and survey vessels.
10. Ghanaian Navy
The Ghanaian Navy was established on October 29, 1959. They have the tenth-best navy in the entire continent of Africa.
The Ghana Navy (GN) is the maritime warfare operational military arm of the Ghanaian Armed Forces (GAF), which is under the administration of the Ministry of Defense (MoD).
Its weaponry consists of a German-built FPB 57 class patrol ship, a Chamsur class patrol boat, a Snake class patrol vessel, a Balsam class patrol ship, and six new speedboats from the Ghana Red Cross that come with all the necessary accessories to help with rescue operations in the nation.
Its 46.8 million patrol ships, procured from China’s Poly Technologies subsidiary of China Poly Group Corporation in 2011 and supplied to the GN (Ghana Navy) in October 2011, comprise its present operational naval vessel fleet. The boats were put into service on February 21, 2012.
2005 it also paid $35 million for two ships of the German navy’s Albatros-class rapid assault craft. To help with its national rescue mission, the Ghana Red Cross donated six new speedboats to the Ghana Navy on December 10, 2010, with all their necessary accessories.
Ranking the Best Navies in Africa According to Standard Naval
African Military Blog devised a ranking system based on “roles” and “capabilities,” taking operational experience and weaponry type into account. In the ranking of the Top 10 best Navy in Africa, each player is allocated to a specific category:
- Blue Water Navy (BWN)
- Green Water Navy (GWN)
- Brown Water Navy (BWN)
- Constabulary Corp (CC)
- African countries with no Navy
Blue Water Navy (BWN)
A navy that is capable of conducting all forms of naval operations is known as a “blue water navy.” They can travel, navigate, and assist naval operations far out at sea. A navy possessing blue water prowesses has the infrastructure and support system to navigate any body of water easily.
For instance, the Fleet Replenishing Ship (AOR) SAS Drakensberg of the South African Navy allows it to travel and reinforce its spying frigates anywhere on Earth.
The South African Navy, to demonstrate its Blue Water Capabilities, sent the Drakensberg to support two of its missile boats (the Hendrik Mentz and SAS Jan Smut) on a peacekeeping mission to Taiwan in May 1990 for bilateral operations and training exercises with NO port stops.
This confirms how the SAN is one of the best navies in Africa today.
Africa’s blue water navies include:
- Egyptian Navy
- Algerian National Navy
- South African Navy
Green Water Navy (GWN)
A navy may be called a “green water navy” if it can deploy its naval forces far from its coastlines but is nonetheless constrained in its capability to conduct deepwater operations.
A Green Water Navy can sail and traverse vast distances; it can only do so within a limited amount of time because it lacks the necessary platforms and infrastructure for deep water activities.
The Nigerian Navy, for instance, is capable of sending one or two of its “Range” Hamilton-class ships on a voyage across the Atlantic Ocean to Canada, but it is unable to sustain a fighting or training activity on the same route because it lacks Fleet Replenishing Ships (AOR), like oilers, food resupply vessels, etc.
Most Green Water Navies suffer from a dearth of supply chains and air protection, which restricts their ability to project naval force beyond a few kilometers of their respective coasts.
Africa’s green water navies include:
- Nigerian Navy
- Moroccan Navy
- Tunisian Navy
- Equatorial Guinea Navy
Brown Water Navy (BWN)
These navies are mostly concerned with littoral fighting. They typically specialize in “Swarm attacks,” which involve overwhelming an adversary with multiple small boats. Patrol ships and small gunboats comprise the bulk of Brown Water Navies’ fleets. Their main responsibilities are;
- Coastal patrol
- Fighting sea bandits
- Coast guard obligations
Scaring the opponent
- Mine clearing and sweeping
Africa’s Brown Water Navies Include:
- Angolan Navy
- Tanzania Navy
- Sudanese Navy
- Ghanaian Navy
- Kenyan Navy
- Namibia Navy
- Cameroonian Navy
- Ghana Navy
Constabulary Corp (CC)
This merely serves as a marine law enforcement agency. A Constabulary Corp has no effective means of deterrence nor the capabilities or technical expertise to wage war. Its primary responsibility is to protect the harbors and seaports from vices and criminal activity.
African countries with constabulary corp include:
- Libyan Navy
- Togolese Navy
- Senegalese Navy
- Mauritius Navy
- Eritrea Navy
- Gabon Navy
Nations in Africa without a Navy
There are numerous landlocked African nations without a fleet of their own. Even though they are few, they do exist. Ethiopia is an exception, which maintained a navy for a while despite losing all of its coastlines to Eritrea due to that country’s War of Independence.
African countries with no naval force include:
Central African Republic
The Obstacles Facing African Navies
Due to several factors, including political unrest, economic hardship, and a lack of technical
expertise, running a fully functional, all-encompassing navy in Africa is expensive.
Additionally, the tasks and missions assigned to naval warships are not always well-defined.
For instance, a frigate—which can be armed like an OPV—is the common name for an offshore patrol vessel (OPV). Corvettes, designed to screen bigger, more powerful naval vessels, are typically deployed to pursue sea robbers and other criminals.
Other difficulties include erratic ship purchases, scant or no government assistance, and ongoing budget cuts.
The lack of a maintenance-oriented culture, poor training, and limited operational and combat experience in several African naval services is even more worrisome.
However, most prominent African countries continue to rank in the top 10 best navies in Africa for 2024.
Last but not least, the Army and Air Force are typically called upon to bring order since most conflicts are often internal in origin or, at worst, border dispute-related, bringing into doubt the necessity of a navy. In summary, the Navy’s relevance isn’t given as much attention.
This pattern has caused African fleets to lag behind those of the West, Asia, and the Middle East.
NOTE: This ranking of the top navies in Africa was based on each nation’s past and present achievements, the caliber of their arsenal, the number of personnel actively serving, and lastly, how well-respected and coordinated they are.