This list can be thought of as an addendum of sorts to a similar list that was done here at TopTenz, featuring American military schools. There was a bit of thought, both from myself, and from the readers of the original list, that there is something to be said about military institutions of higher learning beyond the borders of the United States. And indeed there is.
Interestingly (though not surprisingly), not all countries operate their military academies in the same manner as the U.S. While most international military academies mirror their American counterparts in the mission of training men and women to become leaders within the armed forces, they do not all include a post-secondary styled education.
After a bit of thought, I’ve included on this list some of the schools that do not offer such a program (namely the Brits and Brazilians). The reason for this is that the main focus of these lists – in my mind anyway – has always been the military training aspect. There happens to be a number of international schools that excel at producing superior military officers and deserve inclusion, in my opinion, on any list that tackles this subject. After all, the idea behind any military school is to develop leaders, and this they do exceedingly well.
Without further commentary, here are the top 10 international military schools:
10. Royal Military College of Canada
For reasons that continue to allude me, America’s neighbor to the north tends escape the notice of most. A literal sleeping giant, Canada has a rich military history in its own right, though its contributions may have not drawn as much attention as other nations. Nevertheless, The Royal Military College of Canada (RMC) continues to produce officers for service in the Canadian armed forces. RMC is Canada’s only federal degree-conferring military-oriented university. With the stated mission to “educate, train and develop officer cadets for leadership careers of effective service in the Canadian Forces – the Royal Canadian Air Force, the Royal Canadian Navy, and the Canadian Army,” RMC has dutifully performed its stated function since 1876.
Located at Point Frederick, Kingston, Ontario, the school emphasizes 4 “pillars: of education: military leadership, athletics, academics, and linguistics (French and English). A fully accredited institution of higher learning, RMC offers 19 undergraduate programs (in the areas of engineering, arts and science), 34 graduate programs, and 14 doctorate programs. The school has several different education tracts available to students, depending on their particular commitment (or lack thereof) to serving in the Canadian armed forces. The Regular Officer Training Program caters to those students who will be obligated to five years of service upon completion of their education (the program is actually considered a scholarship). These students have their expenses fully paid by the Canadian government, and receive a stipend each month to cover additional expenses. Other programs within the school allow students to attend without having an obligation for military service (requiring them to pay their own expenses). Eligibility for admittance into the school requires a potential cadet to meet the set criteria for the undergraduate programs of the school, as well those conditions set for officers of the Canadian armed forces.
In regards to cadet life on campus, the RMC functions in a similar manner to American military academies. Students, referred to as cadets, form the school’s cadet wing. The cadet wing is then broken down into smaller squadron and flight formations. The cadets have a rank hierarchy that is adhered to, as well as the responsibility of administering the day-to-day activities of the wing (i.e. discipline, duty details, etc.). A strict code of military bearing and discipline is expected, and enforced. Cadets are required to participate not only in the rigorous academic offerings of the RMC, but to master the different phases of military and leadership training as well.
During their first year, cadets are subjected to intense indoctrination. Cadets are required to march everywhere they go, maintain incredibly high dress standards, and participate in rigorous physical training. In addition, cadets are not allowed to leave the campus OR receive visitors during their first year. Upon successful completion of the first academic year, cadets continue their training, though under slightly less intense pressure. Additionally, cadets will begin to assume leadership roles within the cadet wing to better prepare them for a career of leadership and service within the armed forces.
With a rich tradition that spans 135 years, the Royal Military College of Canada has provided the Canadian armed forces with the leaders that have enabled its military to serve with distinction around the globe, in times of war and national need.
9. Royal Military Academy of Belgium
Belgium is not traditionally recognized as a military juggernaut. Nevertheless, those outside of the European Union may be surprised at the central role that Belgium has in the international arena. Brussels, for example, is considered the unofficial capitol of the European Union, not to mention the location of the headquarters for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). In the midst of this, Belgium has maintained a professional military establishment, that stands ready to defend Belgium’s national interest and treaty obligations in NATO.
The Royal Military Academy is the nation’s military university. Established in 1834 and based on French “grand ecoles” (elite university) standard, its purpose is to educate the future officers who will comprise the leadership of its armed forces. Located in Brussels, the school is fully accredited and confers degrees (Bachelor and Master Degrees) under a 5 year system (3 years for the BA and the MA in the final 2 years). Admission for future students is competitive. First, potential students must successfully pass a battery of military admission tests, that are given to every prospect entering the Belgian military. Next, students will have to perform well on public examinations. In this phase, they are competing with other potential entrants to the school, with those who score the highest winning the coveted and limited spots available each school year (about 400 or so).
Once admitted, RMA begins transforming young men and women into military leaders. As with most national military academies, tuition and expenses are fully covered by the government, and students receive a small salary during their time at the school. With a focus on physical and military training in conjunction with character development, the RMA sounds and feels like what would be expected at any top-notch military educational institution. The RMA refers to its educational offerings as “integrated”. The reason for this is the concerted effort to mix a beneficial blend of academic and military training to students. The school’s academic offerings are among the best to be found in Europe. In addition to BA and MA degrees, the school has a post-graduate PhD program, as well as renowned research opportunities.
Life for students at the RMA is a bit more relaxed than what can be found in American military academies, but nonetheless military-oriented. During the first 3 years at the school, students will reside in rooms with 2 or three other students. During the fourth year, students may opt for individual rooms. Students will spend most of their time on campus, though they are allowed weekends and one night per week to leave (assuming that they are in good standing). Additionally, because every military in the world has physically demanding requirements, students are required to participate in at least 5 hours of physical/sports activity each week.
Finally, students are also required to participate in military camps twice a year during their stay at the school. These camps will focus on the needed military, and leadership, skills needed to become an effective officer in the armed forces. The first camp lasts about two weeks in January, and the second camp is about one month long in July. At least one of the camps will take place outside the borders of Belgium.
8. Academia Militar das Agulhas Negras (Brazil)
In English, the name of this fine institution translates as “Military Academy of the Black Needles”. Besides being arguably the most notable military institution in South America, the coolness of the name alone deserves a spot on our list (the name is derived from the locality of the school). Located in the city of Resende, Rio De Janeiro, Academia Militar das Agulhas Negras (AMAN) traces its roots back to 1792, making it a model for future military academies in North America, as well as the first. Through several incarnations, the school has developed into the largest military academy in Brazil, that provides education and training for cadets to become officers in the Brazilian armed forces.
Potential students who wish to attend AMAN must attend a preparatory course beginning in high school and lasts through college, or win appointment through open competition. Suffice to say that entrance into the school is difficult at best. It seems that students that are admitted to AMAN’s Cadet Corp have already obtained their post-secondary degrees. In this, once admitted to AMAN, the sole emphasis of the school is on developing cadets into fully-trained and capable officers (or warlords, according to the translation on their website).
The training is divided into three phases. The first phase lasts for two years, and can be considered the indoctrination period. During this time, cadets are introduced to the military-style regiment, that is a hallmark of military academies around the world. The second phase emphasizes leadership training, and continues to build on the physical and military training began in the first phase. The third, and final, phase of training is tailored to the specific responsibilities that young officers will need to master in order to perform in the various billets within the armed forces.
One should note that the Brazilian army has, on occasion, found the need to overthrow the elected government, in addition to confronting numerous regional hostilities. For such onerous tasks, the development of an educated and highly trained leadership is essential. In this, AMAN continues to excel.
7. National Defense Academy of Japan
Japan has a rich military tradition, that is centuries old. In this regard, The National Defense Academy of Japan (NDAJ) aims to uphold the prestige and honor of military service. It’s interesting to note, however, that many people are under the impression that Japan doesn’t have a standing military. True enough, with the conclusion of the Second World War, Japan’s Imperial military forces were disbanded. However, with the onset of the Cold War, America placed a good deal of pressure on Japan to assume some of its own defensive responsibility. This emphasis has only increased, as America has had to deal with other military commitments around the world, as well as China’s emergence as a military power in the region.
Established in 1953 and located in Yokosuka, Kanagawa, NDAJ is a post-secondary military institution of higher learning. The mission of the school is to provide training and education to students who desire to become officers in Japan’s Self-Defense Forces. The school provides post-secondary/university level course level work, but does not actually grant degrees. This is due to the fact that NDAJ is not a member of the accreditation organization (The National Institution for Academic Degrees and University Evaluation) that confers such honors. However, the courses at NDAJ are duly recognized, and students are granted degrees upon graduation through the National Institution upon request. In line with other Japanese universities, NDAJ offers a strong curriculum in science and engineering, with students able to earn degrees in these disciplines as well as social sciences.
As with entrance into any Japanese university, admission into NDAJ is competitive. This is especially true, due to the fact that all costs associated with attending the school are covered by the government. In fact, even if a student drops out of the program before completion, or refuses to enter into the military upon graduation (which, apparently, many do), the student is not required to reimburse the government for the time spent at NDAJ. Nevertheless, students are selected on a competitive basis (high school rankings, grades, test scores, extracurricular activities, etc.) relative to all those who apply. A point of interest with the NDAJ is that the school states its main emphasis is on academics, and military training is limited to fundamental levels (additional military training takes place at the officer candidate schools in the SDF).
Military training, in total, will only consume about 1,000 hours of a student’s time at the school. Students or cadets are required to participate in two hours of basic military training each week. Additionally, students will undergo further training in the form of a six-week course each academic year. So, at first glance, NDAJ may seem lax on the military orientation. Nothing is further from the truth. In fact, the NDAJ is actually strikingly similar to its American counterparts. The student body forms Cadet Corps, which in turn, is organized into smaller battalions and platoons. The Corps is a self administering body, with the cadets themselves serving in leadership billets that administer the day-to-day activities of the students. Life is regimented along the basis of military discipline – formations, marching, wearing uniforms, inspections, etc.
Still, NDAJ is uniquely Japanese. There is high desire to produce highly educated officers who are able to think logically and scientifically, as well as display personal characteristics that are valued in Japanese society (and that will allow them to be effective officers in the 3 branches of the SDF). As a result, the NDAJ is an institution of higher learning first and foremost, and is among the most effectual of schools to be found in Japan.
6. Federal Armed Forces University (Germany)
Germany is known (famously and infamously) for its military prowess. Regardless of which side of right the German military establishment has fallen, the fact remained that the German armed forces were always a capable and dangerous fighting machine. One of the reasons for this is the emphasis that the Germany military has placed on maintaining a professional corps of highly trained military leaders (for the sake of this discussion, we are talking about officers – however the German military has long recognized the importance of non-commissioned officer leadership as well).
As part of the initiative, the German government established not one, but two universities for the purpose of providing university level academic instruction to its officers (and potential officers). These two institutions, Bundeswehr University Munich, and Helmut Schmidt University (in Hamburg), are administered by the German armed forces. However, these two universities are operated completely different than most other military-run institutions of higher learning. These two institutions are almost completely devoted to traditional academic offerings, with very little in the way of military training. In fact, excepting to the intensity of the course work, the Federal Armed Forces Universities (FAFU) largely resemble other German universities.
Officers and officer candidates who attend FAFU can earn Bachelors and Masters degrees. The primary difference with FAFU, from other German universities, is that degrees can be earned about a third faster. FAFU academic years are based on a trimester, while retaining comparable weight (in terms of credit and instruction) to the courses that are offered therein. As such, a master’s degree can be earned in four years, as opposed to five at other schools.
Officers and officer candidates who attend the school are obligated to 13 years of military service (for pilots, it’s 15 years). The majority of students at FAFU are military. However, by 2003, the prestige and quality of the course work increased, and civilian students were allowed to attend the school, provided that space was available and that the costs were underwritten by a secondary source (i.e. businesses, etc.). For military students, all costs are covered by the government, and students are paid a salary.
Life for students at FAFU is much different than can be found at most military school and academies as well. In fact, students at FAFU enjoy a college atmosphere that is similar to any civilian university. Students don’t wear uniforms, are allowed to schedule their classes and other activities as they see fit, and are not required to conform to a rigid military style of discipline. Indeed, the only visible military-oriented feature of FAFU is the military/language training that is offered on Wednesday afternoons. There is, of course, an emphasis placed on physical training through club sports, which students are encouraged to participate in.
FAFU hangs its hat on the high quality of its academic offerings, especially in the area of scientific research. The schools have a particularly strong aeronautical engineering program. The essence of the school’s structure is to develop highly educated officers, with the necessary military instruction and training coming from other avenues.
5. Korea Military Academies
The Republic of Korea (also referred to as South Korea) has remained in a state of armed conflict since the end of the Korean War. Technically, the war has not ended, as hostilities ceased with an armistice. In fact, there have been a number of clashes between North and South Korean military forces since the end of the war. Suffice to say, Republic of Korea military forces maintain a very high level of readiness – out of necessity of the very real possibility of having to repel an imminent attack. As such, one would be hard pressed to find a higher-maintained and trained armed force than the ROK military. Into an environment ripe for hostilities, and an armed force primed to respond, the Korea Military Academies (KMA) were established.
Korea has three primary service academies that provide undergraduate and specialized military training for the three branches of the ROK armed forces – namely, the Army, Navy and Air Force. The stated purpose of these schools is to provide military training, as well as an undergraduate education to officer cadets, for the purpose of developing professional officers for the nation’s armed forces.
As with most military academies, admittance is competitive and selective. Potential cadets must endure a series of tests (both physical and academic), as well as have done well in high school. The academies themselves are four-year, post-secondary institutions, that confer degrees in science, engineering and social sciences. There is also a strong emphasis on students mastering English as a second language, in order to better facilitate and coordinate military activities on an international level. The academic quality of the academies is on par with, or superior to, other educational institutions in Korea.
Life at the academies is based on the Cadet Corps. Cadets (or midshipmen at the Naval Academy) reside in dormitories and follow the routine military regiment that is found at most military academies. Time is spent either involved in academic course work, or military-related training. In this, KMA’s are remarkably similar to their American counterparts, which served as a model. A distinguishing difference is in the general attitude of the cadets themselves. Cadets and midshipmen at the KMA’s take their duties with an air of seriousness that is directly related with being only a few miles from the demilitarized zone (DMZ). These men and women recognize that they are the first line of defense in the event of an invasion from the north. The KMA’s, as a result, produce quality officers who understand the responsibility of their profession.
4. École Spéciale Militaire de Saint-Cyr (France)
Ah, the French. Well, a lot can be said about the French military, not all of it good…nevertheless, whatever one’s particular opinion about the French military, one thing is for certain – the French have a long history of military experience. The French have campaigned across the globe and their standard of military leadership has allowed the French to establish itself as recognized military power.
Leaders, however, have to be trained and École Spéciale Militaire de Saint-Cyr (ESM, and literally translated as the “Special Military School of Saint-Cyr”) has been performing this service since it was founded in 1803 by Napoleon Bonaparte. Located at Brittany, France, the school is considered to be France’s premier military academy. This can be summed up in the school’s motto of “they study to vanquish.” Really, you just have to love the French.
Unlike many post-secondary military institutions, ESM does not offer undergraduate degrees. Instead, graduates of the school are awarded a Master of Arts or Master of Science degree. Students who are admitted to ESM have completed an undergraduate degree course beforehand, or graduated from a Grande École (a top university). This is in addition to a competitive series of aptitude tests, physical examinations, and thorough interviews.
The purpose of the school, of course, is to train and educate students to become officers in the French armed forces. The school is structured around a three-year program that emphasizes military training and leadership, academics, and the all important physical training. During the 1st year, stress is placed equally on academics and military training. For the remaining two years, academics take precedence. Students (referred to as St. Cyrians) will continue to participate in military training during scheduled breaks of 1-3 weeks during the year. Students who attend the school are considered commissioned officers. Upon graduation, students are promoted to the rank of lieutenant, and then have to attend an additional school that is related to their military specialty. After all of this, they are assigned to a regular regiment as a platoon leader.
While at the school, students can expect the norm when it comes to a regimented, military-styled environment. The French have quite the fondness for parade, and cadets can expect plenty of marching in full regalia. To their credit, they look awesome doing it.
3. Australian Defense Force Academy
Our brothers-in-arms from down under have a military tradition of distinguished service that dates back to its colonial period, when under British rule. With traditions and styles that hearken to its British roots, the Australian military has stood as the wall of defense for this island/continent nation since its inception. When one considers the geographic importance of the Australian continent, one can begin to conceive the necessity of not only a strong military component, but an effective and competent one as well. Indeed, while the Australian armed forces have never been large, they have nevertheless been able to perform at levels that belie their size. Certainly, this fact says quite a bit about the quality of leadership within the Australian armed forces.
With the demand for quality, came the need for quality instruction. Unfortunately, Australia was rather slow in doing anything about this despite how, immediately after World War II, the service components recognized a need for improved educational opportunities for its officers. It would take almost 40 years for this need to bear fruition, but it finally did and the Australian Defense Force Academy (ADFA) opened its doors in 1986. The stated purpose of the ADFA is to “to serve Australia by providing the Australian Defense Force (ADF) with tertiary graduates who have the foundational attributes, intellect and skills required of an officer.”
The ADFA is located in Canberra, Australia, and has an interesting partnership with the University of New South Wales (which also has a Canberra campus located on the ADFA grounds). While the ADFA concentrates on providing the military oriented training to cadets, the University of New South Wales (UNSW) provides the tertiary education. The civilian school is also the body that actually awards the earned degrees. Cadets and midshipmen are able to earn Bachelor of Science, Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Engineering and Bachelor of Technology degrees. The ADFA, for its part, is a tri-service institution, meaning that it serves all three branches of the Australian military, instead of each service component having its own dedicated academy.
As one would expect, entrance into the ADFA is competitive with most students being in the upper echelon of academic prowess in Australia. Cadets (Army and Air Force) and midshipmen (Navy) at ADFA experience a military-styled education, much like those found at any other military academy. There is a regimented day filled with classes, training, and formations. Students wear uniforms and conform to a rank structure, in which their fellow cadets and midshipmen serve in leadership roles. Students are encouraged (“strongly”, according to the literature) to participate in sporting activities, but this is not required. Further, students are allowed to leave campus on the weekends and holidays. Also, cadets and midshipmen live in single person rooms!
In short, the ADFA provides Australia with a continuing pool of effective leaders that will carry the Australian military into the new millennium and beyond.
2. Egyptian Military Academy
Some thought went into the selection of a military academy from the African continent. Ultimately, with Egypt dominating the headlines in recent months, and the fact that its military plays a major role in the affairs of the nation, I decided the Egyptian Military Academy (EMA) merited a spot on our list. The EMA is viewed as the most prestigious (and certainly the oldest) educational institution of its kind, in North Africa and the Middle East.
Currently located in Cairo, Egypt; the EMA was established in 1811. The stated purpose of EMA is as follows:
“Preparing and qualifying combatant officers capable of leading their sub-units during war and peace times under different psychological and physical circumstances and with different standards of morale, in addition to maintaining the highest level of combat capability of their units, with a scientific and cultural background that enables them to cope with the rapid development of military sciences.”
It’s interesting to note that, up until 1936, admission to EMA was reserved for the Egyptian social elite. This policy changed, however, and potential students from lower and middle class families have been allowed to attend the school since. Graduates of EMA are commissioned as officers primarily in the Egyptian army; however the school also provides officers for other branch components of the Egyptian armed forces. And yes, women are accepted as cadets at EMA.
There is, for whatever reason, a general misconception that many institutions of higher learning in so-called third world environments are sub-standard in comparison to their western counterparts. Nothing could be further from the truth, as students at EMA are exposed to a quality educational standard that is comparable to any university-level institution found around world. The military in Egypt tends to play a major role in the political leadership makeup of the nation, in addition to its traditional military responsibilities. As such, there is the recognized need for highly educated officers. EMA awards a Bachelor’s Degree in military science on its successful graduates. The course of study covers the spectrum of basic military subjects to computer science.
As for military training, EMA exposes its cadets to a wide range of military oriented training that is geared to prepare them for the rigors of combat. This includes strategic planning, parachute training, and more. Students are considered cadets while in school, and conform to a military hierarchy that is similar to other military-oriented institutions.
It should be noted that a military career is a very viable means for individuals who come from low-to-medium income/social status families to attain positions of power and influence in Egypt. Late president Anwar Sadat, a graduate of EMA, is a perfect example. His background was very modest yet, as a result of his training at EMA (and a fair amount of political intrigue to be sure), he was able to rise to the highest office in Egypt. The Egyptian Military Academy continues to provide Egypt with a cadre of highly educated and professional officers.
1. Commando Training Centre (Britain)
It’s impossible to do a list of this nature and not include the British. Without question, Great Britain has a long and distinguished military tradition that expands centuries. In addition, many of the military traditions and styles that many nations around the world employ, have an origin that can be traced back to British military customs. With a purpose of instilling honor and professional military leadership, the British service academies produce some of the highest quality military officers in the world.
Each branch component of the British armed forces maintains an academy to train officers: the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst (Royal Army), the Commando Training Centre (Royal Marines), the Britannia Royal Naval College, and the Royal Air Force College in Cranwell. While all of these academies certainly perform their stated missions in an admirable fashion, this spot on the list will concentrate on the prestigious, and hardcore, Commando Training Centre.
I’ve said it before, and I will state it again – Marines are Marines, regardless of the color of their flag. By this, I mean that there is a special spirit of determination, honor and duty that comes with being a Marine that is difficult to quantify, or even articulate. Nevertheless, Marines the world over count themselves as among the elite forces that bear arms. Such is the case with the British Royal Marines (commonly referred to as Commandos), and the men that lead them.
The Commando Training Center Royal Marines (CTCRM), located at Lympstone, Great Britain, is responsible for the selection and training of both enlisted and officer candidates seeking entry into the Corps of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines. The modern institution was established in 1939, though the Royal Marines themselves trace their origins back as far 1664. Getting to this point, however, is not assured, as potential candidates must first successfully complete either the grueling Potential Royal Marine Course (for enlisted), or the Potential Officers Course. This initial screening insures that candidates are physically and mentally undergo commando training.
Upon successful selection to attend CTCRM, both officers and enlisted recruits are subjected to the longest infantry training regime among all the member nations of NATO – an incredible 32 weeks for enlisted, and 15 months for officers. Suffice to say, students are subjected to every facet of infantry training that can be expected of a commando. Candidates who attend CTCRM will not receive any degrees. Instead, upon graduation they will receive the coveted green beret (and a commission for officer candidates), and be counted among the brotherhood of Marines.
Life at the CTCRM is hard. Students are subjected to an incredibly regimented, and physically demanding, course of training. The stress and expectation is maintained at a high tempo (almost boot camp style), and students must maintain high military standards and bearing at all times. Students reside in open barracks, with little free time during their stay at CTCRM. In addition to all of this, officer candidates will be exposed to a multitude of leadership courses, and learn the fine points of being a Royal Marine Officer.
Without a doubt, British Royal Marines are among the most highly trained and motivated fighting men to be found – anywhere. It is with due respect that I note that, while U.S. Marines wear the Eagle, Globe and Anchor insignia that displays the western hemisphere, the Royal Marine’s Lion, Globe and Anchor bears the visage of the eastern hemisphere. Once a Marine, Always a Marine. Oorah!