01 January 2006

World Naval Powers

Every year I buy several almanacs. This year was no exception. One of the bits of data that come with the 2006 World Almanac is a comparison of the leading militaries in the world, in terms of personnel, tanks, naval forces and fighter aircraft. It is a somewhat crude measure, but, it is useful in comparing potential military threats in terms of order of magnitude.

Most countries of the world that have navies at all, have what are called "frigate navies", comprised of fewer than a dozen frigate or smaller sized surface combatants, some even smaller "missile boats", and some patrol boats, but no destroyers, cruisers, aircraft carriers, or submarines. (No country in the world has any ships in the class that was once called a battleship).

The world's collection of surface combatants larger than frigates and submarines, as well as all navies with more than twelve frigates is set forth below, with one change from my source, which classifies aircraft carriers differently for the United States and other countries (many non-U.S. Aircraft carriers are "Harrier Carriers" comparable to U.S. Tarawa and Wasp class Marine Air Assault craft). All data is for the 2004-2005 year.

The United States Navy

Aircraft Carriers 24
Cruisers 27
Destroyers 49
Frigates 30
Submarines 72

U.S. Allies

Destroyers 45
Frigates 9
Submarines 16

United Kingdom
Aircraft Carriers 3
Destroyers 11
Frigates 20
Submarines 24

S. Korea
Destroyers 6
Frigates 9
Submarines 20

Aircraft Carriers 1
Destroyers 12
Frigates 20
Submarines 10

Aircraft Carriers 1
Destroyers 8
Frigates 16
Submarines 16

Destroyers 11
Frigates 21
Submarines 4

Destroyers 1
Frigates 12
Submarines 12

Aircraft Carriers 1
Destroyers 4
Frigates 12
Submarines 6

Destroyers 2
Frigates 12
Submarines 8

Aircraft Carrier 1
Frigates 12

Potential U.S. Opponents - Pacific Ocean/SE Asia

Destroyers 21
Frigates 42
Submarines 59

Aircraft Carriers 1
Cruisers 6
Destroyers 14
Frigates 6
Submarines 51

N. Korea
Frigates 3
Submarines 26

Potential U.S. Opponents - Indian Ocean/Persian Gulf

Frigates 7
Submarines 11

Frigates 3
Submarines 3

Frigates 16
Submarines 2

Frigates 6
Submarines 2

Potential U.S. Opponents - N. Atlantic/Mediterranian/Black Sea

Frigates 19
Submarines 13

Destroyers 1
Frigates 10
Submarines 4

Cruisers 1
Frigates 2
Submarines 1

Potential U.S. Opponents - Gulf of Mexico/S. Atlantic

Aircraft Carrier 1
Frigates 15
Submarines 4

Destroyers 3
Frigates 8

Submarines 4

The realistic possibility of the U.S. engaging in naval combat with most of the nations not listed as allies above is in most cases minimal. Many are basically allies of the United States, even though one could imagine some scenario in which they might end up crosswise with the U.S. in a war.

In Europe, Russia, with whom the U.S. is on better terms than for most of the past century, would have to content against the combined forces of European navies. European allies are also more than sufficiently equipped to handle any threat in the Mediterranian. India's most likely naval opponent is Pakistan, and while we are nominally allies with both, in a naval war it is most likely that the U.S. would end up siding with India which outclasses Pakistan even without U.S. involvement.

The only really serious threats to the U.S. Navy are off the coast of China, where China and N. Korea and perhaps the Pacific Russian fleet (a modest portion of the total Russian fleet shown above, which has mostly a European orientation) could pose a challenge to the U.S., Japan, S. Korean and/or Taiwan.

This list in many ways overstates the naval threat, as quality and training distinctions generally favor the U.S. and its allies over its potential opponents. For example, very few countries that could potentially be U.S. adversaries other than Russia or China have any significant "blue sea" or expeditionary capability and are designed to operate primarily close to their national coasts. This is particularly the case with their submarine fleets.

Every year, the same questions come up as I look at these statistics:

1. Is the U.S. Navy overkill? In particular, do U.S. Naval force size planners appropriately consider that availability of allied forces of at least one other country which would vary from scenario to scenario that would be available in just about any conceivable naval conflict? Are deployments of available forces sufficienttly biased towards the far more real Pacific threats? And, if not, could an adjustment along those lines reduce the need for U.S. Naval power?

2. Is the U.S. Navy prepared to fight the kind of missions this analysis suggests that it might face? For example, is it sufficiently prepared to fend off a large fleet of submarines, ground based aircraft and a ground based and small boat based missile threats in the East China Sea? Or, is the U.S. too strongly geared towards fighting World War II type surface combatant v. surface combatant clashes in "blue waters"?

3. Have potential U.S. opponents avoided purchasing heavy surface combatants because they have correctly judged them to be vulnerable in the event of an attack, in which case, the U.S. has grossly miscalculated its naval force mix, or can they simply not afford heavy surface combatants, even though they are very useful militarily?

4. Could disarmament treaties aimed at conventional naval warfare be used to greatly reduced the expense associated with maintaining the world's largest navy? For example, a treaty with just a few other nations could eliminate the need for all member nations to prepare, at great expense, to fight anti-submarine warfare in the Atlantic Ocean, Mediterranian Sea, and Black Sea.

5. Is air power a cheaper alternative to Naval power in some situations? For example, one of the main uses of the U.S. Navy is to use it as a base for aircraft and cruise missiles in both anti-ground force and anti-surface combatant roles. An alternative would be to use long range bombers and aircraft supported by tanker aircraft, and to secure through treaties ground air bases in more locations in the world. Would this save money and would it be militarily inferior?


Anonymous said...

You left off the Royal Spanish Navy from your list of U. S. allies. The Principe de Asturias (R11) is complemented by by several Perry class frigates with embarked Seahawk helicopters, modern submarines and capable auxillaries and amphibious warships.

Anonymous said...

Royal Spanish Navy - major surface combatants.

Aircraft carriers 1
Aegis destroyers 4
Frigates 6
Submarines 5

Source: Official Naval Registry, Armada Espanola, Spanish Ministry of Defense.

Anonymous said...

Potential South Atlantic opponents to U. S. maritime interests should also include Argentina, a regional maritime nation with principal assets as follows:

Frigates 4
Corvettes 9
Submarines 3

Source: Naval Vessel Register, Armada Republica de Argentina.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

Thanks for the additional information.