Will America’s Navy Suffer the Fate of the Royal Navy?
The United States Navy is in a strange place these days. The USA has the world’s most powerful fleet and plans for potent new warships.
Yet signs of obvious decline in the US Navy are easy to spot. Hence, the US Navy could soon suffer the same fate as the Royal Navy did in the 20th century, being unable to maintain its fleet while planning giant new warships.
For example, The National Interest alleges US Navy shipyards could lack the resources to maintain the fleet. To explain, there were six US carriers at the Huntington Ingalls’ (HII) Newport News Shipbuilding naval shipyard on 6 February 2022.
Consequently, the Navy cannot perform repairs or maintenance on other carriers. The National Interest claims the USA has just 24 shipyards to build and maintain its’ fleet. In contrast, the People’s Republic of China has over 1,200 shipyards to support its navy, The National Interest claims.
Can the US Navy Maintain its Fleet?
Additionally, people keep posting pictures of US navy vessels covered with rust online. Rusty ships raise concern because rust shows a lack of basic maintenance. Task & Purpose alleges some of the Navy’s most advanced ships including Arleigh Burke class destroyers have visible rust.
Hence, the US Navy is having trouble maintaining basic operations. Yet our admirals keep announcing plans for bigger and more ambitious warships.
For example, the SSN(X), or Virginia class, attack submarines. The 1945 website speculates the SSN(X) could function as an underwater aircraft carrier deploying drones to attack enemy vessels. Additionally, the Navy has plans for a new class of ballistic missile submarines. Similarly, the US Navy has two giant new Gerald R. Ford class carriers under construction.
Arrogantly, the US Navy has plans for massive new warships, although it is having trouble keeping its fleet at sea. The National Interest estimates only 28% of the US fleet was at sea in October 2021, the Heritage Foundation estimates. That means there were around 83 US warships out of a fleet of 297 ships at sea.
Heritage analysts believe America’s current fleet is too small and overstressed. Yet the Navy cannot expand the fleet because of logistical problems. In particular, Heritage analysts believe the Navy cannot meet the Congressional-mandate of expanding the fleet to 355 ships.
In contrast, the Heritage Foundation estimates the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) had 360 ships in 2020. Hence, China’s fleet is already larger than America’s.
Moreover, China’s fleet is growing fast, the PLAN fleet grew from 216 ships in 2005 to 360 ships in 2020, the Heritage Foundation claims. I estimate the Chinese added 144 ships to the PLAN in 15 years.
Growing Chinese Naval Power
Moreover, the Chinese Navy is becoming more advanced. For example, there is speculation the PLAN has perfected a rail gun a powerful next generation weapon with a 124-mile range. CNBC claims the PLAN is testing a naval rail gun at sea and could deploy the weapon as early as 2025.
In contrast, the US Navy abandoned its rail gun program in July 2021, the Associated Press reports. The Navy spent $500 million on rail-gun research and development with no results, Hudson Institute analyst Bryan Clark alleges. Moreover, the Navy seems to have no backup plan for weapons to take the rail-gun’s place.
Nor is just rail guns. Naval News speculates the PLAN is testing a new type of small conventional submarine unlike anything in America’s fleet. The unnamed new sub could achieve the same cruising range as larger boats. Such a sub could threaten the US fleet because it is easier for conventional submarines to sneak up on surface ships.
The danger is that the PLAN could deploy dozens of small submarines fast and attack US ships with swarms of submarines similar to the U-Boat wolf packs of World War II. The PLAN is also building and deploying nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers.
Frighteningly, The National Interest speculates the PLAN could deploy four aircraft carriers by the end of 2022. Currently, the PLAN has two carriers at sea and two more under construction. Moreover, the Chinese are using the Superlift method used to build US and British aircraft carriers to build their latest carrier, The National Interest claims.
In super lift they build ship components onshore before installing them on the ship in drydock. Theoretically, super lift is faster and more efficient than traditional shipbuilding methods. The Royal Navy used super lift to build two giant new carriers, The HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales, in the past few years.
In addition, the Chinese are developing next generation carrier aircraft for their fleet. Thus, the Chinese could deploy a carrier fleet this year. At a time, when the US Navy cannot keep its carriers at sea.
Will the US repeat British Naval History?
Strangely, the United States Navy could repeat the history of Britain’s Royal Navy from before World War II.
To explain, in 1939, the Royal Navy had the largest fleet in the world on paper. When World War II began in September 1939, His Majesty’s Navy had 15 battleships and battle cruisers, seven aircraft carriers, 66 cruisers, 184 destroyers, and 60 submarines.
However, much of the Royal Navy’s fleet, including the Queen Elizabeth class battleships, were built before World War I. Moreover, Britain faced serious shortages of military materials and industrial resources that limited naval expansion.
One problem was that Britain in 1939, like America in 2022, lacked resources to carry out the Navy’s plans. British industry was in serious decline in the 1920s and 1930s. The industrial machine that had built the giant navy that won World War I no longer existed in 1939.
The Royal Navy was having difficulty maintaining its fleet. Yet, the admirals were designing and building enormous new warships, including the Lion-class battleships and Vanguard-class battleships. Only one of the giant new battleships, the HMS Vanguard, was built after World War II. Construction stopped because of World War II and never resumed.
Ironically, while the Admiralty was constructing giant new battleships in 1940, Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill was begging US President Franklin D. Roosevelt (D-New York) for old destroyers to counter German U-boats.
By the 1950s, the Royal Navy’s resources were so badly depleted that the HMS Vanguard, which went into service in 1946, retired in 1955. The Royal Navy scrapped The Vanguard, its last battleship, in 1960. The only combat the Vanguard saw was some location filming for the war movie Sink the Bismarck!
The Royal Navy’s decline was rapid, yet predictable. One dilemma was that admirals devoted resources to large sexy weapons systems (battleships) while ignoring basic war-fighting equipment (destroyers). Just as the US Navy devotes resources to nuclear submarines while ignoring conventional subs.
Another problem was that Britons assumed their fleet was the most powerful in the world, just as Americans do today. Hence, there was little incentive to upgrade the Royal Navy until the late 1930s. To explain, there was no German Navy in the 1920s and no obvious Japanese threat to British colonies until the 1930s.
Hence, British politicians, including Churchill, had many excuses to keep cutting the Navy budget, which they did. Thus, the Royal Navy in the 1930s, like the US Navy in the 1990s and 2000s, became complacent. A powerful military machine was allowed to decline because of neglect and budget cutting.
The Royal Navy’s collapse shows that naval power can disappear fast. Americans need to understand that history because our navy could repeat that history.