Over at the National Interest I do some fast and loose analysis of great powers that decided to build world-competitive navies in the past 130 years or so. Of the four efforts comparable to the development of the modern PLAN (US, Germany, Japan, and the Soviet Union) only one has lasted; the rest have ended up in the scrap yard or at the bottom of the ocean.
But now that China has its navy, can it keep it? The historical record is mixed. Over the past 130 years several nations have embarked on radical schemes of fleet-building designed to elevate their positions in the international hierarchy. A distressing number of these schemes have failed, with powerful, expensive capital ships left rotting at dock or rusting at the bottom of the sea. Only one “new” naval power managed to maintain its position, and the United States Navy (USN) today represents the PLAN’s greatest obstacle.
Why did so many countries embark on the construction of great fleets, how did they do so, and why did they fail?
I’ll cop to being a bit sloppy about what constitutes a capital ship, and about how to think about “generations” of capital ship development, but I think that the approach nevertheless generated some interesting insights.