Retired US Navy Captain Sam Tangredi has issued a concerning warning for the US Navy and its allied partners: “In naval warfare, a smaller fleet of superior quality ships is not a way to victory. The side with the most ships almost always wins.”
Naval power has always played a critical role in the way great powers interact. The decades leading up to the outbreak of the First World War saw an unprecedented competition between the UK and German Empire, with much of the emphasis placed on Dreadnought battleships echoing a similar, albeit smaller, naval arms race continuing to gather steam between the US and China.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the British Royal Navy was unrivalled in its ability to rule the waves. Maintaining this capability was the “two-power” standard, which sought to ensure that the Royal Navy was at least the size of the next two largest competing navies. This naval might guaranteed the British economy’s access to vital raw resources and helped ensure that the “sun never set on the British Empire”.
In the distance, as France struggled to rebuild itself as a true competitor, the newly formed German Empire emerged as an economic, political and naval competitor to Britain. Driven by voracious consumer and economic demand, combined with a new sense of national purpose, Bismarck’s Germany rapidly became a European and global powerhouse in the decades following its formation in 1871.
Recognising the mounting challenge, the British Royal Navy launched HMS Dreadnought in 1906, effectively resetting the game and laying down the challenge to Germany and any other nation that sought to challenge the industrial, economic and naval might of the British Empire.