Robert O. Work
Naval warfare—that is, fleet-on-fleet combat—is essentially about sinking another navy’s ships. In competitions among naval powers, then, those that have bigger navies have an inherent advantage. In the eighteenth, nineteenth, and early twentieth centuries, a period marked by intense naval competition, the relative ranking of navies was often derived by comparing their overall fleet numbers, and particularly their number of “capital ships.”¹
After 1890, when the United States decided to compete against the world’s top naval powers, the U.S. Navy became obsessed with metrics, such as its overall number of ships and aggregate fleet tonnage. In 1945, as...