The 5 Most Powerful Navies of 2030

Will America still be number one? What about China? Or India?

The most powerful navies in 2030 will be a reflection of the broader state of the world. Some countries are invested in preserving the current international order, and see naval power as a means to maintain it. Other emerging countries are building navies commensurate with their newfound sense of status, often with an eye towards challenging that order.

The eastward shift in naval power will continue in 2030, a product of both declining defense budgets in Europe and growing economies in Asia. While the most powerful navies of the Cold War were concentrated largely in Europe, by 2030 both China and India will be on the list, with Japan and South Korea as runners-up also fielding large, modern naval forces.

Ship-wise, there are two classes that will define the most powerful navies: aircraft carriers and ballistic missile submarines. Aircraft carriers reflect the need to maintain a global, or even regional, power-projection capability. Ballistic-missile submarines reflect a maturation and diversification of a country’s nuclear arsenal, with an eye toward maintaining a second-strike capability in case of surprise attack. More than any other type, those two will define naval power in the early-to-mid twenty-first century.

The United States

The United States, the dominant naval power worldwide in 1945, will continue to dominate the seas eighty-five years later. By 2030 the Navy will be halfway through its thirty-year shipbuilding plan and have built three Gerald R. Ford–class aircraft carriers to begin replacing existing Nimitz-class carriers. Amphibious ship numbers should be slightly higher than current numbers, and the first ship in class to replace the Ohio ballistic missile submarines should enter service in 2031.

In surface combatants, all three Zumwalt-class cruisers will be in service—assuming the program remains fully funded—and the Navy will have built thirty-three more Arleigh Burke–class destroyers. A next-generation version of the Littoral Combat Ship will enter production in 2030.

Under current plans the U.S. Navy should reach its three-hundred-ship goal between 2019 and 2034, but after that period the number of surface combatants begins to drop. These plans also assume a higher than average shipbuilding budget, while at the same time the service must compete with the budget demands of other services—particularly the Air Force—and domestic programs. While U.S. naval superiority isn’t ending any time soon, the period after 2030 will be a critical one.

The United Kingdom

The Royal Navy of 2030 will be paradoxically the smallest and yet most powerful in the history of the United Kingdom. A combination of two new aircraft carriers, restoring fixed-wing flight to navy after a forty-year hiatus, and a fleet of ballistic-missile submarines will keep a numerically inferior Royal Navy in the top five.

The Royal Navy’s surface fleet, currently at nineteen destroyers and frigates, will shrink even further to six Type 45 guided-missile destroyers and eight Global Combat Ship frigates. The number of nuclear-powered attack submarines will remain constant at seven.

The Royal Navy is responsible for the UK’s nuclear deterrent and currently operates four Vanguard-class nuclear-powered ballistic-missile submarines, each equipped with sixteen launch tubes for Trident D-5 missiles. The Vanguard class is expected to be replaced with the Successor class starting in 2028.

The UK’s sea-based power projection capability will be in the form of the Queen Elizabeth–class of aircraft carriers. The two conventionally powered ships, Queen Elizabeth and Prince of Wales, will each displace sixty-five thousand tons fully loaded and capable of carrying up to fifty aircraft. Aircraft will include the F-35B Lightning II fighter and Merlin, Wildcat, Chinook and Apache helicopters. The two carriers will optionally double as amphibious transports capable of carrying up to nine hundred Royal Marines or troops of the Army’s Sixteenth Air Assault Brigade.

China

The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) of 2030 will continue to build on the ground broken by the PLAN of 2016. Currently, China has four major ship hulls it seems to be content with: the Type 052D guided-missile destroyer, Type 054A frigate, Type 056 corvette and Type 071 amphibious transport. All four are mature designs in large-scale production that will form the bulk of the fleet in 2030.

By one prediction, by 2030 the PLAN will have ninety-nine submarines, four aircraft carriers, 102 destroyers and frigates, twenty-six corvettes, seventy-three amphibious ships and 111 missile craft, a whopping 415 ships in total, to approximately 309 in the U.S. Navy of 2030. This would put China in a solid position as the world’s largest navy by number of ships—though not by total ship tonnage.

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