Here's What You Need to Remember: The Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) was hesitant to commit its flagship to any major naval battle, and by the time it fought in its only engagements, the IJN was decisively defeated and the ship was on the run. The Yamato was eventually sunk at the hands of American carrier aviation.
Many ships during history have claimed to be the most heavily armed. Concerns about an arms race between ships lead to some of the earliest arms control agreements, and a powerful flagship is often a point of national pride. However, as the nature of ship armament has changed through time, what has come to be recognized as the “most heavily armed” ship has likewise changed. In the twenty-first century different ships are the most heavily armed for different roles. Networked warfare has also meant that large fleets of smaller ships have gained even more advantages over a single heavily armed ship. Regardless, the question of what the most heavily armed ship is retains interest. Here are some ships that could be considered the most heavily armed.
Gerald R. Ford-class Aircraft Carrier
After the end of WWII, aircraft carriers supplanted battleships as the most powerful and important ships in a navy. The power that could be brought to bear indirectly via a carrier’s air wing could be magnitudes more powerful and long reaching than the armament of a ship itself. Modern Carriers take that even further, carrying even more planes with even more powerful weapons than was capable before, with a higher sortie generation rate. The Gerald R. Ford-class is the current apex of carrier technology, and if the strength of the air wing is counted, undoubtedly the most heavily armed ship in current service.
While the United States embraced the aircraft carrier concept through the Cold War, the Soviet Navy embraced the concept of a massive, missile-armed surface ship in the 1980s. With twenty tubes for massive P-700 anti-ship missiles, as well as a bristling variety of smaller missiles and a massive 130mm AK-130 gun, the Kirov-class carries the heaviest individual armament of any modern surface combatant, which has lead some in Western navies to derisively refer to it as a “floating weapons warehouse.”
However, the Kirov-class’s effectiveness is hamstrung by the Russian Navy’s general lack of funds and the fact that only one of the class is currently operational, with the other being in refit. Upgrades have been slow coming, with priority put on building more modern, smaller ships before overhauling the old Soviet giants. There are plans to place Zirkon Hypersonic missiles on the Kirov-class ships, but this will probably not happen until the mid 2020s.
The Kirov-class also carries a massive complement of S-300F anti-aircraft missiles, but the effectiveness of such missiles compared to the U.S. Navy’s active-seeker SM-6 missiles is questionable. Thus while the Kirov-class may be the most heavily armed ship in the anti-surface role, American SM-6 armed ships may be more powerful in the anti-aircraft role.
The Kirov-class and Gerald R. Ford-class may be the most heavily armed ships by modern standards, but if one is to simply look at the oldest measure of a ship’s armament, the size of the guns, the WWII-era Yamato-class remains supreme. The 460mm guns fitted to the Yamato-class remain the largest guns ever fitted to a surface combatant. The Yamato also featured an obscene amount of secondary and tertiary armament.
But the Yamato was never able to effectively use its guns in combat. The Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) was hesitant to commit its flagship to any major naval battle, and by the time it fought in its only engagements, the IJN was decisively defeated and the ship was on the run. The Yamato was eventually sunk at the hands of American carrier aviation, singaling what some consider to be the end of the era of the battleship.
Charlie Gao studied Political and Computer Science at Grinnell College and is a frequent commentator on defense and national security issues. This article is being republished due to reader interest.