Once, as the British fleet closed on the American fleet,
the Americans signalled to the British fleet,
"How's the world's second largest navy?"
The Royal Navy replied,
"Fine. How's the second best?"
"No naval challenger now threatens the U.S. Navy; even after its substantial decline in numbers the U.S. battle fleet remains unchallenged atop the global naval pecking order. Although the battle fleet numbers fewer ships than at any time since 1931, the Navy likely enjoys a wider margin of naval superiority than at any point since the late 1940s. ...
"A simple comparison of aggregate fleet warship tonnages helps to highlight the great disparity between the U.S. Navy and foreign navies in terms of combat capability and capacity. As naval analyst Geoffrey Till explains, “[t]here is a rough correlation between the ambitions of a navy and the size and individual fighting capacity of its main units, provided they are properly maintained and manned." Aggregate fleet warship tonnage can therefore be used as a simple proxy for a navy’s overall fighting capabilities and to help identify the key competitors now in the global naval competition.
"The comparisons of fleet aggregate tonnages are quite stunning. The U.S. battle fleet alone, composed of modern, large, and commodious warships, comes in at an aggregate displacement of 2.85 million tons. In contrast, only seven other countries operate war fleets that displace more than 100,000 aggregate tons, and 10 more operate fleets that displace between 50,000 and 100,000 tons. ... Together, the navies of these 17 countries account for 2.66 million tons of the entire rest of the world’s (ROW) aggregate warship displacement of 3.03 million tons (88 percent).... at 94 percent of the total aggregate ROW tonnage, the U.S. war fleet displaces nearly as much as all other warships in the world’s navies, combined."
“Economics" and Established Maritime Powers
Robert O. Work, 2005
Rank 1: Major Global Force Projection Navy (Complete) - This is a navy capable of carrying out all the military roles of naval forces on a global scale. It possesses the full range of carrier and amphibious capabilities, sea control forces, and nuclear attack and ballistic missile submarines, and all in sufficient numbers to undertake major operations independently. E.g., United States.
Rank 2: Major Global Force Projection Navy (Partial) - These are navies that possess most if not all of the force projection capabilities of a "complete" global navy, but only in sufficient numbers to undertake one major "out of area" operation. E.g., Britain, France.
Rank 3: Medium Global Force Projection Navy - These are navies that may not possess the full range of capabilities, but have a credible capacity in certain of them and consistently demonstrate a determination to exercise them at some distance from home waters, in cooperation with other Force Projection Navies. E.g., Canada, Netherlands, Australia.
Rank 4: Medium Regional Force Projection Navy - These are navies possessing the ability to project force into the adjoining ocean basin. While they may have the capacity to exercise these further afield, for whatever reason, they do not do so on a regular basis.
Rank 5: Adjacent Force Projection Navies - These are navies that have some ability to project force well offshore, but are not capable of carrying out high-level naval operations over oceanic distances.
Rank 6: Offshore Territorial Defence Navies - These are navies that have relatively high levels of capability in defensive (and constabulary) operations up to about 200 miles from their shores, having the sustainability offered by frigate or large corvette vessels and (or) a capable submarine force.
Rank 7: Inshore Territorial Defence Navies - These are navies that have primarily inshore territorial defence capabilities, making them capable of coastal combat rather than constabulary duties alone. This implies a force comprising missile-armed fast-attack craft, short-range aviation and a limited submarine force.
Rank 8: Constabulary Navies - These are significant fleets that are not intended to fight, but to act purely in a constabulary role.
Rank 9: Token Navies - These are navies that have some minimal capability, but this often consists of little more than a formal organisational structure and a few coastal craft. These states, the world's smallest and weakest, cannot aspire to anything but the most limited constabulary functions.