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Naval gazing

China now has more warships than America, according to the IISS

THE International Institute for Strategic Studies (better known as the IISS), reckons China now has more warships than America, which long possessed the biggest fleet. As it can be hard to distinguish a warship from other boats, the IISS uses its own definition of what counts and what does not. This striking trend is yet another manifestation of the rise of China. But it also reflect the cost of warships and other weapons built by America (see article). Philip Pugh, author of “The Cost of Seapower”, a 1986 study of shipbuilding costs since the end of the Napoleonic wars, argues that the industrial revolution made the problem more acute: the rapid pace of technological change set off a race to build bigger, more powerful, more heavily armed and better-protected battleships. At some point, as unit prices rise, one of two things must happen: countries must either scale back their ambition, or seek game-changing technology, as they did when the battleship gave way to the submarine and aircraft-carrier.

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