top of page
  • mfredenburgsites

China is Now the Lone Maritime Superpower


In 1945, over half the world's ship oceangoing ships were U.S. flagged. Today, only 178 ships out of 44,000 ships (0.4 percent) with a deadweight greater than 1000 tons are U.S. flagged.

Up through the 1980's the United States, still had a tremendous shipbuilding capacity and in the 1970s United States shipyards were building over 70 large oceangoing ships per year. Today the United States builds less less than 1/2 of one percent of oceangoing vessels of 1000 gross ton or greater.

Since the 1970s, 14 U.S. defense-oriented shipyards have closed with only one new shipyard opening. And with all the rest of the world heavily subsidizing their shipbuilding industry, these U.S. companies have basically one customer, the United Navy. And the one customer has to keep these few remaining shipyards functioning and in business. Consequently, we have the worst type of oligopoly of suppliers, with little incentive to truly compete.

Not having the shipyards that come with a large, robust commercial shipbuilding industry means that we pay a massive premium on the Navy ships we do build and that premium combined with a procurement system overly influenced by defense contractors is the reason our Navy is shrinking and will continue to shrink as we get less and less for our shipbuilding dollar.


Not having a large robust commercial shipbuilding industry means our Navy is brittle, in that any ship damaged or lost takes many months to repair and years to replace. For example, the Unite States has only one shipyard capable of building a Ford or Nimitz Class carrier and only a couple shipyards capable of dry-docking a Nimitz or Ford Class Carrier.

In contrast China has at least 19 modern shipyards capable of building and repairing navy vessels and large commercial ships. And in 2020, China completed ships with a combined deadweight tonnage of 39.7 million tons. More tonnage by far than the entire U.S. Navy fleet.

China has over 5000 ships in international service, the United States has about 80.

"The Chinese industrial base is a behemoth, and the U.S. shipbuilding industrial base is freakishly undersized as a function of the size of America's economy and its influence in the world." - Bryan McGrath, USN Naval Commander Ret. and former deputy director of Hudson Institute's Center for American Seapower.

The reason the U.S. lost its place as being a maritime superpower is that unlike Japan, China, South Korea, and even Germany, the U.S ceased effectively subsidizing commercial shipbuilding in the 1980's . Yes, we have the Jones Act, but that merely keeps U.S. shipbuilding from completely flatlining. We need to recognize that relying on foreign controlled commercial fleets for commerce, in combination with not having enough shipbuilding capacity to meet our peace time Navy's needs, much less what would be needed in a real naval war, puts our national security in grave peril.

South Korea, China and Japan collectively build 90 percent of the large commercial vessel and they all heavily subsidized their shipbuilding industry. China is particular correctly recognizes that not having a robust shipbuilding industry is a threat to its national security and has taken the next step in making its shipbuilding a powerful tool for advancing its interests around the world. The United States does not need to once again become the world's largest shipbuilder, but we do need to once again become a significant player in commercial shipbuilding and we need to have a large merchant marine fleet who allegiance is to the United States.

30 views0 comments


bottom of page