Thursday, November 29, 2012


In my latest at the Diplomat I call for a more standardized vocabulary of naval affairs:

Navies do a poor job of developing such a nomenclature, in part because they have good reasons to avoid standardized ship designations.  Civilian policymakers don’t like to hear that they’ve devoted a substantial portion of the government treasury to building a buying a light carrier (CVL); they’d prefer to think that they’ve invested state funds in an aircraft carrier comparable to those operated by the United States. On the other hand, the terms “aircraft carrier” and “destroyer” can have idiosyncratic negative political implications, pushing navies to refer to ships as “frigates” or “helicopter destroyers.” Whatever its other merits, the Washington Naval Treaty and its follow up agreements established an international standard for ship types. By defining the terms battleship, aircraft carrier, heavy cruiser, and light cruiser, the treaty system created a warship typology that allowed relatively easy comparison across states.  Giving the typology legal and normative substance surely created some odd incentives, including aJapanese effort to build fleet carriers of less than 10,000 tons and a multinational “light cruiser” competition involving ships bristling with 6” guns and displacing in excess of 10,000 tons.  Nevertheless, it resulted in a system of de facto standardization, and consequently of defense acquisition transparency.

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