Distribution of major naval forces worldwide


L’Atlas Bleu / Preventing

Spatial distribution of the strategic bases of the world’s main naval forces (interactive map)

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Ranking States according to the tonnage of their naval forces is somewhat approximate because the number and size of ships count less than their configurations for their missions and, above all, their operational capacity, which is measured by how modern and well-maintained their weapons are. Meanwhile, looking at the world’s fifteen largest naval powers in terms of tonnage gives a fairly accurate idea of existing power relations.

The United States is by far the most dominant power. The US Navy alone has a greater tonnage than the second and third contenders combined (Russia and China). Its eleven nuclear aircraft carriers, along with its impressive amphibious capabilities and logistics support resources, serve to illustrate the strategy of imposing a formidable presence on the seas – put forward by Admiral A.T. Mahan at the close of the 19th century – which proved to be very effective during the two 20th-century world wars. Russia, in contrast, is trailing far behind – with naval resources requiring modernisation – despite the Soviet period, which, notably under Admiral Gorchov (1956-1985), had enabled the country to build up a powerful force, especially for submarines. China is currently also developing its naval forces and trying to expand over and beyond its regional scope, unlike most other navies. The only exceptions are the United Kingdom and France, whose remarkable histories have given them control of vast maritime areas. These two states therefore have projection forces backed up by distant naval bases with undoubtedly modest yet real resources in place.

Graphique des 15 premieres puissances navales mondiales en 2014

Jacques GUILLAUME, professeur à l’Institut de Géographie et d’Aménagement Régional de l’Université de Nantes, directeur de l’équipe de recherche Géolittomer

Jacques GUILLAUME, « Répartition des principales forces navales dans le monde », L’atlas Bleu, Revue cartographique des mers et des littoraux. Mis en ligne le 11 janvier 2020,

(version digitale adaptée d’après l’article paru dans L’Atlas Permanent de la Mer et du Littoral n°7 « Risques littoraux et maritimes ». Ed. LETG-Nantes, 2015. p.61))

URL : https://atlas-bleu.cnrs.fr/

DOI : 10.35109/atlasbleu-eng.10018