The History and Future of the U.S. Navy

Specialist 3rd Class Jake Greenberg/U.S. Navy via Getty Images

The History and Future of the U.S. Navy

It is the foundation of world order. What happens if it crumbles?

Sea power is world power. For centuries, empires and nations have struggled for mastery of the waves. This is still a geopolitical constant. Earth’s surface is 70 percent water, and in our present age of globalization, 90 percent of world trade travels by shipping. While technology may advance and nations may rise and fall, Earth’s geography essentially remains unchanged.

The American Navy has been dominant since the end of World War ii. In terms of capital ships and fighting capacity, its numerical superiority is greater than all other navies of the world combined. Technologically, the U.S. still holds the edge. However, this advantage is quickly eroding due to technological advancement and weak political will. The challenge of China and Iran to U.S. Navy superiority is one of the most destabilizing forces at work today.

It is essential to understand the history and future of the U.S. Navy, and how the sudden decline of American sea power will lead to the dramatic fulfillment of Bible prophecy.

To Rule the Waves

Sir Walter Raleigh, who fought the Spanish Armada in 1588, summed up the reason why sea power will always be directly linked to national power:

Whosoever commands the sea commands the trade; whosoever commands the trade of the world commands the riches of the world, and consequently the world itself.

The foundational doctrine of naval strategy is that if a nation can command strategic choke points, it has power to shape events. The world economy has become more integrated than ever before, increasing the importance of naval deployments at target areas.

Among the many factors involved in measuring a nation’s current or potential sea power, geography is key. America’s geography lends itself to controlling both major oceans. This natural advantage was enhanced with the construction of the Panama Canal. In a textbook entitled Military Geography, John Collins wrote:

No nation that lacks access to any ocean has ever been able to project military power globally. The United States, blessed since 1848 with sheltered ports on ice-free coasts that open on the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and on every continent, can deploy military power rapidly from one theater to another. No other world power currently enjoys comparable freedom of action.

The placement of America is providential. In fact, this nation’s domination of the world’s major sea gates was prophesied in the Bible! The nations of Great Britain and the United States received the promises of national greatness from their forefather Abraham. In Genesis 22:17, God promises to Abraham: “… thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies.” This is talking about the sea gates both Britain and the United States would possess, starting around the year 1803. You can prove these vital prophecies for yourself by reading our free book The United States and Britain in Prophecy.

While Britain would ascend to maritime supremacy in 1805 after the Battle of Trafalgar, the American Navy would follow as an even more dominant force.

American Sea Power

Before the 1890s, the U.S. Navy saw limited success. During the Revolutionary War, it was the French Navy that compelled Britain’s Lord Cornwallis to surrender at Yorktown in 1781. During the War of 1812, the U.S. Army struggled until it wrestled command of the Great Lakes away from the British. But the British maintained command of all oceanic coastal waters.

During the Civil War, sea power proved a decisive factor in the North’s victory. A naval blockade of the South decimated the cotton export economy. The superiority of Union gunships was instrumental in capturing the Mississippi. However, although there were some dramatic battles between the clunky ironside ships, overall the U.S. lacked a merchant marine to challenge and justify fielding a much larger navy.

Two men were largely responsible for creating U.S. maritime supremacy. The first was Admiral A. T. Mahan. The theory Mahan developed is still a pillar of international relations today, and inspired a generation of Americans to conquer the sea. In his famous book The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, Mahan asserted that America’s greatest inherent weakness is that its geography, size and position on the globe make it vulnerable to naval blockades or amphibious attacks. He said that a small navy makes it vulnerable, while a large navy is expensive to maintain.

Mahan also asserted that the United States would never become a world power until a “shield of strength” was created to protect financial assets overseas. Waterways are the highways of world trade, and unless America could protect them, the nation was doomed to be isolated.

The Bull Moose

The second man who directly inspired America’s rise as a global power was Theodore Roosevelt. As president, Roosevelt had a vision of America becoming a global force predicated on sea power. The Theodore Roosevelt Association explains:

… Roosevelt started to articulate a theory that America’s greatness depended on the robust deployment of sea power. … [Rear Admiral Stephen B.] Luce, [Captain Alfred T.] Mahan and Roosevelt quickly recognized their common cause and cooperated to promote a navalist ideology that saw America’s great power destiny in the establishment and use of a blue-water fleet capable of operating in deep ocean waters.

The birth of the American empire was the Spanish-American war in 1898, when Roosevelt was assistant secretary of the Navy. The liberation of Cuba and the Philippines exponentially increased America’s global presence and gave it many more strategic ports.

Roosevelt’s crowning achievement was in 1903, when as president he sent U.S. warships to guarantee the freedom of Panama, which had seceded from Colombia. This opened the door for construction of the Panama Canal. This new highway of world trade revolutionized American strategy, suddenly making the Caribbean as important as the Mediterranean Sea and Suez Canal. America’s growth as a naval power paralleled its rise as a world power. Its ability to project power on the seas underpinned a strong foreign policy not just in the Caribbean, but later in Asia and Europe.

Age of the Steel Titan

In 1880, shortly before Roosevelt’s presidency, America became the world’s largest economy. The massive industrial growth needed by the North to win the Civil War had propelled the U.S. economy to new heights. This coincided with the spread of free trade and globalism made possible by the British Empire. With the invention of the steam-powered turbine, ships were no longer at the mercy of the wind, and were built of steel instead of wood. Prosperity, power and sea strategy became intertwined more than ever. At the start of the 20th century, America began to awaken to these important realities.

World War i began in part because of the German challenge to British maritime supremacy. The Edwardian arms race of dreadnoughts was the pinnacle of the age of steel. The Battle of Jutland in 1916 saw the final decisive battle between those steel leviathans.

As shipbuilding became more expensive due to size and materials, the bankrupt British Empire could no longer maintain the Royal Navy’s place as the world’s premier force. Although Britain still had a large merchant marine, it did not have the combat strength. Before World War ii, the Royal Navy was in a rapid decline, leaving Japan and the U.S. as the two great maritime powers of the future. With this change of leadership came the next progression in technology: the aircraft carrier.

Rise of the Aircraft Carrier

Aircraft made their debut into war in 1911, rendering classic maritime warfare obsolete. The threat of aerial attack made battleships more of a liability than an asset, as the next world war would prove. The combination of air and sea power could now increase offensive and reconnaissance capabilities. This concept is embodied in the aircraft carrier.

The effectiveness of this new maritime weapon was proven in a day of infamy for America. When the Japanese launched the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, there was no question that a new age was born amid the burning wreckage in Hawaii. Miraculously, the U.S. Navy’s carrier fleet was out at sea during the surprise attack. If the carriers had been victims of Pearl Harbor, America’s entire West Coast would have been at the mercy of the Japanese Navy.

However, the tide of war swiftly changed in favor of the U.S. At the Battle of Midway in June 1942, four Japanese aircraft carriers were sunk and hundreds of planes destroyed. It was the first large-scale battle between carrier fleets. It proved decisive, costing the Japanese their control of the Pacific. From that point forward, it was only a matter of time before America devoured the Empire of the Rising Sun.

When Japan was defeated in August 1945, the U.S. Navy was the largest in the world and master of the seas. Aircraft carriers played a prominent role in the Korean and Vietnam wars, providing air support. With Britain rapidly declining as a world power, and the Soviet Union jockeying for power, the carrier fleets became essential to containing communism and projecting American influence.

America’s ability to deploy troops and combat materiel in multiple theaters internationally is based on maritime power. America’s military might, the pride of its power, depends on the existence of the U.S. Navy as a dominant international force.

In 1968, work began on the 10 Nimitz-class nuclear-powered carriers that remain the largest in the world currently in commission. These carriers became the world’s premier capital ships, and the center of the American Carrier Strike Groups (csg), which is the foundation of U.S. maritime strategy. Over the decades, these carriers have seen action in the Persian Gulf, the Gulf War, Iraq and Afghanistan. To this day they are the beating heart of the American Navy.

The Modern Navy

Today, the U.S. Navy is the most dominant maritime force in world history. It includes 10 of the Nimitz class, nuclear-powered supercarriers. The aircraft carriers of other nations can be compared to the Navy’s nine amphibious assault ships, which the Marines use for their air assets. The U.S. also possesses over 80 advanced cruisers and destroyers, and leads the world with 54 nuclear-powered submarines and 14 ballistic missile submarines. Max Boot, author of War Made New, said this about American hegemony:

Navies remain divided, as they have been since the dawn of the second industrial age, into aircraft carriers, submarines, and surface ships. The major difference is that blue-water naval competition has disappeared after more than 500 years. No one even tries to challenge the U.S. Navy anymore on the high seas. Virtually every other navy in the world is little more than a coastal patrol force. …Because of the growing power of each of its vessels and lack of competitors, the U.S. Navy has consolidated its high seas hegemony even while its fleet has shrunk from almost 500 ships in the 1980s to fewer than 300 in the early years of the 21st century.

When the Cold War ended in the early 1990s, America’s financial system came to underpin the international market. U.S. currency and policies were the anchor of the globalized economy. This opened the door for a rebirth of free trade. Globalization meant more countries investing internationally, and having overseas assets without a protective military element. Economies now relied on exporting and importing more than ever. However, all this hinged upon the U.S. Navy keeping the trade lanes open and protecting choke points around the globe.

In the post-Cold War era, America has shifted its maritime strategy from containing communism to protecting free trade. Freedom of Navigation voyages are an excellent example of this function. The additional role has been combat support in the first and second Gulf Wars, the Iraq War, the Arab Spring and other deployments. Supplying and protecting America’s many military bases around the world is a task of the U.S. Navy.

However, the American Navy does not merely protect the United States; it also protects the economic interests of friend and foe. The only reason why China can invest in Africa, and why the West can make free-trade agreements internationally, is that the U.S. Navy secures the seas. The moment that protective barrier is erased, trade wars will become hot wars.

The Rise of Rivals

We are living in the time when the U.S. Navy will cease to rule the waves.

Over the past five years, two rivals have emerged to challenge it. Both Iran and China have become America’s top competitors for local control of key strategic areas. In the Persian Gulf and the South China Sea, we could see the battle for maritime dominance play out.

However, it is not just rival powers that are a threat to America’s supremacy. We are on the edge of a new age in maritime strategy. Stealth weapons, long-range missiles, and improvement in enemy technology are all clamoring for the curtain to close on the age of the aircraft carrier. Before our eyes, great change is rapidly dismantling the constraints of the post-World War ii era.

Rogue Iran

Ever since the Iranian Revolution in 1979, the Islamic Republic has sought to destroy Western civilization. The regime’s apocalyptic religious views have inspired it to reshape the region’s balance of power, undermining Egypt and Saudi Arabia as regional anchors, and seeking to conquer the Middle East. Iran’s strategy has three main prongs: Use terrorism to attack the West and destabilize the region, obtain nuclear weapons, and gain control over key sea gates.

Iran is the world’s 12th-largest exporter of oil and is surrounded by several other oil-rich nations. Thus, having uncontested control over regional sea gates would exponentially magnify Iran’s power. The most immediate of such “gates” is the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf. The other is the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait at the southern end of the Red Sea, which Iran is attempting to control through the Houthis. If Iran could come to control Egypt, it would also dominate the Suez Canal.

The U.S. 5th Fleet stands in the way of these ambitions. Stationed in the Persian Gulf, it is the main deterrent to Iran having full control over the vital Strait of Hormuz (and among the main deterrents to Iran coming to control other regional “gates”). Central to this force is a csg. If the 5th Fleet were not there, Iran would already control the Strait of Hormuz—along with 20 percent of the world’s maritime-traded oil. However, the past 18 months have illustrated the deterioration of the American position in the theater. Just in the past two weeks, Iranian ships have harassed American destroyers patrolling international waters—and faced no consequences.

Not only was America embarrassed by the capture of 10 sailors earlier this year, but Iran has also been purchasing more sophisticated missile systems from Russia. Most of these are surface-to-air missiles to protect its nuclear sites, but if Iran can situate cruise missiles near any of the sea gates, American power would be restrained.

The Iranian Navy is still a mere fly on the flanks of America’s war horse. Nevertheless, Bible prophecy indicates that Iran will get control of these vital choke points. Prophecy in Daniel 11 reveals that Iran will aggressively “push” a European superstate into military response. Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry wrote in his booklet The King of the South:

If Iran gets control of that trade route [around the Red Sea and Mediterranean Sea], it could create enormous damage and chaos in America and Europe almost overnight. … The king of the south [an Iran-led radical Islamic force] is going to push at the king of the north [a German-led European bloc], probably from its trade route power. That push will be a dramatic act of war! The Holy Roman Empire will respond with an all-out whirlwind attack—and Iran and radical Islam will fall immediately.Arab-Iranian control over the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea could be the real reason the U.S. is not involved in this Mideast war in Daniel 11. Our economy is shaky, the dollar is extremely weak, and Iran could threaten or even cut off all our oil and wreck the U.S. economy to keep America out of the war.

Watch for the mighty 5th Fleet to withdraw from the Persian Gulf, and for Iran to achieve deadly dominance.

The Chinese Juggernaut

America’s other major rival has been China. During the Cold War, China was plagued with internal division, rivalry with the Soviet Union, and technological stagnation. However, since then, the Chinese economy has been exploding with growth, propelling it to greater degrees of power and influence. Now, China is a force to be reckoned with.

It is clear China seeks to upend the world order and assert itself as a superpower in place of the United States. The main arena in which these ambitions have become apparent has been in the South China Sea. Although China has considerable economic leverage over America in the form of its possession of U.S. debt, it still does not possess the capabilities to militarily dominate the U.S. Navy in its sphere of influence. The U.S. 7th Fleet stands in the breach. Without the presence of the U.S. Navy in the Pacific, all of Southeast Asia could fall under China’s shadow.

The South China Sea is the decisive battleground for control of the Pacific. One third of world trade passes through this sea region. China is aggressively seizing control by constructing and militarizing artificial islands in the area. This is not only illegal, it is also a direct challenge to the U.S. Navy. How the U.S. responds will define the future of the entire region. Once the initiative is lost, all is lost.

However, China is in a quandary. While it needs to dominate the South China Sea to reach its aims, it also needs the U.S. Navy to maintain its global reach. China has invested billions of dollars in Africa, the Middle East and Australasia. In a case of cruel irony, the U.S. Navy protects these investments, as China does not have the global reach nor alliances to protect them itself. Changing the status quo and removing the shield of protection from the world economy could be catastrophic for everyone. Perhaps the new Silk Road reflects China’s effort to not rely on the U.S. while not building an equivalent maritime force.

Though the U.S. still enjoys an edge over China, this is dissipating. Michael O’Hanlon and former General David Petraeus co-authored a report for the Brookings Institution, in which they wrote:

[China’s] stocks of advanced combat aircraft, advanced submarines, other naval vessels, and ballistic and cruise missiles have grown enormously, and the majority of its newer main platforms in these categories are gradually approaching parity with the United States. Factoring in everything from aircraft carriers to the latest planes and submarines, the U.S. military still has a major lead over the People’s Liberation Army (of China), and the United States’ total stock of modern military equipment is worth perhaps ten times that of China’s. But the overwhelming superiority once enjoyed by the United States is largely gone.

China’s aggressive behavior and military buildup are compounded by the complacency of American policy. A clear lesson of history is that military advantage can be erased by weak will. The U.S. Navy does conduct Freedom of Navigation Operations in the South China Sea, and China usually responds with violent language. Without fear of military reprisal, China can act with disregard toward international law and regional concerns.

With China and Iran pushing at U.S. power, there is one more thorn in the side of American strategy: The sun is setting on the age of the aircraft carrier.


As technology develops, so do the weapons of war. Ever since the introduction of the cruise missile and laser-guided ordnance, capital ships have been ever more vulnerable. In 1982, during the Falklands War, two British ships were sunk by Argentine forces firing French-made Exocet missiles. A U.S. frigate was crippled in 1987 when the same missiles were fired from an Iraqi aircraft. With even more advanced anti-ship missiles extant today, especially from Russia and China, aircraft carriers are vulnerable when they come into range for offensive operations.

This is the premise of the A2/AD strategy, which is area denial defense. This seeks to render the offensive capabilities of the aircraft carrier useless by making the area of operations too dangerous to enter. While this would not defeat a deep water fleet, it would stop a maritime force from intervening at a point of conflict.

For Iran and China, this is the ideal course. They cannot hope to match the U.S. Navy in firepower, but they can dominate their respective local theaters. A report from the Center for a New American Security commented on this new era of naval strategy:

While the U.S. Navy has long enjoyed freedom of action throughout the world’s oceans, the days of its unchallenged primacy may be coming to a close. In recent years, a number of countries, including China, Russia and Iran, have accelerated investments in anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) capabilities such as advanced air defense systems, anti-ship cruise and ballistic missiles, submarines and aircraft carriers. These capabilities are likely to proliferate in the coming years, placing greater constraints on U.S. carrier operations than ever before.

Iran and China have been purchasing or developing advanced anti-ship and air missiles and deploying them at sea gates. This could prevent the U.S. from intervening against the blockade of a trade route without accepting the loss of capital ships. Iran and China intend to build the Persian Gulf and the South China Sea into no-go zones for the U.S. Navy. What is most interesting is that Russia has been providing most of the advanced weaponry. The long-range surface-to-air missiles deployed by Russia and China have a maximum range up to 600 miles. Among the possible threats are experimental stealth and supersonic cruise missiles. While the U.S. Navy does have countermeasures for these weapons, even the threat would drastically change America’s willingness to intervene, especially given the timidity of the current administration.

Under Siege

No nation or empire in history has been able to avoid decline and fall. Every great sea power has seen an end. The great fleet of Carthage, the Spanish Armada and the Royal Navy are all footnotes in our history books. The U.S. Navy cannot escape that fate. While many will accept this reality, they don’t believe it will collapse in the near future. The U.S. Navy is still the largest and most powerful in the world, they think. Surely America will find a solution. Surely our firepower will win out.

The most essential truth about the history and legacy of the U.S. Navy is that the mantle of sea power was a blessing from the Almighty God. They did not earn it or seize it ourselves; it was orchestrated by the God of Abraham, who fulfilled the promise He made to a man 4,000 years ago. The blessing of an instrument of world power was given, and it can be taken away. What is more, many of the end-time prophecies about the decline and fall of America reveal the collapse of the U.S. Navy!

In these last days, God prophesied that a prosperous America would suffer an economic siege. In Ezekiel 4:1-3, God tells the Prophet Ezekiel to create a vivid portrayal of what would take place before our very eyes (emphasis added):

Thou also, son of man, take thee a tile, and lay it before thee, and pourtray [or engrave] upon it the city, even Jerusalem: And lay siege against it, and build a fort against it, and cast a mount against it; set the camp also against it, and set battering rams against it round about. Moreover take thou unto thee an iron pan, and set it for a wall of iron between thee and the city: and set thy face against it, and it shall be besieged, and thou shalt lay siege against it. This shall be a sign to the house of Israel.

This prophesied siege against America, Britain and the Jewish nation of Israel will begin the great tribulation, prophesied by Jesus Christ (Matthew 24:21). The siege is confirmed by Moses in Deuteronomy 28:52:

And he shall besiege thee in all thy gates, until thy high and fenced walls come down, wherein thou trustedst, throughout all thy land: and he shall besiege thee in all thy gates throughout all thy land, which the Lord thy God hath given thee.

This blockade of the North American continent will lead to the terrifying conditions of Ezekiel 5. In a state of chaos, a beleaguered and divided America will be conquered by the nuclear sword! The rest of the inhabitants will be made slaves.

Perhaps this seems far-fetched or a work of fiction. But circumstances are already moving to fulfill these prophecies. Among them are the challenges confronting the U.S. Navy. In order for the U.S. to experience an economic blockade, 1) the U.S. would have to lose the ability to protect trade routes, 2) a new international economic system would have to emerge, and 3) a nation would have to step into the power vacuum. All these forces are already in motion. What has accelerated the decline is the lack of political will. God has broken the pride of America’s power (Leviticus 26:19). The nation’s leaders act as children, and America lacks men who can lead the nation out of disaster (Isaiah 3:1-5). Even America’s newest armaments are failures (read “Broken: America’s Latest Failed Supercarrier”).

All of this is leading to what Mahan feared the most for America, and what the Bible foretold: a siege by enemies. However, all of this is precipitated by the self-destruction of the mightiest maritime force ever in world history. As the age of the aircraft carrier ends, so does the age of America. National sins have become a millstone that will anchor America to its fate of destruction.

America has already passed the point of no return as a nation, but there is still time for individuals to repent.

Blessed is the nation God is for (Psalms 33:12). Cursed is the nation at whom God’s wrath is directed (Ezekiel 13:8). The history of the American Navy shows that God was “for” the United States, and that God made America into the world’s greatest superpower. The future of the American Navy shows that the nation is being “cursed,” and that the American people have lost their way. America can be great again, but only when the great God returns and makes it so.

These are the last days full of danger and uncertainty. The history and future of the U.S. Navy is essential to understand to see how prophecy is being fulfilled. However, there is much more to digest from God’s warning to America. To understand more on the coming siege and how it will come about, read Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry’s July 2016 cover story “China Is Steering the World Toward War.”