Aircraft carriers have a powerful offensive punch, but they need to be escorted. Inadequate escorts can lead to a situation like what the British carrier HMS Glorious faced off Norway when the German battlecruisers Scharnhost and Gneisenau intercepted her. The United States and European Union (EU) both possess large numbers of escort ships, but in different numbers and of different design.
The United States Navys Atlantic Fleet holds about half of the major surface escorts in the U.S. Navy. The major classes of escorts are the Ticonderoga-class cruisers and the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers. Eleven of the former and twenty-one Burkes are currently assigned to the Atlantic Fleet. The plans are for at least 31 Burke-class destroyers to enter service with the Atlantic Fleet. The Spruance-class destroyers and Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates are in their final years of service. The former ships are being retired early, with only three presently in service with the Atlantic Fleet, while the latter have had their primary weapon, the Mk 13 missile launcher, removed. Eighteen Perry-class frigates are in service with the Atlantic Fleet.
The EU has a large number of surface vessels. There are two cruisers, the Italian Vittorio Veneto and the French Jeanne dArc. Perhaps the best EU vessels will be two classes of guided-missile destroyers: The British Daring-class (also known as the Type 45) and the French-Italian Horizon-class. The British are building a dozen of the Daring-class, replacing the current Type 42 destroyers (early versions of which took part in the Falklands War) on a one-for-one basis, France and Italy are combining to build eight Horizon-class vessels.
Other European destroyers include Frances Georges Leyuges-class ships (7 of which are in service), the Tourville-class ships (two active, one in reserve), the Cassard-class guided-missile destroyers (two ships) and the Suffren-class guided-missile destroyers (one active, one in reserve). The Netherlands are bringing the De Zeven Provincien-class online. Greece has four old Charles F. Adams-class destroyers, and Italy has four guided-missile destroyers, two of the Audace-class and two of the Luigi de la Penne-class. This is a total of thirty-eight destroyers more than the Atlantic fleet. Of this total, only the Dutch destroyers are really close to the level of the American Burke-class destroyers.
It needs to be noted, the new European destroyers have electronics suites comparable to the Arleigh Burke-class ships. That said, they are still inferior to the American vessels. The Horizons and the Darings might be good, but they have 48 VLS cells each. That is half what is a Burke-class ship. It arguably will take two Daring, Horizon, or De Zeven Provincien-class destroyers (40 VLS cells) to match one Burke. And these destroyers only carry surface-to-air missiles, the Burkes can also carry Tomahawk land-attack missiles.
Europe also has a large number of frigates. The Royal Navy brings in 16 of the Type 23 (or Duke-class) guided-missile frigate and four of the old Broadsword-class (Type 22 Batch 3) frigates. France adds in the six LaFayette-class stealth frigates, six Floreal-class frigates, and nine Destienne dOrves-class light frigates. Belgium adds three Wielingen-class frigates. Denmark has thee Niels Juel-class frigates. Spain has four Alvaro de Bazan-class guided missile frigates, six Descubierta-class frigates, six Perry-class frigates, and five Baleares-class frigates. Greece has two Knox-class frigates and four Hydra-class frigates. Italy has four Lupo-class frigates, four Artigliere-class frigates, and six Maestrale-class frigates. Germany has three Sachsen-class frigates, four Brandenberg-class frigates, and eight Bremen-class frigates. Norway is bringing five Fridtjof Nansen-class frigates online to replace the Oslo-class frigates. Portugal has three Vasco de Gama-class frigates. The Netherlands have two Jacob van Heemskirk-class frigates, two Kortenaer, and eight Karel Doorman-class frigates
The EUs frigate force clearly outclasses that of the Atlantic Fleet, both in quality (the gelded Perry-clas frigates have no real offensive capability, and a minimal point-defense capability with the Phalanx Close-in Weapons system). There is also a quantitative edge. The EU can bring 126 frigates into battle, but many only have point-defense systems and a limited self-defense capability. Of the frigates listed, only the Sachsen, Bazan, and Jacob Van Heemskirk-class frigates can provide area air defense, and these ships are arguably closer to destroyers.
The EU carries a quantitative edge in overall surface combatants. That said, quantity is not the end-all and be-all in warfare. The Americans carry a qualitative edge, and that will count in naval warfare. The American Arleigh Burke-class destroyers are solid designs, and the Ticonderoga-class cruisers are the best surface warships in the world. Whether European quantity can overcome American quality is an open question. Harold C. Hutchison (email@example.com)