Book Review – Ships and Aircraft of the U.S. Fleet

Ships and Aircraft of the <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />U.S. Fleet

Eighteenth Edition by Norman Polmar

U.S. Naval Institute (

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Ships and Aircraft of the U.S. Fleet, offered by the U.S. Naval Institute, is an essential reference book for any military, naval or maritime library.  But it is more than a resource to be consulted when a question arises, for anyone who is mildly interested in ships; this book is very enjoyable to browse or study. 


First published in 1939, “Ships and Aircraft of the U.S. Fleet” is now edited by naval analyst and historian Norman Polmar.  Prior to that, James C. Fahey and then Samuel L. Morison compiled the book.


You will be able to find any and all U.S. warship, auxiliary or craft in naval service that you may possibly encounter at sea or in port.  “This includes the Coast Guard, Army, NOAA and other ‘fleets,’” Polmar says. 


The book covers vessels and aircraft as well as weapons, sensors and people.  It’s been an indispensable resource for years.  I remember consulting it when I stood watches at sea. 


I have the reprints of the wartime editions that the Naval Institute re-released a few years ago as a boxed-set, and I keep my earlier editions.  These older editions are very useful for research.  The current 672-page edition has more than 900 pictures and drawings.  Polmar updates the book every three years or so, but don’t throw out your old copy when you get your new edition, because each volume has information not found in other editions. 


“I have authored the 11th through 18th editions and have already begun work on the 19th edition,” Polmar says.


The 18th edition features a listing of all major warships built since World War II.  Naval aircraft, wings and squadrons are displayed, including those discarded or disbanded in the last decade.  Beyond organizational charts and discussions of the structure of the Navy, Marine Corps, the reader will also find the Department of Defense and the Unified Commands to whom the operational naval forces report. 


As new technologies evolve, the book has stays up to date.  For example such as a new chapter that covers unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).  The Navy’s new ships, the Littoral Combat Ship and the DD(X) destroyer, are covered in detail.  The  submarine conversion program for the Ohio-class cruise missile and special forces transport submarines is presented.  Polmar shares his expert knowledge on the new Virginia and Seawolf classes of attack submarines.  Experimental craft like the X-craft research vessel called Sea Fighter and the Sea Flyer “lifting body” experimental craft and discussed.  Navy coastal patrol craft (PCs) have joined the Coast Guard, and the Coast Guard’s “Deepwater” fleet recapitalization effort is explained.  High-speed catamarans, designed for passenger ferries, have demonstrated utility and flexibility in naval service.  HSV-2 Swift and Westpac Expressed have brought a futuristic look to the waterfront.  The new expeditionary warfare ship San Antonio (LPD-17) is in commission and others will soon follow.  The next generation of assault ship, the LHA(R) is on the drawing board.  New weapons are discussed, like the Advanced Gun System and the Mk 110 57mm gun. 


With the new there is also much about the old.  You’ll still find a chapter on battleships, although the remaining BBs are no longer active in the fleet.


There are a great many obscure and unusual vessels in the service of the Navy and Coast Guard.  And they are in this book.  There are floating instrumentation platforms (FLIP); cable repair ships, floating dry docks; buoy tenders; survey ships; torpedo retrievers; missile range instrumentation ships; Maritime Prepositioning Force RO/RO; crane ships, self-defense test ships; acoustic test barges; and nuclear-propelled submersibles.  You can find exactly what you or looking for in Ships and Aircraft of the U.S. Fleet.  Or, like me, you can lose yourself for hours looking for nothing in particular.




Edward Lundquist is a naval analyst and strategic communicator.  He is a retired U.S. Navy captain and is currently the director of corporate communications for the Center for Security Strategies and Operations, Anteon Corporation, Washington, D.C.


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