No more battlewagons

I noticed this a while back, but the article was subscription-only and I was hoping that more info would come out from public sources. Hasn’t happened, so I’ll point out a DefenseTech post from May 25th that quotes part of the DefenseNews article.

The last two IOWAs, the WISCONSIN and the IOWA herself, will be disposed of in the Senate’s version of the 2006 appropriations bill. This will leave the US Navy with no battleships available.

They will be replaced (more or less) by the new DD(X) destroyers. Though these ships are called ‘destroyers’, they’re far more powerful (relatively speaking) than destroyers of old.

Maybe reclassification of ship types is in order?

In any event, the DD(X)s will cost $5 billion each for the first few copies. That’s a lot of green for a destroyer, and reclassifying it as cruiser won’t change the financial impact these new ships are going to have on the fleet. As the Strategy Page article I linked to indicates, the new Littoral Combat Ships will apparently come in at around $250 million each, and these LCSs will probably contribute more to the type war we’re likely to be fighting during the next decade than the blue water heavies (besides the carriers). Dropping one DD(X) would allow 5-8 additional LCSs.

However, we need to keep a larger perspective and realize that every mission the Navy is called on to perform won’t be like those they’re called on to perform today.

I’m loving the modular LCS and it’s smaller cousin. But we will continue to need bigger ships as well. And maybe even a big-gun battleship. Besides their 16-inch guns, the WW2 battleships have other advantages. As a reader notes

If the bombers that blew up the Cole had hit the Iowa, I would be all for spending the 25 bucks for the can of touch up paint.

I’m not really lobbying to keep the battlewagons in reserve, though I can see why doing so might be a good idea. The manpower-intensive requirements of a battleship work against it, of course, and the fact that they’re sixty years old (though much of that has been spent in mothballs)won’t help.

Also, why was the IOWA kept in reserve while two of her sisters were retired? I seem to recall that turret two was never fully repaired after one gun blew up in 1989. If the ship itself is in better condition than the two that were retired (the MISSOURI and the NEW JERSEY), I guess they could ‘just’ pull a turret from one of them to replace the one on the IOWA if needed. More likely, though, everyone knew that there was no way in Hades that the ship would ever be reactivated and therefore it didn’t matter if it was fully functional or not.

And as for reclassifying the fleet, what does everyone think of that? Has it ever really been discussed? Wouldn’t it make sense to have a full array of battleships, battlecruisers, cruisers, destroyers, and frigates based on capabilities and mission?


  1. IMO the Navy has made (3) strategic decisions over the past 50 years. (2) good ones & (1) bad one. The Good- split the resources between the Carrier battle groups and the Submarine fleet. The bad? to go tech happy and decide that armor on a ship was too expensive & out of date. So now we have a fleet, that is virtually unarmored. As a result, the fleet is particularly vulnerable to asymmetric attacks. (ie the Cole bombing) Against a missile attack, ff an attacker does make it through the defenses, the current ships are crippled with a single hit.( Even if the warhead did not go off- HMS Shefield) So now the Navy is trying to build the DD(X). The ship is basically unarmored. So its big commitment to the ability to stay afloat? the Peripheral vertical launch system. The logic- if the ship is hit, the concern is that the damage would result in the magizine exploding. So if you place the magazine on the edges of the ship, the explosion will not destroy the ship. Think about that one. So some yahoo, in a power boat equiped with an RPG can destroy a 5 billion dollar ship. That is why we need to revisit the idea of a battleship. Electronics can be jammed, or spoofed, ignored by the crew, or restricted by rules of engagement. Armor plating is a proven means of protecting a ship and when we are actaully considering buying a ship for 5 billion, I think there should be some thought on how to protect the ship. With respect to the battleships – see this report . With the costs of DD(X) going out of control and the failure of the advanced gun system, the Marines may never get the surface fire support they need. At this point, the Navy is in crisis, it appears like they really do not know what they want to do. The submarines are looking for missions to do. The carriers, are becoming F-18 only and the surface fleet is pricing itself out of action.

  2. Pitiful! What a crime! The Navy has abdicated 2 of its main missions. It can no longer get large numbers of Marines or Soldiers to a beach – see Murdoc’s post on the Army’s Swift Boat. And it can no longer provide any meaningful type of shore bombardment or fire support except air support. The comment above about the lack of armor is also true – they now build tin cans that can be opened up way too easily. The Navy brass (not its Sailors) hates the battleships for the same reasons the Air Force hates the A-10: -+ They are very effective, -+ They are not sexy, pretty, or high-tech, -+ They do not require huge sums of taxpayer investment, (so how’s a retired Captain supposed to get a 6-figure job at Lockheed Martin?) -+ They support Soldiers and Marines, so who cares? All the battleship Sailors I’ve know love them. What other kind of ship would you want to be on when stuff is flying towards you? Congress should force the Navy to re-activate the battleships. For the money, they are a great deal. They have huge amounts of empty space on the decks, formally used for AA guns, to mount other weapons. They can deliver ship to shore firepower like nothing else. They’re relatively fast, they tough beyond description, they can slug it out against other ships with missiles and guns like no other ship in the water. Nothing, not even an aircraft carrier, is as in-your-face American as the Big-Mo sailing into a harbor. They reek of strength and power in a way no missile hauler ever will. If the Army can build its own transport ships, maybe the Marine Corps can take over the battleships! The Air Farce and Navy can go off and design irrelevant weapons systems together and get the funding they deserve. Retiring the battleships is an irreversible error. I will be writing to my Congressman.

  3. I think one of the reasons for retiring the BB’s was the availability of gun tubes. Those puppies have a limited lifespan and I don’t think we (currently) have the industrial capacity (and the shame of it all for that!) to make new ones. Now you probably could yank the big guns off as they reach their failure point and replace them with Tomahawks and other weapons. Heck, put an atomic ‘boiler’ in those puppies and you’d have an armored ship that could stay at sea without refueling and nasty enough weapons to make folks think twice about crossing the line.

  4. I don’t see where you get $5 billion for the DD(X). The first is scheduled to cost 3 billion with a spending cap of 1.7 for the rest of the line. Thats not all that much more than the Aerliegh Burks anyway. They aren’t retiring the BBs b/c of gun tubes. They are doing it b/c they are 60+ yrs old and are obsolete, would you like them to pull the USS Olympia out of her berth! I think the Iowa should be converted to a command ship, nothing better than a BB to wave the flag. I think she still has enough communications equipment from the 80’s upgrade to do it. But don’t even think about putting them into combat.