Big Guns Go Silent (also cross-posted at Defense Tech)
Jason Sigger the Armchair Generalist has a post up on battlewagons. First, he points out a Robert Novak column called Marines fear scuttling battleships which includes:
The Navy’s anti-battleship bias began Dec. 7, 1941, when the Japanese surprise attack destroyed the U.S. Pacific Fleet’s battleships. Although admirals in 1946 vowed never to bring back battleships, they served effectively in the Korean, Vietnam and Gulf wars. Congressional pressure brought the USS New Jersey to Vietnam for six months, leading the Marine Commandant, Gen. Leonard Chapman, to conclude, “Thousands of American lives were saved.” The Marines calculated that 80 percent of 1,067 U.S. planes lost in Vietnam could have been saved had battleships fought the entire war.
The admirals moved to get rid of battleships forever when GOP Rep. Richard Pombo proposed sending the USS Iowa to Stockton, Calif., as a museum. The Navy supports that as well as making the USS Wisconsin a museum in Norfolk, Va., and repealing the existing requirement to keep two battleships in reserve. The Navy’s anti-battleship campaign began March 15 when Adm. Charles Hamilton briefed the House Armed Forces Committee. It is no coincidence that Hamilton has been the Navy’s point man promoting DD(X).
Never has it been clearer how the military-industrial complex functions.
These battleships are old, they’re expensive to maintain, and the industry doesn’t support manufacture of the ammunition for the big guns. The Marine Corps does have air support and field artillery systems for fire support. I don’t see the justification to keep battleships just so you have an option to fire on North Korean military structures, as Novak alludes. Maybe it’s time for the big guns to go silent.
Vietnam was a great place for battleship fire support because, geographically, so much territory was within the New Jersey’s range. That’s not the case with Iraq and (obviously) landlocked Afghanistan. But Korea and that other big country with all the people to the south both fit the bill rather nicely. It’s no secret that I’m a bit of a DD(X) critic, and I think that there’s a place in the Navy for battleships. At the same time, I realize that they are old girls and that the manpower requirements (even with full-modernization plans) are pretty significant.
Another factor against the battleships is that precision munitions have taken the place of artillery barrages for the most part. One reason that 16 inch naval fire is so valuable is because it just plain levels everything. But a perfectly-placed smaller round can often complete the mission without cratering the neighborhood. Yes, I know that there are proposed precision shells for the 16 inch guns, and that the large size makes cramming the guidance system easier than it is on smaller rounds, but developing that program would add considerable expense to the battleship scenario. And one of the prime attractions of the battleships is the relative cheapness of reactivating them.
Still, Murdoc is a traditionalist in many ways and would sure like to see these monsters at least remain on inactive inventory. You can bet that ten minutes after they’re signed over to become museums crews of workers will be boarding to make sure they’re incapable of reactivation. I like having the option available.
One thing I’d like to point out, though, to battleship critics is that the “vulnerable to modern weapons” claim is pretty much rubbish. These girls were not built only to fire 16 inch guns. They were built to fight other ships with comparable weaponry and survive. They were built to take hits from 16 inch guns. Back then, in the good old days, capital ship vs. capital ship fights were extended slugfests. Getting pounded by the enemy was part of the plan.
Just because virtually every ship built since WW2 relies on compartmentalization and damage control parties to survive hits to the tinfoil hull doesn’t mean that “ship killer” missiles are going to have the same effect on a beast like an Iowa-class battleship. A couple of days ago I noted that some spies for China had managed to steal, among other things, sensitive information about the survivability of battleships. Here’s what I said about it:
I haven’t seen the document, but I imagine it says “Real damn survivable. I mean, really, really survivable. When planes with bombs crashed into them, they cleaned up the mess with a broom and a can of gray paint. Use the missiles on other ships.”
These things were designed to go toe-to-toe with others like them.
Finally, here’s an article that a reader pointed out some time back about the battleships that I meant to post about but never got around to it: Marine Corps and Naval Surface Fire Support
Follow the links. Read. Discuss.