Thursday, April 21, 2005

A Solution for U.S. Foreign Antagonists: The Battleship

Over the past month, Oliver North, Jim Carey and myslef have been pressing for the re-activation of the 2 remaining Iowa Class battleships. Now the cause has been joined by Frederick W. Stakelbeck Jr.who has written an article also pressing for the re-activation of these ships.

Opponents of battleship re-activation note that the dominance of carrier-based air power since WWII has made the once-mighty battleship a relic. They argue that advances in offensive weapons technology, naval manpower shortages, insufficient domestic shipyard capabilities, a lack of tooling facilities, and the cost prohibitive nature of re-activation in a time of federal budget shortfalls, dictate an end to the battleship.

However, many in Congress and the military believe dismissing the battleship is a bad idea. Veteran U.S. Senators Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and John McCain (R-AZ), USMC Commandant Michael Hagee, and General Walt Bommer (USMC-Ret), have all questioned the Navy’s ability to support Marine expeditionary forces without suitable sea-based fire support that only battleships can provide.
Both ships could be re-activated at cost of 2 billion dollares, which is the cost of one DD(x) Class ship. The Iowa class are more hevily armed, heavily armored and faster the the DD(X) Class of ships.
The Iowa-class battleships have 9 16” guns that can throw a 2,700 pound projectile more than 20 miles inland; 32 Tomahawk ASM/LAM cruise missiles; 16 Harpoon ASM missiles; 12 Mk 28 5” 38 caliber guns; 4 Mk 15 20 mm Phalanx CIWS; and air/surface search radar. With a top speed of 33 knots, they are amazingly fast and carry an unbelievable amount of munitions. This exceptional combination of speed and power makes the Iowa-class battleship an awesome weapon.
The capability of the 16 inch naval rifle is as currently configured. Ollie North point out in his article, that with advances in projectiles, the range of the guns could reach 100 miles.
With the threat of war in the Pacific a distinct possibility, it would be a mistake to dismiss the pivotal role that the two remaining battleships, the USS Iowa and USS Wisconsin, can play in a military conflict. Not even the stealthy, futuristic DD(X) class ship, the next generation of Navy ship, can provide the overwhelming firepower of an Iowa-class battleship. Moreover, the new generation of lightly armored DD(X) ships will not be available until 2013. At a staggering $2-$3 billion dollars each, defense orders have already been slashed from 24 to 5 ships, making the Navy’s job of enforcing U.S. foreign policy interests even more difficult.

So, what can the U.S. Navy do in the interim to meet emerging global threats? It would take less than two years to re-activate the USS Iowa and USS Wisconsin at the cost of one new DD(X) ship. The logical step would be to use the older Iowa-class battleships until new ships have been proven to be combat ready.
While congress has continued toscale bck the Navy, the Chinese continue to build their's up. In time, the PLA(N) will be more then a credible threat ti the US Navy. With China looking to expand to Tiawan and the Spratley Islands, no it not the time to be weaking the ability of the Navy to both interdiction missions and mission supporting the possible need for landing Marines on hostile shores.
Future global conflicts will require large Marine amphibious landings, especially if China invades Taiwan and occupies the island before U.S. forces based in Guam and Japan can adequately respond. Battleships are well armored with a greater survivability rate than today’s lightly armored Aegis frigates. Possible military engagements with China, Cuba, and Venezuela will require maximum volume and lethality on hardened targets at close range. This is what the battleship does best. Commenting on the psychological impact of the battleship on hostile forces, Captain Larry Seaquist of the USS Iowa noted,

“When we would sail the USS Iowa down the Strait of Hormuz [to protect oil tankers] during the Iran-Iraq War, all of southern Iran would go quiet.”
This last quote is a telling tribute to the fear placed in the heart of an enemy that the Iowa Class brings.
Abandoning the battleship will only weaken the U.S. as its overseas commitments increase. Battleships are needed in the U.S. Navy arsenal more than ever today, since many of the ongoing disputes involve island nations such as Taiwan and Cuba. The demoralizing effect of 16” shells raining down for hours on a Chinese mechanized division or Cuban infantry division would be enormous.

Is it possible that Chinese dictator Wen Jiabao, North Korean strongman Kim Jong Il, Venezuelan leftist Hugo Chavez, or Iran’s terrorist-sponsor Mohammad Khatami could become the next Saddam Hussein, invading a helpless neighbor for economic and political gain? Let’s hope not.

But in case any of these tyrants have thoughts of using military force to conquer or intimidate, the Iowa-class battleships can provide a quick and deadly response. They are a flexible, mobile and powerful platform by which U.S. foreign policy objectives and democracy can be promoted worldwide. Battleships continue to be an unmistakable sign of American commitment and strength.

It will take up to two years to prepare the USS Iowa and USS Wisconsin for active service. The U.S. Congress and U.S. Navy should start the re-activation process right now by implementing recommendations for capital improvements that have already been made.

For once the last two great battleships are converted into museums, they will be gone forever.
Some times old is better. It is time for Congress to put the great ladies of the sea back in action. - Sailor

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