Battleships: Pro and Con

First the pro. The latest in a series of op/eds in the Washington Times: Battleship misinformation.

Then the con. An article hyping Northrup Grumman stock. They build the DD(X), hypothetically anyway: Northrop Grumman’s Fight for a New Warship

And why is it that articles always say the battleships have 16″ guns while the DD(X)s have 155mm guns? Why isn’t it ever 406mm to 155mm? Or 16″ to 6″? Just wondering.

Comments

  1. ‘What in the world can the Navy be thinking?’ My sentiments exactly! How many billions are we going to spend on a ship that mounts 155 howitzers? They must be on take from Northrop Grumman, why else the rush to effectively scrap the 2 ships that are the logical alternative. It is all about money – my tax money being transferred to lobbyists, Northrop Grumman, and some Admirals who happen to land very lucrative positions there right after retirement. I know a Marine Gulf War vet who witnessed first hand the destruction the Iowa inflicted on Iraqi units – I was not too far away myself. It was almost beyond description. Entire enemy columns, miles inland, were simply erased by the big guns without exposing any American except the occasional Forward Observer to potential harm. Here is the earlier article by the same guy – I liked the story about the New Jersey nailing a deeply buried NVA headquarters. http://washingtontimes.com/op-ed/20050605-105946-6398r.htm

  2. I will have to go with the opinion that the Navy is against the battleship on public relations grounds. What navy wants to known to be floating around in 6o year old ships. The Navy wants to be known as the most advanced, high tech…and so on. What most people fail to realize that in the current environment, the US military is technologically obsolete. At issue, is the long development process. The military is a first adopter, in terms of R&D type items, but by the time the military decides to go ahead with the project, the project is obsolete. Case in point is the B-2 bomber, the most expensive aircraft in history, has the computing power a decent desktop computer. Normally wartime, is a time when the military pulls its head out and starts thinking about effectiveness vs power point presentations and ‘revolutionary developments’. Case in point is the Army’s spirial program for new techs. The navy, however, has been the general loser in the high tech competion. It lost the A-12, and was forced to become the all F-18 fleet, as a result of bungled R&D, procurement, and general incompentency in assessing its needs. The simple truth is that the DD(X) would be the last ship you would send into the littoral environment. Its simply to expensive to lose and more over its too vulnerable. The stealth premimum on aircraft is justifiable due to the big sky concept. [An aircraft, no matter how large, is a small point in the sky. ] Paying the stealth premium for surface ships is problematic. Basically, the sea is a two dimensional plane, while large, can be easily monitored by multiple systems. Compared to aircraft, a ship is a large slow target that cannot be effectively hidden. A passive multi-spectral scanner mounted a blimp can effectively dominate an 1 to 200 humdred mile section of sea. Providing guidance correction to a missile would be not needed, all you would need t o do is launch the missile into the ships general area. The missile itself, would rely on passive, immaging tech, using multiple source data – EM radiation, thermal, magnetic, pattern matching sources. ( Case in point, no matter how stealthy a ship is, if the ship moves it creates a wake pattern in the ocean. This wake pattern can be tracked via radar, space assetts, thermal,and acustically.) With such a system, an opponent could turn the litoral area in a death trap for any ship that cannot take a hit. Think of the strait of Hormuz. The Navy should look a reactivating the battleships as vital part of its modernization programs. The battleships would a be bridge from the current fleet to the new fleet. This would enable the navy to buy ‘off the shelf’ advanced technology for its new toys. The Navy claiming how its high tech it is because of its automation systems, should look first at the commericial automated ships for guidance. I can envision the battleship as the core of the brown water fleet. Just think how effective the sea fighter would be by using the battleship as a fire support / tender / command vessel. for example: War with China of Tiawan. The battleship surface action fleet consisting a battleship, 2 Agis cruizers, 1 air-independant sub, a couple of LCS and a swarm of sea fighter. This force would be used as a blocking/raiding force to to contain the chinese navy close to shore. The blue water carrier fleet out behind Tiawan could provide air support.

  3. How many billions are we going to spend on a ship that mounts 155 howitzers? That’s disingenuous. If we take your statement at face value, the only way to measure the effectiveness of warships is by the guns they carry. This hasn’t been true since the Batlle of the Coral Sea, which was the first time opposing naval forces slugged it out without any of the ships catching sight of each other. The DD(X) ships are meant to be multirole, low maintenance, long-life vessels. They make use of automation to reduce crew size, thus increasing the space available for supplies and stores and increasing the time the ship can stay at sea. The DD(X) also incorporates one of the most sophisticated sensor suites on the planet, allowing it to control a vast globe of territory. And, yes, I said ‘globe’. Threats lurk under the water and fly over it, as well as float along on the surface. One of my best friends is a sonar operator on a US Navy destroyer. She just spent 6 months in the Perisan Gulf, protecting innocent lives by scanning for mines. Her section won an award for doing such a good job, and she can’t wait to get her hands on the new system. So far as littoral environments are concerned, that’s why the US Navy is buying both Littoral Combat Ships and Littoral Surface Crafts. Bottom line is that there’s plenty of legitimate reasons to criticize the DD(X), from the high initial cost to the integration of some unproven features and weapons to the small numbers that will be built due to the aforementioned cost. Complaining that it isn’t a battleship with big guns isn’t one of them, and you’re being dishonest when you state the reasons for your position. James

  4. It’s the way Marines judge warships. Can you put enough firepower on a given target to destroy it? Everything else is secondary. When Marines call for fire and get only the popgun 5-inch deck gun of the current fleet, or are told ‘tough luck’ the target is out of range, they really don’t give a shit about nice sensors or crew size. Now we are told that for a few tens of billions, we will get a marginal upgrade in support. The DD(X)155mm won’t come close to the range or firepower of a battleship. Also, being essentially unarmored, the Navy will be reluctant to get them too close to a beach and will be more likely to run if they take fire. Sounds like a great way to dispose of many unwanted billions of dollars – can we get new rifles now? Perhaps the DD(X) ships have enough merits to warrant to investment, but please don’t try to sell it to the Army and Marines as a cure all for our current lack of shore bombardment capability. Compared to the battleships, it is a big step backwards from what any ground pounder wants from the Navy.

  5. Perhaps the DD(X) ships have enough merits to warrant to investment, but please don’t try to sell it to the Army and Marines as a cure all for our current lack of shore bombardment capability.’ I’m not. The inescapable fact is that the DD(X) is tailor made to suit the needs of the Navy. That is, after all, the main point that naval warships are built in the first place. So far as naval support for inland troops are concerned, the Navy clearly is looking to the new LCS and LSC craft to do the job. Criticisizing a craft designed to operate in a blue-navy role is not a reasonable position. If I’m reading the comments from the previous posts correctly, the rational seems to be that the DD(X) costs a bunch of money, and if the US didn’t build any of them then there’s be money for battleships. This is silly since there’s no way, no how, no chance that battleships will ever be built again unless something incredibly radical happens. There smply isn’t any reason for BB’s in the future, and that’s the way it is whether anyone likes it or not. James

  6. I do not believe that anyone is advocating building new battleships. The debate is over what to do with two remaining battleships in mothball storage. The DD(X) advocates want them struck from the register and turned into museums. I am in agreement with those who believe that this would be a terrible waste of some of the most powerful ships ever built. DD(X) or not, the battleships have incredible offensive and defensive capabilities unlike any other in any Navy and should not be carelessly thrown away. I think that they are needed now. They could be renovated and equipped with up to date off the shelf electronics and defensive weapons for about $1.5 billion. This would take about 2 years. If we really don’t need them now, we may in a few years or whenever the next hot war breaks out. Meanwhile, if feasible and cost-effective, the DD(X) could proceed. I don’t know enough about naval technology to argue it’s pros and cons as an open water combat ship. As a former Forward Observer, I do know that when the Navy says it can provide comparable shore support as a battleship, they are full of it.

  7. This is silly since there’s no way, no how, no chance that battleships will ever be built again unless something incredibly radical happens. There smply isn’t any reason for BB’s in the future, and that’s the way it is whether anyone likes it or not’ Facinating statement. One issue that is not often put to the fore, is that there has not been any significant naval conflicts since WWII. What conflicts that have occurred have demonstrated that the theory of armor as ‘dead weight’ that ultimately restricts the ability of ships to move, fight, and remain on station, is wrong. The ability of the current navy to withstand a multiple missile attack has never been proven. War games, have tended to point to the fact that a naval task force under a concentracted missile attack (20 to 30 missiles will do) would be wiped out. Surface ships are targets vs submarines and air forces. Simply put current defenses cannot handle multiple strikes in a time compressed environment. So now in the DD(X) we have the latest incarnation of the great hope of technology vs technology. Capability wise, the DD(X) is simply not worth it. 90 missiles, & 2 ACS on an electric drive ship, does not provide a capability that cannot be matched or surpassed by other cheaper means. Your statement about the DD(X) being a blue water ship, is in contrast to the Navy’s assertion that the DD(X) is a littoral ship. If the DD(X) is a bluewater ship, why the ACS? what is it going to shoot? whales? The comparision of the DD(X) to the battleship is very apt. The Navy has protrayed the DD(X) as the answer to the marines shore bombardment needs. What I and others are trying to state, is that you can upgrade a battleship, to perform virtually any mission the DD(X) is to do. The upgrade cost would be orders of magnitude cheaper and the battleship’s firepower would vastly superior and the ship itself would be vastly more survivable. The DD(X) automation and small crew size, IMO is a bad combination. In everyday function, it is a great idea. As a function of damage control its a prescription for being sunk. At issue is that the loss of crew memembers result in a disportionate reduction in capabilty. On a reduced crew ship, the lack of onsite machine shops and damage control means that the ship would not be able to repair itself. Repair facilities would have to maintained thousands of miles away. In short, the 60 year old battleship remains a viable naval weapon because it was made at a time when the Navy was at war and knew the priorities of ships at war. The ability to move, fight, take damage, and keep the ability to get the crew home. Current naval thinking has had the last 50 years to forget how to make a capitol ship.

  8. The successor to the 16′ gun isn’t the 5′ gun or the 155mm railgun. It is the Tomahawk cruise missile and the F-18 with a full load of bombs (from the 2000 lb dumb bomb to smaller smart bombs). The Navy routinely provides fire support to U.S. troops, Army and Marine alike, in Iraq, right now, by dropping JDAMs on very short notice from F-18s circling over the area of operations. The pressure in current operations is to find smaller munitions for fire support than the Predator based Hellfire, not larger ones. Both the Gulf War and Iraq War began with sea based cruise missle volleys and aircraft based strikes until there were no more targets that could be identified. Both a Tomahawk and an F-18 can engage targets far beyond 115 miles with munitions which are roughly the same size as a shell from a 16′ gun. Both are far more accurate than the 16′ gun every was a long ranges. The 5′ gun is the successor to the .50 caliber machine gun that earlier ships mounted. It really has no purpose other than to destroy small craft that come to close. In the same vein, it is worth noting that Abrahms tanks killed fewer enemy tanks in Iraq than Bradley based TOWs did. Again, missiles are a better weight to firepower value than slug throwers.

  9. I will eat my helmet the day the Navy sends a Tomahawk as a fire support weapon. It is too expensive and too slow a process to get them on a battlefield target. I love close air support (CAS) – I was on a Forward Air Control Team in the 1st Gulf War. However, CAS is almost never the first choice. Even my FAC team would call for fire with other weapons first. It takes time to get a plane on target and exposes a live pilot and a multi-million dollar aircraft to enemy fire. Helicopters are slower and even more vulnerable – I read once that the expected combat life span of an attack helicopter in a war against the Soviets was 9 seconds. Imagine a real war versus the Chinese or Russians with good AAA weapons and interceptors. At least half those F-18’s will be busy keeping their bombers off me. Mortars and artillery are the first choice – they can’t be shot down and the laser-guided copperheads are as deadly as a Maverick missile. Then comes Naval gunfire if available – those 16′ guns are a FO’s dream. Finally, if there are no alternatives, you request Close Air Support. If the situation appears dangerous for aircraft, you use a standoff weapon like the Maverick or Hellfire if available. We have grown too comfortable with CAS because we have not fought an enemy with a good Air Force for so long. I think the Chinese might notice flights of bomb laden F-18’s lingering over an area of operations and send a wave of modern interceptors to greet them. The difference between an M-1 and a Bradley is not offensive firepower – it’s defensive. An M-1 can take a frontal hit from almost anything and keep fighting. The Bradley dies much easier. The same with a battleship versus anything else on the seas. Naval weapons are no longer designed to penetrate the almost two feet of armor on the hull.

  10. In theory, you could replace fire support with cruise missiles and F/18’s. The latest cruise missile can loiter for a couple of hours and be targeted on the fly. Of course, you could get alot more bang for the buck by using artillery. The F/18 costs thousands of dollars per hour, and more over, the F/18 cannot land while carrying its bomb load, so every flight that it does not get called to drop bombs, means the bombs go into the ocean. Both the cruise missile and the f/18 are vulnerable to counter measures, and have limited endurance. These weapons are better used in interdiction missions.

  11. In response to Bram, I don’t think that we will ever choose to engage in ground warfare until we have achieved control of the airspace (including AAA), this has certainly been the dominant military doctrine from Kosovo to Iraq, and essentially all ground warfare for the United States is a matter of choice — no one is carrying out a ground invasion of the U.S. The Tomahawk, as opposed to the F-18, might not be used in the heat of battle, but it does replace the 16′ for ship to ship combat, and in destroying all fixed targets in the landing objective area, a role that might have been filled by the 16′ in earlier days. In response to James, the next step is not to restore the battleship, but to replace the F-18 with a UAV that has greater loitering abilities. We seen early versions of this with Predators used for CAS (something that can be done in situations risky enough that helicopter and fighter pilots can’t be risked). One UAV variant being discussed has been called the ‘Coke Machine’ for its ability to linger and dispense a variety of munitions on demand. This UAV option is close enough to make it an attractive competitor to the battleship. Incidentally, the missile v. slugthrower debate is also playing out in artillery. The military is buying hundreds of new 5 ton truck based MLRS systems to allow MLRS to be C-130 deployable. The Crusader was cancelled (in part because it cost 10 times as much as the current MLRS system, while delivering not much more than couldn’t also be provided by aircraft). As far as the cost issue goes, the cost of naval guns isn’t primarily in the shells. It is in the cost of the battleship ($1 billion just to restore and upgrade an existing ship, and tens of millions a year to operate one). In contrast, we have more than enough resources to deploy fighters and cruise missiles now. Dumb fighter bombs are cheap. Cruise missiles are expensive ($570K each). But, you can afford to fire 4,000 of them (plus another 10-20 per year of operations) for the cost of upgrading and maintaining two battleships. Did we even fire 16′ guns for CAS 4,000 times in Vietnam?

  12. The DD(X)155mm won’t come close to the range or firepower of a battleship.’ Just to be clear (and for the record, I think DD(X) is a bad idea overall), DD(X) is not a destroyer with a bunch of 155mm howitzers on it. The idea behind the DD(X) is to use a railgun. The idea behind a railgun is to shoot the business end of a bullet accurately, without having to worry about the propellant — one version wouldn’t even have a HE component, it would be a pure kinetic energy weapon firing an inert slug of metal at supersonic speeds and relying on the sheer force of impact for results. The range would be longer than a battleship. The DD(X) railgun is supposed to be good for 115 miles. Battleship ranges for 16′ guns, I’ve heard quoted from 20-40 miles. The round wouldn’t be 2000 lbs, as in a 16′ gun, but comparing a railgun round to a 16′ gun round is an apples and oranges thing. To start with you have to remove from the 2000 lbs, the portion of the 16′ gun round that powers the business end from the ship to its destination. Then, you have to adjust for the fact that the railgun round is going much, much faster than a shell from a traditional naval gun. I don’t claim to have the exact equivalency for a railgun system that has yet to be built, but if one is going to criticize DD(X) one shouldn’t use a strawman argument to do it. Also, because railgun rounds are much smaller for equivalent firepower, a ship could carry many more of them (and hence require less logistics support) than a ship with a comparable naval gun.

  13. ohwillek- I don’t think that we will ever choose to engage in ground warfare until we have achieved control of the airspace (including AAA James -You are right, if given the choice the US would never choose to engage in ground combat without achieving air dominance. Just as if I was given a choice, I would never commute to work unless I could be guaranteed that there would be no traffic jams. The US enters wars on the basis of vital interests not air dominance. I can see it now, ‘What North Korea is invading?? Hold please ….I am sorry South Korea, we cannot deploy ground forces to aid you until we achieve air dominance. ‘ ohwillek -Just to be clear (and for the record, I think DD(X) is a bad idea overall), DD(X) is not a destroyer with a bunch of 155mm howitzers on it. James – Actually yes it is. The Navy had shifted the ACS program to the 155mm size, because the army had perfected a GPS guided 155mm round. The Navy as a cost cutting move, is having the DD(X) use the same rounds. The load out of a DD(X) is 600 155mm army rounds (Range 24 miles)+ 24 long range attack rounds. (Range about 70 miles) As the standard naval support standoff distance is 20 miles or so, the DD(X) is useless as shore bombardment weapon. James – DD(X) rail gun. This is currently vaporware. I am sure they will be made, but not any time soon. ohwillek – The Tomahawk, as opposed to the F-18, might not be used in the heat of battle, but it does replace the 16′ for ship to ship combat, and in destroying all fixed targets. James – A DD(X) has 96 missile tubes. So you could have up to 96 Tomahawks. The tomahawk is armed with 1000 lb warhead. A battleship standard load out is 1200 16 inch rounds & 5000 5 inch rounds. 16 inch rounds, can destroy hardened sites, the tomahawk cannot. Yes, a tomahawk is better then a 16 inch vs other ships. A 16 inch shell would most likely just blow right through another ship. That is why battleships carry harpon missiles. ohwillek -In response to James, the next step is not to restore the battleship, but to replace the F-18 with a UAV that has greater loitering abilities. James – That may be an option, assuming that no shoots the UAV down, that you can park enough UAV’s to make a difference, the weather is good, and the enemy cooperates. ohwillek-Incidentally, the missile v. slugthrower debate is also playing out in artillery. James – You should look up the NLOS Cannon. The argument between rockets and guns has been going on fore decades. The consenus is that both have a role to play. The Crusader was cut because, it weighed 50 tons and it costs a fortune. ohwillek- As far as the cost issue goes, the cost of naval guns isn’t primarily in the shells. It is in the cost of the battleship James- Ok a F-15 will run you about 60 million. Each hour it flies will set you back about 4500$. Pilot training will come in at around 2 million. Then you need the air base, fuel depots, maintence crew, security guards….and so on. ohwillek-Cruise missiles are expensive ($570K each). But, you can afford to fire 4,000 of them James – Quite true, of course we only have about 4000 in the inventory now. Then again, an aircraft carrier will set you back about 4 billion. So how about we get 12000 more cruise missiles? This is apples to ducks thinking. ohwillek- The range would be longer than a battleship. The DD(X) railgun is supposed to be good for 115 miles. Battleship ranges for 16’ guns, I’ve heard quoted from 20-40 miles. James – DD(X) has no railgun. No railgun has been built. No railgun has fired anything 115 miles. The BB 16 inch gun, exists, there have been 16 inch rounds fired over 50 miles. In the 16 inch vaporware catagory, estimates reach out to ranges of 200 miles or more. ohwillek- Also, because railgun rounds are much smaller for equivalent firepower, a ship could carry many more of them (and hence require less logistics support) than a ship with a comparable naval gun James – There is no railgun. Assuming one is built, and you could supply it with sufficient power. Yes you can carry more ammuntion. This is because a rail gun slug, would have far less mass, and most likely no internal explosives. I would go so far to say that a rail gun could exist in harmony with a 16inch gun, as each would have a specialized fire support mission. Moreover, there is no reason why a battleship could not carry the rail gun. ohwillek- I don’t claim to have the exact equivalency for a railgun system that has yet to be built, but if one is going to criticize DD(X) one shouldn’t use a strawman argument to do it. James – Excellent point. The battleship exists the DD(X) does not. The battleship can do everything the DD(X) could, and do it better and at a lower cost.

  14. a few points here …. they may be valid ..im an ex missile gun director blind .. fire controller the argument seems to revolve around a few things missles v guns … be afraid of guns ..they are thick ..they go bang at one end and bang again when they hit something ( bonus degrees of sensitivity )… missles are really intelligent …you can bullshit them in so many ways it just isnt funny … garanteed arrival points ..guns 3 missles 0.1 the space saving by using rail guns v explosive propellent … yup the rounds are smaller … but the extra generators required to propell them are f…g huge and reliability ( continuity of generating capacity )for damaged ship use would be low … propelant points … size cordite 3 rail 2 reliability cordite 3 rail 1 ( in action (the bit that actually counts )) cost per unit … the old battlers could be upgraded to less than 20% original crew numbers with increased fire and sensor powers to a marked degree …wont bother giving points apples and crossbow bolts ( literally ) then there is a small matter of survivability and moral large ship high value target … large amounts of armorplate protection small ship high value target… no extra protection again no vote ( self evident ) …i would rather be sitting in an ops room on an old battler than a shinny new baked bean tin

  15. Kind of a side bar question: Does anyone know of a Navy publication/ justification of why they no longer put armor on the ships?

  16. Don’t the long range rounds for the 5′ guns have a range of over 60 miles. Couldn’t the same kind of rounds be developed for the 16′ guns. This debate is all mute anyway because the Chi-Coms will most likely use tactical nukes in any naval battle because they know that even 20 years from now they would lose a stand up fight.

  17. The BB in the 21st century is one big con. We only have 2 left and the only thing they could do is wave the flag. The costs to operate a 60+yr old platform is not even worth debating. They have no real SAM capability and would be sunk by shorebased SSMs in the 1st 5 minutes of engagement. You guys talk about the BB can do everything the DD(X) can do… The BB has no expandabilty for the weapons of the 21st century. Railguns and theatre wide defense lasers are the future of seabased platforms and DD(X) is the only thing that can do it. The currently planned DD(X) is more capable in AA with the SPY-3 radar than all the AEGIS ships stationed in the Med at one time. That means 1 DD(X) = 10 Aerliegh Burkes against cruise missles. And I am LMAO thinking about a BB in this roll. I wouldn’t mind seeing 1 of the BBs exchanged for 1 of the command ships and become a flagship again, that would be fine with me. But to deploy them for combat in todays littoral environment means 1,500 dead sailors and billions wasted on conversion for 2 ships. DD(X) is the template for a whole new 375 ship fleet.

  18. [‘The costs to operate a 60+yr old platform is not even worth debating.’] The cost of building DDX isnt worth debating either? [‘they have no real SAM capability and would be sunk by shorebased SSMs in the 1st 5 minutes of engagement’] Thats why we modernize ships, you can slap goalkeepers, phanlax, lasers (when they become practical), anti-missile missiles on a battleship. tut tut. [‘railguns and theatre wide defense lasers are the future of seabased platforms and DD(X) is the only thing that can do it’] Neither of them are ready for practical use and wont be for some time. [‘That means 1 DD(X) = 10 Aerliegh Burkes against cruise missles’] Oh, care to post links? Btw, the armour of the DDX is no greater than the Burkes, which means that then DDX can be sunk by a rubber boat filled with explosives, pathetic! The US navy has grown too comfortable, in a REAL war (not against talibans or some other crappy miliary) you are going to get hit, so you must be able to take some punishment as well as give it. 155 mm vs 16′: 155 mm…… HAHAHAHHAHA, its not even worth comparing them to a 16′ shell. All you can hope for is that the enemy dies in laughter. Btw, GPS 155 mm rounds are less cost efficent than tomahawks. I say forget the DDX program, too expensive.

  19. Isn’t it possible to upgrade or redevelop the 9 16” main battery of a Iowa class to increase its range? And use the same shells? If so, then we can have them a floating piece of US soveignty firing shells from extreme BVR. I’m not into the railgun thingy, I’ll have to see it in action to actually believe its expected capabilities. Naval guns are a sure proven system. Also remember the Montana Class was scrapped because it was too expensive, CVs reigned supreme, and becuase WWII ened; but man oh man, it would be a beautiful sight to see a 12 16” salvo. (I have no military background, just some 17 year old who like the old BB vs. BB naval battles.)