The legality of retiring the battleships

This isn’t an attempt to start another DD(X) vs. BB cage match. I don’t think MO has the bandwidth for all that hot air. What I’m wondering about is the actual legality of the move in the latest budget.

Here’s a snippet from 1996:

National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1996 (Enrolled as Agreed to or Passed by Both House and Senate)


(a) RETURN TO NAVAL VESSEL REGISTER– The Secretary of the Navy shall list on the Naval Vessel Register, and maintain on such register, at least two of the Iowa-class battleships that were stricken from the register in February 1995.

(b) SUPPORT– The Secretary shall retain the existing logistical support necessary for support of at least two operational Iowa class battleships in active service, including technical manuals, repair and replacement parts, and ordnance.

(c) SELECTION OF SHIPS– The Secretary shall select for listing on the Naval Vessel Register under subsection (a) Iowa class battleships that are in good material condition and can provide adequate fire support for an amphibious assault.

(d) REPLACEMENT FIRE-SUPPORT CAPABILITY– (1) If the Secretary of the Navy makes a certification described in paragraph (2), the requirements of subsections (a) and (b) shall terminate, effective 60 days after the date of the submission of such certification.

(2) A certification referred to in paragraph (1) is a certification submitted by the Secretary of the Navy in writing to the Committee on Armed Services of the Senate and the Committee on National Security of the House of Representatives that the Navy has within the fleet an operational surface fire-support capability that equals or exceeds the fire-support capability that the Iowa class battleships listed on the Naval Vessel Register pursuant to subsection (a) would, if in active service, be able to provide for Marine Corps amphibious assaults and operations ashore.

Now, if I’ve got the right one, this has long been described by battleship supporters to mean that the Navy simply cannot strike the battlewagons until equal or greater naval surface fire support is available to the fleet. That support clearly is not yet available.

So how can the ships be striken?

(Oh, all right…one little DD(X) vs. BB debate is okay…)


  1. Well, that’s my question. The 1996 bill prevented the Navy from retiring the Iowas until fire support equivalence was available. Does this new bill mean that the 1996 requirements are simply chucked out? If that’s the case, fair enough. I’m just unclear whether the new bill is ‘ignoring’ or ‘undoing’ the 1996 bill.

  2. Its time to let the queens of the see go. Have we forgotten this well-written article? Also, can someone explain to me the surface support requirements issued by the USMC? Does it specify A. Range, B. Firepower, C. Accuracy of said firepower, and D. Availability? I think this is key to solving this issue. Does the navy have to build a ship for this requirement? Or does it merely have to be able to fullfill it with any means neccessary at any given time? IE, if the fire-support in mind is requested, can the Navy fullfill it using a combination of airstrikes and cruise missiles with help from surface combatants like DD(X)? -Adam

  3. Surface support requirements – As I understand the issue, the Navy has never really defined the surface fire support requirements beyond having the equivalent firepower of a Iowa class. The intended goal, was to force the Navy to include firesuopport elements in its ship building. At the time, the Navy figured that it would take about 10 DDX’s to equal a Iowa class. With the cost issues of the DDX, basically the navy is never going to be able to supply the equal of a Iowa class. Personally, I think the Navy would be lucky to build 4 DDX’s. ( The Navy is going to be facing a serious ship / capability crisis soon) Air support & cruise missiles…. Chicken and the egg. If you have to make an opposed landing, air support will not be available until air superiority is gained. Once you have air superiority, you do not have an opposed landing…..( A couple of flights of B-52’s will end that issue) Cannon support is all weather, always there, and is cheap, hopefully plentiful, and it works. Side note- a landing that involves the Navy carriers – is most likley going to be out of range of the air forces tactical fighters. That means the Navy will have to gain air superiority by itself… Against a real air force, say a a couple of squadrons of Mig-29’s or 31’s with pilots who know how to fly and you have a carrier wing in trouble.

  4. The USAF can fly missions anywhere in the world. Chances are F-22As and B-2s will launch the first salvo in any conflict before a carrier gets the orders to move to the location in question. What the F-22A doesnt kill in the air, the B-2A will kill with a buttload of JASSMs. Followed by B-1Bs and Buffs to take out other things. A naval carrier air wing has the capability to handle an enemy air force. They have the best in missiles (the AIM-120 AMRAAM), with the best in electronics systems (radar systems). Frankly, theyll have trouble against larger air power, but the whole point is teamwork. While all the branches fight each other for budget money, they do work together in the real world (the vast majority of the time) As for the navy luckily getting 4 DD(X)s? I dont know if you noticed sir, but the navy is dead set on getting its next generation fleet. This includes LCS, CG(X), and CVN(X). Its their FCS and F-22A program.

  5. So, if I understand correctly, here is how the Marines would be supported: Battalion Forward Air Control (FAC: ‘DASC (Direct Air Support Coordinator), I have a JATR (Joint Tactical Air Request)’ DASC: ‘Send it’ FAC: Sends JATR for support against an armor brigade advancing towards their position. DASC: The Carrier Air wing is presently fully engaged in an air battle. A B-2 is taking of from it’s U.S. base. It will be on station in 14 hours. Good Luck. FAC: Arty, you up yet? Arty: ‘Nope’ FAC: ‘Requesting Naval Gunfire’ Navy: ‘Dream-on Jarhead’ FAC: ‘Cruise missiles?’ Navy: ‘Very funny, you know how much those things cost?’ FAC: ‘Have the hospital ship stand-by for many casualties’

  6. About the time the Navy was placing its Aegis system on the Spruance hulls, Congress voted that future Navy cruisers should be nuclear powered. So where are the nukes now?

  7. Bram, by the time the marines wouldve hit the beach, the USAF and Carrier air wing wouldve knocked out most of the enemy’s defenses. Plus the marines have their own artillery. Step 1: Use naval and USAF airpower to secure airspace and air superiority. Step 2: Have aicraft use their million dollar weapons and features to take out enemy air defenses, artillery, and ground vehicles. Step 3: Land marines with fire support from surface vessels. Step 4: Support marines using Harriers (or JSF), Super Cobras, and their own artillery. As well as any available naval assets. Step 5: Land heavy marine units such as their M1A1 tanks.

  8. You forgot Step 0: Make sure you know about every conflict well in advance so you have enough time to position your forces to perform Steps 1 and 2 first. ;)

  9. This is a stupid debate. Battleships need to be too close to shore to do their thing. If you have air superiority, then you don’t need the battleship. If you don’t have air superiority, then what the hell is a 45,000 ton ship doing within 50 miles of shore under disputed airspace? One salvo of Sunburn missiles launched off the back of a couple trucks and/or some fighter planes and its all over. Phalanx can’t hit it, SeaRAM’s never been tested against the real thing, and SeaRAM only carries 11 missiles per launcher anyway. A lone battleship wouldn’t last 20 minutes. You could put a whole battle-group within 50 miles of shore under disputed airspace … but you’d lose your star(s) within minutes of making that idiotic decision. All of that ignores the historical ineffectiveness of the 16-inch gun in practice, of course.

  10. There are a couple of points here. (1) it’s much easier to achieve air superiority over water initially than it is over land. It’s much easier to spot aircraft flying across water as the ‘terrain’ is more predictable. The airspace around a group of ships is a much smaller area to maintain superiority over than the whole battlespace. Naval SAM systems can augment patrolling aircraft to protect the airspace, something not possible over land until PATRIOT systems and such have reached shore. (ii) Once you have the superiority, the battleship can deliver a large volume of fire in a short time even to a well-defended target. If there are no airbases nearby, B-2s or whatever will have a long round trip time, severely limiting the amount of ordinance they can deliver. As long as the battleship can be protected it can deliver a lot of damage to anything coastal in a short period of time, then retreat to re-arm. I wouldn’t REPLACE aircraft with a battleship – I would augment them. Keep in mind too, if there’s a nearby carrier group, even though it can be stationed further out to sea (reducing the range of its fighters over land), it still has to be protected against aircraft and such launching cruise missiles, so any forces defending the BB are already going to be doing the CBG a service. What’s more, these ships already exist, all that needs to happen is for them to be kept so that they can be used IF THE SITUATION MERITS it. It’s not like we’re talking about spending tens of billions of dollars building some new ships. Maybe spend a bit upgrading them so they can have smaller crews (and thus less lives at risk). But why take the option off the table altogether when it’s so cheap to keep it? History has shown that aircraft simply can’t do some things. People seem to forget this, and re-learn it each time. Aircraft just can’t replace artillery in some roles, as much as we would like them to.

  11. You can’t have air superiority 50 miles from somewhere you don’t have air superiority. What does it take 1 or 2 minutes for a Sunburn to go 50 miles? Its not that cheap to keep it by the time you upgrade the targeting systems, retrain crews, upgrade anti-missile systems, and most importantly, figure out how to make the 16-inch shell accurate enough to matter.

  12. The USAF can fly missions anywhere in the world.’ Yes, the air force can fly missions anywhere. Provided the enemy plays ball. In the two most likely zones – Korea & Taiwan. Its quite likely that short range ballistic missiles will wipe out most of the runways. The F-22 is great but it needs to land sometime. Extended missions using Arial refueling is not a realistic option. Not when you only have a few planes. The Navy will have to fight its way in. The Marines will have to secure a landing zone. (See Bram’s very good example of thier plight) ‘his includes LCS, CG(X), and CVN(X).’ The LCS is cool little ship, with lots of potential. Hell, I would scrap the DDX for 15-20 LCS’s. The CG(X) is beyond vaporware – never going to happen. CVN(X) The great white whale of a carrier. Nothing against it, I fully support it and believe the Navy needs it. That said, it is only a carrier and a carrier is only as good as its planes. The F-18 just is not it. Given the flak the army is getting on the FCS, I would not try to compare the Navy programs to that budget bomb. If you look at the Navy’s budgets, you’ll notice that while its goals are expanding, its budgets are shrinking. There is no room in the budget for a super high tech fleet. Pretty soon after this latest Navy dream of 313 boats dies in reality – you are going to start hearing about some ship life extension plans. As for the sunburn. Ironically the Iowa’s are the one Navy ship that can breathe a sigh of relief. The sunburn was made to sink a carrier. So a two ton supersonic missile with a 750lbs warhead is deadly. That said, the Iowa’s armor belt was designed to withstand heavier hits. A sunburn’ sea skimming attack has it running head long into the Iowa’s thickest armor. No, a sunburn is not the answer to an Iowa.

  13. Oh one more thing … A carrier battle group is going to be stationed close enough to shore to protect a Battleship that has to be less than 50 miles from shore (30 miles if the 16-inch gun range can’t be extended)? Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha I haven’t laughed so hard in ages.

  14. Air-dropped guided munitions obviously are very valuable and a very welcome addition to the arsenal. But I don’t see the Army and Marines eliminating artillery because air power is there. Marines use their own arty when landing (as noted above)? Absolutely. 16′ guns not perfect for all fire support in all situations? Obviously. Air power (especially with JDAMs) taking on far, far greater role than ever before? Undoubtedly. But air power is not the answer to every single situation any more than 16′ naval fire is. That’s why I have favored keeping the battleships in reserve until something (anything!) can replace their firepower. I don’t see it, and I don’t see it coming. As for survivability, these ships were not only designed to fire 16′ shells, they were designed to get hit by them. And fight on. They’re not invulnerable. But they’re as damn close to invulnerable as ships get.

  15. You don’t think a 300 kg armor-piercing warhead traveling at Mach 2.2 cannot penetrate 12 inches of 1940s era steel? You’re almost as funny as Nicholas.

  16. You don’t think a 300 kg armor-piercing warhead traveling at Mach 2.2 cannot penetrate 12 inches of 1940s era steel?’ …umm yes. The sunburn is not structurally designed to penetrate that kind of armor plate. It does not have the ability to physically penetrate the plate, as it lacks a high strength/ mass penetrating warhead capable of breaking the Iowa’s hardened steel plate (There is a reason why the Iowa’s AP a couple tones of steel with a 100lb warhead) A sunburn that hit an Iowa is going smash up/ not penetrate the armor plate and explode. The high mass of the armor belts + its inherit toughness will allow the amour to absorb and deflect the explosive force without rupture. Now vs. any other ship – the Sunburn is going to slice through the hull and detonate – most likely sinking any ship smaller then a carrier. . With respect to 40’s steel. The steel used in the battleships was the best steel money could buy. In fact, even if we wanted to, we cannot make another Iowa for any price… we (meaning the US & the rest of the world combined) simply lack the capability to produce sufficient amounts of that high quality steel. Yes, there are current armor materials that in some respects is pound or pound more capable, there is no modern armor can match the Iowa’s armor belts in hardness, toughness, and resistance to penetration – that you could produce to make another Iowa.

  17. Also, put it this way. If the US scraps all big, powerful ships, all your enemies can stop worrying about them and buy SAM systems out the wazoo. Keep those BBs in mothballs, maybe upgrade them a bit, and your enemies might be worried about them. They might shell out some of that hard-earned (heh) cash on some Sunburns or diesel subs or whatever. Even if you never bring the BB to the fight, that money could be spent on something that would make the Air Force and Navy’s job hell. So, keep the BBs and force them to spend a fair portion of their resources worrying about it, making sure they have weapons to hit it and kill it – the planes, the missiles, the detection equipment etc. Even if they do have these missiles, and you bring the BB, chances are they’re going to screw up and get the planes shot down or something anyway. All you do by placing all your eggs in the same basket is allowing your enemy to do the same. Only, since they’re going to be the defender and you’re going to be the attacker, the advantage of doing so will be much greater for them. If all the US has to strike with in 30 years that can survive the average SAM system will be stealth aircraft, you can bet that your enemies will be spending most of their money on radar systems and missiles that can hit stealth aircraft. Whereas, if you are a threat to them in multiple ways, they will probably not be able to dedicate enough money to defeat all those methods of attack. Basically by ditching everything but a few weapons you play right into the hands of those who would oppose you. Even if those weapons are very good, chances are there will be a way found to defeat them. Then what will you do? At least, that’s how it seems to me…

  18. Skip / Chuck, Watch the documentaries of any WWII amphibious assault. In every battle the Navy assured the Army and / or Marines that their heavy guns and bombers had knocked out all possible enemy resistance. In every battle they were wrong. In the Gulf War we bombed for forty days and nights. When we assaulted into Iraq and Kuwait we still found ourselves fighting against big mechanized formations. Luckily our armor and our use of combined arms was so superior, we won in a rout. I’ve been a Marine and now a Soldier for too long to believe that air power alone will clear out a landing area unless they are using nukes. Is it really asking so much to send a ship with heavy guns I can call when needed?

  19. Bram, Your argument to keep the Battleship is that it was ineffective in WWII? Nicholas, Considering the Battleship’s range is currently at most 30 miles, I doubt there are any potential enemies that are spending one penny on anti-Battleship munitions instead of SAMs. Do you really think getting rid of the BBs will allow enemies to free up resources? Based on what information? James, A 2.5 kg RPG warhead can penetrate 10 inches of RHA steel. I think you’d be surprised at the amount of steel modern AP designs can penetrate. And regarding 1940s steel. I don’t know why you brought up the volume of today’s steelmaking. We may not be able to make enough to build a battleship (who’d want to anyway?), but modern steel formulations kick ass over 1940s steel.

  20. Even if those weapons are very good, chances are there will be a way found to defeat them. Then what will you do?’ You develop new ones. You don’t go back to 70-year old designs. The Battleship was defeated 60 years ago. By your own logic, we should not rely on it.

  21. Chuck – The ’40’s’ grade steel used in the Iowa is still used as armor plating. Under the classification :MIL-S-16216 Comparing Mil-S016216 to Mil-A-12560 ‘RHA’ is comparing apples to ducks. The Iowa armor is on average 6.5 times stronger then RHA and at least 30% harder then hardest version of RHA. Remember when they were all desperate to uparmor the Humvee… One issue was obtaining enough MIL-S-16216.

  22. James, I’m a little confused about what you’re arguing. Are you now arguing that because HY-80 is still used, that steel technology hasn’t progressed in 70 years? Doesn’t matter anyway. We’re talking about HY-80 (not what’s available now). The Battleship’s armor was designed to stop one of its 16-inch shells from penetrating. Sunburn delivers, what, 10 times the energy (kinetic + explosive) that the 16-inch shell of that era did? That’s a lot of energy to absorb. I’m not sure I’d want to be the guy putting 3,000 servicemen’s lives in danger with those odds. Oh, right, they won’t be in danger because we’re gonna put a whole battlegroup 30-50 miles offshore under disputed skies.

  23. Is it 3,000 servicemen? Now that I think about it, that might be really much too high. Maybe its more like 1,500 … they probably don’t really know, since it depends on how the ship would be upgraded upon redeployment.

  24. Check, I raised the issue of the current use of some kind of steel that protects the Iowa, that is being used in ‘current’ armored vehicles. Your post about ’40’s’ steel, seemed to imply that the Iowa armor plate is obsolete and that modern weapons could slice through it with ease. For example – you seemed to imply that a RP-7 could pierce the Iowa’s armor. That is simply not true. Now you are quite correct that the development of steel has continued since the 40’s. There many new forms of steel that have that out perform some aspects of the Iowa steel. However, to date, there has been no version of steel created that renders HY-80 or HY-100 obsolete. With respect to kenotic energy. In theory – An Iowa 16 inch shell will deliver about 415 Mega joules of force. Assuming 2700 lbs shell at a velocity of 2300 feet per second. In practice, that shell delivers about 210 Mega joules – enough to penetrate 32 feet of concrete. In theory, a Sunburn, will deliver about 730 megajoules of force. Assume a missile of 9900 lbs at a velocity of 2200 feet per second. So exclusive of the warheads – it would appear that the sunburn has the edge. However, much of the sunburns mass comes from its sold rocket booster, jet fuel and flight surfaces. Therefore you would have to reduce its effective kenotic energy by significant amount. In addition, the sunburn is not an heavy armor piercing weapon. For example its nose cone is fiberglass. The warhead is classified as semi-armor piercing…The Basically , the sunburn penetrates, as if it was a really big mallet and the battleship’s AP shell penetrates like it was a really big crossbow bolt. By being a big mallet, its kenitic energy is spread out over large area. I doubt that it would be able to generate the 100,000 lbs per cubic inch energy required to penetrate the armor. The sunburn works against today’s ships because they are basically unarmored, so its massive but relatively unfocused kinetic energy is sufficient to blow through the hull. Against the Iowa, it would most likely make a big dent. With respect to the warheads = a semi-AP warhead – is basically a delay fused warhead. Since its most likely that the missile is not going to penetrate – the exterior explosion is going to ruin the paid job. A battleship is very resistant to external explosions. With respect to range. The Iowa has a proven capability to fire rounds 70 miles. More over the Iowa class can dish out an amazing amount of ordinance. In the Gulf War – the Missouri alone unleashed a million pounds of high explosives. As a side note- the sunburn is a big missile. Ships equiped with it – carry 4-8 missiles in total. Where as the Iowa carries over a 1000 16inch rounds.

  25. No matter what, hitting a battleship with a missile will result in crew death and possible mission kill. Especially if the superstructure is hit.

  26. Crew death and mission kill? It is quite possible, depending on the size of the missile. Historically, battleships have been able to absorb tremendous punishment, and retained their ability to perform the mission. That said, if your requirement is to have a ship that is not subject to a soft kill or crew death in the event of combat – well what can I say. What I can say is that with a battleship – the crew has the best chance of survival and the mission has the best chance to success reguardless of enemy action. Our Navy’s current position is one of total reliance on active defenses. (Missiles & ECM). The end result are ships with a massive cost but without any significant ability to absorb enemy fire. The DD(X) adds the concept of passive stealth to the mix (thus increasing ship cost a few billion more). However, passive stealth and active defenses do not tie together very well. So choose wisely. In any event, if the ship is actually struck – the ship is then rendered combat ineffective with significant loss of life. The HMS Sheffield was sunk by a missile that did not detonate. The Stark, the Cole and so on. The pattern is clear – one hit, one dead ship. People have visions of the stealth fighter/bomber whenever they hear the word stealth. Being able to travel with impunity through defenses. Air & submarine stealth works. Surface ship stealth is a lot harder and much less effective.

  27. What I can say is that with a battleship – the crew has the best chance of survival and the mission has the best chance to success reguardless of enemy action.’ Strong words with nothing to back them up. A new technology ship (such as DD(X)) will have mission completion capabilities that a battleship currently does not. Most importantly, accuracy. Secondly, range. Hard to complete a mission if you can’t hit the target accurately and you’re less vulnerable the further away you are. Surface stealth isn’t designed to make a ship ‘travel with impunity through defenses’. No one here has claimed that at all. Surface stealth is designed to reduce the range at which radar can detect the ship. At this it is very effective. Considering we’re talking about placing a ship 50-miles offshore, making it harder for missiles to lock on is a very important feature.

  28. Chuck – First the low blow -A new technology ship (such as DD(X)) will have mission completion capabilities that a battleship currently does not’ Ok, I’ll grab a crew, you grab your and we will meet in mid atlantic 6 months from now…. What? oh yea the DD(X) has not been built yet… Ok you have two points – accuracy and range and somehow the DD(X)inheritly provides them over and above a battleship. You are confusing the ship with the weapon. A cruise missile, a harpoon, is just as accurate fired from a DD(X) or a battleship. The only weapon unique to the DD(X)is its upgraded 155mm guns. Lets say- the DD(X) takes on a full compliment of LRLAP rounds with 70 mile range. (Say 600 rounds) The LRLAP shell is a underpower 155mmm shell with a rocket assist and is a glide munition. So you have a weak weapon that has a comparitively long flight time, that is unable to penitrate fortifications or armored vehicals. So the big question- If you put 8 DD(X) cannons on a battleship (replaceing its 8 dual 5 inch gun mounts)snd you can have a 8000 round magazine. (vs the DD(X)600) Would your opinion change? As you have been so found note – technology has advanced. For example the range of 16inch gun is 23 miles. Now in 1981 there was built and fired 16 inch shells that have a range of 50 miles. If we so desire- creating a 16 inch shell that has a range of 100 or 200 miles is not a huge technology stretch. There is something to say about a size – gives room for expansion. In a straight up competion with respect to range, firepower, accuracy. A DD(X) shell, will never win. Its simply a function of payload and capability. If you notice – the most effective air force bomber is the B52. Its not supersonice, or stealthly, but its big, and you can modify the heck out of it to do things no one thought of in 1950. Just because something is old, does not mean that it is not effective in it role. My position – is that the Battleship is not the end all be all. Its not that there is no role for the DD(X). My position is that the DD(X) should not and cannot play the role of the Navy’s primary firesupport ship. It is and should be used as a primary command and control ship. Used to corridinate the efforts of a task force. The DD(X) and the battleship should compliment each other not replace each other.

  29. for anybodys info theres also a 1,5 inch decaping plate that the sunburn has to penetrate begore hitting the main armor. probably enough to start tearing apart the missle and detonate it. Also behind that 12 inch of armor is 2 inches of concrete and 4/4 inch steel plate that the armor is fastened too. Also for the ship has a excelent torpedo defense system and a triple bottom.