Oliver North on the battleships

Save the Battlewagons


During the 1981-1988 Iran-Iraq War, the Ayatollahs running Tehran decided that the best way to influence the outcome of the conflict was to attack western oil tankers transiting the Persian Gulf — through which passes 20 percent of the world’s oil. The U.S. responded by beefing up the 5th Fleet — and deploying the USS Iowa. The battleship’s captain, Larry Sequist described the effectiveness of the 45,000-ton armored behemoth: “When we would sail the Iowa down the Strait of Hormuz, all southern Iran would go quiet. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards were steaming around in boats with rockets, shooting at ships. When we arrived, all of that stuff stopped.”

I’d be willing to ditch the dreadnoughts if we had a different shore bombardment platform available. How about a four-ship class of monitors with two or three 8″ guns? I’d almost be willing to go with a ship armed with the Advanced Gun Systems (AGS) of the DD(X)s as long as it was decently armored and carried enough ammunition.

As I’ve said many times, I’m not proposing that we go and reactivate the BBs, though I wouldn’t be all that opposed to getting at least one of them processing so that it would be available for any Iran situations that may arise. But to get rid of these permanently without any replacement ever coming and even the first DD-1000 ships six years off is really asking for trouble.


  1. Murdoc et al, If you want a shore bombardment option, then yeah, a 4 or 6 ship class of specially designed monitors makes a lot of sense. I would very much consider doing what the Germans are thinking about, and that’s using an existing armoured turret from an in-use self-propelled artillery piece as the main gun battery. Put on a pair of 155mm howitzer turrets, or mayve even backdate it to the 8′ SP turrets we used to have, vietnam era if any are still around. A UAV launcher amidships for a targeting uav, a nice multi-service comm center, and a couple of MLRS boxes would compliment it nicely. Maybe a couple of ma-deuce’s to repel anyone foolish enough to try and board it or come alongside uninvited. Sounds like a winner to me. That is, if you CAN’T bring back the BB’s……… It just seems to me, though, that will the way the warfighting is shifting, we really ought to have some sort of shore bombardment vessel than can just wait on the gunline. Sometimes you don’t have the luxury to request airsupport, ya know? Respects, AW1 Tim

  2. I believe we should begin reactivating them ASAP, and send them immediately to the gulf. If we act now, maybe they will get there in time for the Iranian invasion of Iraq in 2011.

  3. Take the 5 Ticonderoga CGs that were decom’d (built in 80s). Replace the two 5’54 turrets with 8′ or 155mm guns already developed to fit in the same size turret ring. Replace one of the Mk26 twin-arm launchers with MLRS. Retain the other for air-defense. The helo facilities can be used to support UAVs. All of these ships are less than 25 years old…

  4. Its not the age of the ships that is at issue – its the design that is the issue. A Ticonderoga is top heavy, and a very vulnerable desgin. You can disable them is .50 Cal or 20MM gun fire. A few RPG hits would also take them out.

  5. DD(X) isnt so vulnerable. Its designed with the many lessons learned from the USS Stark and USS Cole. Its going to be an armored beast. Not on the same level as a BB, but with its overlapped defenses of ESSMs and CIWS systems, you wont be able to touch it.

  6. Of all the pro-DD(X) arguments I’ve ever heard, ‘armored beast’ has to be the dumbest. Really. ‘Overlapped defenses of ESSMs and CIWS’ is not armor. Cole didn’t have CIWS Block 1B, but it would have been turned off in port anyway. I’m not as anti-DD(X) as I sometimes sound, but ‘armored beast’ is more than a bit much. Armored beasts usually have armor worth talking about.

  7. If you want armor, then you bring back the BBs. None of our ships since 1960 have had real armor. The production tech to make such armor no longer exists. DDX was never designed with sufficient armor. One hit was going to kill it. All of those missiles, ammo and fuel means one-two hits are a kill. My descriptive of the Tico option was in response to AW1’s comment. A quick and dirty gunfire support platform. As to handling charactoristics, they were not that bad in the almost 4 years I spent on Yorktown…

  8. If it were up to me, this is what I would do: * Gut the two BBs. Open a hole in the top, remove the engines, dismount the turrets, bring it back to a shell w/bulkheads. * Permanently remove the rear turret. This makes room for more ammunition as well as missiles (which I think is overall more important than rate of fire). This also solves the problem of the destroyed turret on one of the BBs. * Install modern ammunition storage and transport technology for the front two turrets. Hopefully this will increase the amount that can be carried, and improve the rate of fire to compensate for the loss of the one turret. This should also cut down on the number of people required to run the ship. Plus it will hopefully improve safety on the off chance that something large enough to actually damage the ship strikes it. * Consider removing most of the superstructure and placing the C&C inside the hull, with remote sensors on a composite mast. However, the superstructure on those BBs is well enough armoured not to bother. If this were a new build, that is what I would do though. * Replace the engines with nuclear plants, if they aren’t already. Either way, refurbish them. * The area rear of the superstructure becomes a flight deck for helos, UAVs and F-35C VTOL aircraft. The deck itself hides a large number of vertical launch missile cells, housing Tomahawks, Standard Missiles, and anything else deemed useful. This is the trick the Russians used on their ships to jam in as many missiles as possible. * Fit plenty of active countermeasures (RAMs, Aegis guns, etc.) Also fit plenty of remote controlled 12.7mm, 20mm, 30mm guns and possibly also some TOW-type launchers. I think the result would be two rather fearsome ships with a decent service life for less than the cost of a couple of DDX’s.

  9. DD(X) has far more armor than current USN warships (not including the BB’s). PVLS offers increased survivability. Kind like ERA armor… but not really designed for that role. Add to that a bunch of weapons, and voila! Besides which, DD(X), CG(X), and CVN(X) are needed to keep US Shipyards alive. No matter the costs. Unless you want to outsource that to China too?

  10. If the cost to keep our shipyards alive is no object, then why are we not taxing foreign ships that put in at our ports? That would do the trick of revitalizing our ship building industry faster than building incredibly overpriced one-offs any day. They are giving you a Hobson’s choice. You can either not have a ship building industry or be hostage to the fantastic prices the defense contractors charge. The reality is, there are many more options and your mistake was when you gave the defense contractors any credibility to begin with. Don’t let them shape the debate.

  11. If we are talking about armor, consider the LHA Belleau Wood sinking. http://www.strategypage.com/gallery/articles/military_photos_200672004030.asp It says its survived multiple anti-ship missile hits and had to be sunk with extra charges. This is for a ship bult in 1978, and with no danage control crews, and anti-fire systems. It displaces ~40k nautical tons nearly 4x the DD(X), No compare this to the cole, which was on the verge of sinking after 1 hit (albeit by a suicide boat). The DD(X) may be needed as our next generation blue water destroyer, but it ain’t no BB. The Navy is pushing this aspect because they don’t want it cancelled, they desperately want there ‘sea superiorty fighter’. THe ships that might of actually been decent for NSFS like the arsenal ship, and the old DD21 were all cancelled.

  12. sif rebuilding two battleships wouldn’t ‘keep the shipyards alive’, at least for a while. It would be a significant amount of work. The current argument is analogous to ‘We want to win Le Mans and we have two old Porsche 911 GT1s rusting in the garage, but let’s buy five new Dodge Neons and enter them instead because the car industry would prefer we do that.’

  13. Good analogy, Nicholas. Given the state of our car industry today, I wouldn’t be surprised to see that very thing happen. To follow your analogy, however, the important thing is to WIN. If we would focus on WINNING instead of all the politics and bs, we would be much better off.

  14. My analogy would probably be better if you replace Porsche 911 GT1 with Ford GT40, actually. The GT40 is a much older and American-built car, but it’s still a hell of a race car in this day and age. The new version of it (the Ford GT, a proper roadgoing car) is better, but not by much. It just goes to show you that old technology, if properly implemented, wasn’t all that bad. Anyway I do think the analogy works better that way :)

  15. I agree ‘old technology, if properly implemented, wasn’t all that bad’, but very much disagree the new GT not better ‘by much’. The GT shares nothing with GT40, save its retro styling and similar name. Its about as related as the new vw beatle is with the old one. It was a ‘clean sheet of paper’ design, that intended to cash in on the GT40 mystique.

  16. PVLS offers increased survivability. Kind like ERA armor… but not really designed for that role.’ The PVLS is an example of the current Navy’s problem. From a power point perspective it is a grand idea, from an actual usage perspective its one of the stupidest ideas I have seen in a long time. 1st placing you VLS on the bow/stern areas – your primary armament is vulnerable to heavy sea state swamping your racks. Corrosion is going to be a major issue, as will be maintence since the PVLS locations are not easily accessed by the crew. From a defense perspective – in order for the ‘ERA’ like effect the VLS cells are ‘armored’ on the inside and not on the outside. This is great in theory – in practice, it makes the DD(X) extremely vulnerable to a terrorist attack. A RPG into a VLS results in a DD(X) that ‘survives’ but is functionally crippled (out of action for a year or two + a billion down the drain)

  17. VLS launchers are not hindered by heavy sea states. They are hot launched and will plow through the small ammount of water there. Corrosion isnt an issue. These systems are designed for blue-water service. The Hull is also going to be made of stainless steel to further reduce these problems. As for the RPG scenario… thats just stupid. What ends up happening is the destruction of one VLS unit. Patch the hull and stlip in a new unit. Simple, cheap. The DD(X) takes into account the lessons learned from the USS COLE attack. Hence the thicker armor, and improved damage control systems.

  18. Yes – you can fire a VLS is a higher sea state then the old rail launchers – that is not to say that they function in all sea states. That said the tumblehome hull design and PVLS creates situations where you are going to have serious corrosion issues due to salt water penetration. If you believe that corrosion is not going to be an issue – any F-14 mechanic. Stainless Steel hull? I had not heard that one. That really going to make it a bitch to reduce radar/ladar returns. PVLS repair? Are you nuts? We can’t even reload a PVLS (SM-2’s & Tomahawks) at sea let alone install a new one. Additionally the PVLS are quad set ups – so it one missile goes all four will go. If you look at the detonation tests, you’ll see while the design saves the ship the PVLS is history. At a minimum you are going to lose the functionality of the whole PVLS. Not mention your – stealth is going to be compromised. DD(X) armor? No the DD(X) is not armored. The Navy’s blast loading specs are not designed with the concept of resisting incoming attacks. Furthermore the all composite superstructure precludes the use of armor. That said, there is an illusion of armor due to the PVLS construction, – A DD(X) would fare just as poorly as the Cole did. Why? 1) no true blast loading specs vs incoming attacks – thus there is no provision in the ships design for armor, 2) since the ship is automated, with a small crew – destruction of the power lines, shock damage to systems, would result in catastrophic systems failure. One thing to keep in mind – we are building the DD(X) without the benefit of shock testing. With respect to the learning the lessons of the Cole, if the DD(X) is the product of those lessons learned – then I would say the Navy failed that lesson.

  19. Steve: Well, I have a video of a GT40 and a GT going around the same track with the same driver in almost exactly the same time. (If I remember correctly the new GT wins by a fraction of a second). Of course, a normal sized person can’t fit into a GT40, and I don’t think it’s street legal either. But my point is, it’s still pretty fast around a track. And while the BBs may be more than 50 years old, they’re still well armoured and armed ships. All they really need is an overhaul to reduce manning levels and extend their lives, I think.

  20. Yes I agree with that-I was just nitpicking before that their internals are not related. If what matters is how fast you get around the track, then they are as good. I think the single most important change for the BB, would be to introudce a saboted GPS guided shell with glide capability. This kind of tech allows 6′ inch shells to go 100nm, it could allow the 18′ inch multiple times that.

  21. I think the single most important change for the BB, would be to introudce a saboted GPS guided shell with glide capability. This kind of tech allows 6′ inch shells to go 100nm, it could allow the 18′ inch multiple times that. posted by Steve – September 18, 2006 12:36 AM They had already developed 11′ and 13′ Sabot rounds for the 16′ guns when the decision to decom the BBs was made…

  22. James, why do you bother? So a PVLS blows and saves the ship. AS DESIGNED. And thats a bad thing? Geez you’re nuts. Again, if one PVLS goes, you still have another 89 remaining. And your ship is saved. Also, the DD(X)’s hull is apparantly far more stable and the ship is far larger. So it fares better at sea states and can travel faster. Stainless steel hull is something new as well. But it doesnt preclude a coating on it as well. But it does have a blast loading seeing as they have done direct detonations on the hull itself with explosives. The USN isnt stupid. They dont need another Cole.

  23. The USN isnt stupid.’ Well, you sure can’t tell if you pay attention to their procurement scandals. How do we know the DDX isn’t going to be another A-12?

  24. Anybody ever heard of the Montana class battleships? I say we modernize that design, use the Iowa class until we get them, and scrap the DD(x) idea until they come up with a way to build them that won’t cost three times more than the modernization of both Iowa class.

  25. So a PVLS blows and saves the ship. AS DESIGNED. And thats a bad thing? Geez you’re nuts. Again, if one PVLS goes, you still have another 89 remaining. And your ship is saved.’ Wrong – A DD(X) has 4 PVLS. 2 in the stern and 2 in the bow areas. Each PVLS has 20 launchers grouped in packs of 4. In tests – this is what happens – a launcher explodes and sets off sympathic explosions from the other rounds in the pack. The end result, is that the entire PVLS is blown up, but the blast is mostly directed away from the ship. In an actual ship this would result in a hole in the bow or stern at least 20 feet x 50 feet in length. The ship survives but is operationally crippled.

  26. The PVLS acts very much like the ammuntion storage on an M1 tank. If it’s hit, the ship and crew are likely saved. But the ship is in bad shape and will need much work to return to duty. This is obviously much better than a magazine explosion destroying the entire ship instantly, but it’s not really a defense. And it certainly doesn’t make the DD(X) an armored beast.

  27. A practical example of this kind of design is the M-1 tank’s ammo compartment. In event that the compartment is compromised, it is designed to explode outwards/ away from the crew. The net effect is that the crew is saved. Now the tank itself is going to need a lot of duct tape…. and of course the army has something called armor – to cut down on the number of items that could compromise the ammo compartment.

  28. They had already developed 11′ and 13′ Sabot rounds for the 16′ guns when the decision to decom the BBs was made… posted by DJ Elliott – September 18, 2006 01:53 AM Indeed they did, but they were not GPS guided and had not glide capability (or rocket assit). ‘saboted GPS guided shell with glide capability’ GPS guidence really changes the accuracy equation- It would give the same peak accuracy as the DD(X) but with much farther range.

  29. Key point is that the ship survives and remains seaworthy. Unlike the Cole. Even if the armor on the DD(X) cannot withstand a direct hit, the vessel and its crew are designed to survive in depth. 150 crewman on a ship of that size allows for better protected battlestations and crew quarters.

  30. Chad – One of the reasons people tend to be hot to trot about the Iowa’s is because we simply lack the steel capasity to build them now. I agree the Montana class represents a significant advancement especially with respect to torpedo attacks, its just that it would take years to rebuild the specialized steel plants to produce the armor.

  31. I wonder if we could build effective ship armor by using layers of steel instead of the thick forgings they used in the Iowa class ships? Corrosion might be a problem, but maybe if they were bonded with a zinc chromate epoxy it would keep that problem down. First we’d need the will to try something new, which seems to be in short supply today.

  32. Layered armor would certainly work.(Al la M1A2) Corrosion would be a problem as it would be hard to inspect and you might end up 10-1 5 years down the road with greatly weakened armor. Personally I would vote for a nitrogen filled hydrophobic foam encasement (Assuming you are using internal armor belts). That way you could embed senors to detect penitration of salt & oxygen. As a side benefit foams tend to mitigate blast overpreassures.

  33. skrip : some of us seem to think that a ship should be able to take a hit and keep on fightin’. That’s certainly how they designed them back in the day. You don’t purposefully get into a slugfest these days, but if your ship is so fragile you aren’t willing to hazard it, then you’re pretty useless. What’s the point of a warship that’s scared to get into a fight? One of the lessons of 4GW is that your enemy relies on being able to surprise you, and you have to expect to be surprised. Ideally you want to be able to recover from the surprise, fight back, and defeat them. Not end up on the sea floor. Imagine if the US Navy had not one, but two ships, that could quite reasonably be send into the Gulf of Arabia during an actual shooting war, which would be able to wreak havoc on and offshore for extended periods without much risk of being sunk. Imagine what psychological impact that capability would have on the troublemakers in the region. It’s time to stop bargaining from a position of weakness. If the balloon goes up, we (the west) want to be holding all the aces. It’s time to start playing the game that others have been playing for a long time, before we lose it.

  34. And before somebody points out that even battleships can be sunk by enough torpedos or aerial bombs or mines.. of course they can. That’s why they would be accompanied by aircraft and submarines, and have enough range (hopefully) to sit in a deeper part of the gulf where there’s less chance of mines or hiding submarines. But the point is, no other ship can even pretend to fill that role. A stealthy DD(X) with all the technology in the world is still going to be found and hit eventually in such a small operating environment. The difference is that the BB has some chance of surviving a torpedo or multiple missiles even if they do manage to hit it. Basically torpedos and aerial bombs are the only serious threats they face, allowing defences to be concentrated on neutralizing those (fairly manageable) threats. If you have to worry about cruise missiles then your worries expand many times over and there’s very little potential defence.

  35. There is another big reason for armor-the politics of rules of engagement. Very common is that you can return fire unless attacked. The result is that you must survive a hit, in order to respond. If your ship is half detroyed before you can even respond according to ROE then your screwed.

  36. Skripp – Why do tanks need armor? In a nutshell, as I have stated before, since the Navy has not fought a significant engagement in the last 50 years, they have lost the institutional knowlege of how to build ships for combat. Now a days, all they have to go on are power point presentations. All military’s get hit with this bug. Take the US army – a few years ago, when FCS was just gleam in a contractors eye. The army started spouting that heavy tanks could be put to the side and replaced with lighter faster vehicals. The theory being that enhance sistuational awareness on long range overmatch could replace armor. Naturally some would think that such an idea is laughable. (ok I think that way) but the idea makes a hell of great slide show, not to mention being a contractors wet dream. [Build a tank and everyone has a basic idea on how much it should/could cost. Build a system of systems with integrated..blah blah and everyone is clueless on how much it should cost. ] An example of this thinking was to eliminate the M1A2SEP upgrades to free up more cash for the FCS. The army could do that since the M1 was a legacy system soon to be placed into the ash pit of history. Thankfully Iraq happened, suddenly the Army rapidly learned the beauty of armor and that sistuational awareness can only protect you if you have 100% knowlege. So now, the M-1A2SEP has a new lease on life, and will remain the primary ground attack vehical through 2020+ The Navy never had an Iraq. So they have gone down the powerpoint path, and have built a fleet of ships that basically floating death traps if they ever get hit. The Navy’s belief, is that sistuational awareness, distance and anti-missile missiles will keep it safe. In Iraq, the army learned that the hummer was a sitting duck without armor upgrades. So they bolted on armor and moved on. You can’t bolt armor on to a ship. So if the Navy is wrong – we cannot fix the problem and a lot of people are going to get killed because a contractor convinced the Navy that they can shoot down enemy missiles. You would be surprised how few missiles it actually takes to 100% of time, sink/disable Arleigh Burke

  37. What, there are no problems with the Navy. Look at how well this program is going (from Inside the Navy yesterday): ‘The Littoral Combat Ship program has somehow avoided aggressive oversight at all levels of government despite a series of red flags along the way,’ says [Rep. Rob] Simmons. ‘LCS seems to be rushing through the acquisition process, but very serious questions remain about the system’s survivability, capability and cost.’ He says the Navy is ‘having difficulty closing the daylight between LCS requirements and reality’ and bashed the service’s ‘unorthodox’ interpretation of LCS cost caps. Simmons asserts fully manning both the module and helicopter components of LCS would require 75 sailors, though the ship has been advertised as having a much smaller crew. An Aug. 29 Congressional Research Service report notes that LCS would have automated features that would allow a core crew size of 40 — but the report also notes that more sailors would be required for module operation. Meanwhile, anyone have some dock space available? Those morons! Sinking tons of money into one hole in the water after another and ignoring any real advances. Unbelivable!

  38. So basically, we will put all our efforts into fighting a was in the Persian Gulf? I figured LCS and DD(X) could get the job done. LCS runs interference and cover while DD(X) is the base of fire. Keep the carriers and the bulk of the fleet out of those waters.

  39. Personally I wouldn’t have too much of a problem with whatever they wanted to try, as long as it didn’t always cost billions and take decades. A modicum of honesty would be nice too. What do they teach those guys at Annapolis? Honor is great until you get into procurement? If I ever once felt like they were being reasonably good stewards with the money I give them, a lot of things would be more palatable, even if they were wrong. A good example is the way they do this ‘fake stealth’ on ships today. Stealth depends mostly on shape, not coatings. The key elements to shape are limiting the angles from which you can get a reflection and the number of edges. Look at the number of edges in one of these new ‘stealth’ designs they are charging us an arm and a leg for. Absolutely rediculous! The Sea Shadow is an 80’s design that has few edges and angles, and a real reduced crew (not just a fictional number somone pulled out of a body orifice). We’ve been waiting for it’s equal for more than 20 years now. How much longer are we going to have to wait?

  40. DD(X) costs alot since its a new design. Everything from the Arliegh Burke to the Ticonderoga class was based upon previous designs. Its easy and cheap when you re-use the same stuff you’ve had for 40 years. Its costly to actually try something new. Like a new hull-form, radars, automation, etc.

  41. They can be if you don’t know what the hell you’re doing’ Material are always important to stealth design, most of all for those who ‘know what they’re doing’.

  42. Skrip, my problem with the DD(X) isn’t its potential as the next generation blue-water ‘sea superiorty’ vessel, its that its a awfull NFS platform. THe only reason the they push it for NFS is because they want to keep funding for it. All the previous ships that actually had more potential for NFS were all cancelled by congress. Sending a unarmored 3-billion ship, that can fire million dollar shells for 10 minutes before neeeding resupply is sheer lunacy. The cause is a navy desperate to save its next-generation surface combatant because congress cancells and the industry overprices everything.