- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 13, 2005

James Zumwalt’s July 7 Commentary “Dread not the DD(X)” could not have been more aptly named. As was stated in my June 21 Op-Ed, “Battling for battleships,” the Navy’s misguided effort to develop the DD(X) is effectively dead. Our purpose here is to correct misstatements regarding the battleship, presumably obtained from the Navy.

Mr. Zumwalt appears unaware that his famed father was a proponent, not an opponent, of battleship reactivation during his tenure.

Contrary to the Zumvalt article, Rear Adm. Charles Hamilton did not provide “an honest … assessment of the DD(X) versus the battleship,” as is clear from James O’Bryon’s June 17 Op-Ed, “Distortions about ships.” A document, now under review by the Government Accountability Office (www.usnfsa.org), presents a side-by-side comparison of official Navy claims with detailed rebuttal by U.S. Naval Fire Support Association.

The article implies that the battleship would be vulnerable. The latest Rolling Airframe Missiles provide competent anti-air/anti-missile protection to our carriers, and even destroyers. Modernization of the battleships would surely include this protection. The battleship’s deck and turret armor, not just the belt, as claimed in the article, were designed to and proven to take hits. Should a weapon get through, no other ship would have a greater chance of remaining operational.

But, one has to ask why, in a high-threat environment, would not a battleship, like a carrier, be entitled to its own battlegroup with overlapping protections against threats from above and below the sea surface. After all, within the range of its guided projectiles (near-term 52 miles, midterm 115 miles, long-term 450 to 600 miles) the battleship has firepower comparable to that of a carrier. But unlike the carrier, the battleship’s firepower is all-weather with tactical response times. Because its projectiles are immune to anti-aircraft defenses, the Hanoi Hilton problem disappears.

The Navy has failed in its attempt to discredit the battleship’s firepower potential, so it has turned its attention to the cost and availability of manpower. The rational way to discuss costs of any weapons system is in terms of costs per unit of firepower.

It would take 19 DD(X)s to put the same number of pounds on target per minute (at the Marine Corps’ near-term goal of 52 miles range) as can a single battleship. The 1,100-man battleship crew with a $1.5 billion modernization and reactivation cost will be doing the work of the 1,900 men manning 19 DD(X)s costing a whopping total of $32 billion to build (at the unrealizable congressionally mandated $1.7 billion per copy). Would not the $30 billion savings pay for crew training and reconstitution of the spare parts, ammunition, and support infrastructure trashed by the Navy, with some of this in clear violation of the law, (PL104-106)?

The battleship’s boilers are fired by “diesel fuel marine,” not oil, as stated in the Commentary article. It uses the same power plant and the same fuel as the AOE-1 fast supply ships that support our carriers today. Presumably, AOE-1 ships will be replaced by the gas-turbine-powered T-AOE(X). There is wonderful synergy going on here. This would free up a considerable pool of sailors who would be quite familiar with the battleship’s propulsion system, answering another manpower issue cited by the Navy.

Contrary to the article, the battleships would be far from single mission platforms. They would, in the near term: 1) meet the Marine Corps’ near-term requirements for naval surface support; 2) be an extremely effective anti terrorist platform in the Pacific littorals because of their unique capability to obliterate training camps before the “students” could disperse; and 3) serve as deterrent to Chinese adventurism in Taiwan, and North Korea’s threat to the South. On the longer term, the battleship’s long-range guided projectiles could open a new strategic and tactical dimension, with guided ballistic projectiles arching over uncooperative states to reach targets many hundreds of miles away in a matter of minutes.

The Navy has made decisions that there never again will be a need for forced entry by the sea, and invasions, should they be called for, will be accomplished by audacious 50-to-100 mile incursions using the unproven V22 “Osprey” tilt-rotor aircraft. The Navy suggests that fire support will be provided by $500,000 per-copy cruise missiles and by the (endangered) aircraft-launched Joint Standoff Weapon, a GPS-guided gliding bomb of comparable cost.

Theslowspeedsofthese weapons compared to battleship-launched projectiles result in inadequate tactical response times and vulnerability to antiaircraft defenses, severely limiting the viability of this form of fire support. The costs per round are more than 10 times that of the tactically responsive, anti-aircraft-fire-immune,battleship-launched guided projectile.

What in the world can the Navy be thinking? As detailed in June Op-Ed, “Battleships fit for Duty,” they do not even recognize the real strategic threats we face. The Marine Corps generals (Semper Fidelis?) dare not contradict their Navy bosses. It is time for Congress to impose some rational supervision.

Dennis Reilly, a physicist, serves as science adviser to the U.S. Naval Fire Support Association.

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