- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 12, 2005

Passionate advocates of returning our Nation’s two battleships to service maintain that these two ships could be brought back into service quickly, safely and economically to meet Marine Corps requirements for long-range, precise firepower ashore.

The battleships and the Sailors who manned them served our Nation with pride and distinction through some of the darkest days of the Republic. We must continue to honor that service and recognize their achievements, but we should not confuse our fondness for those ships with an assumption of their appropriateness for the task at hand.

If reactivated, the battleships would not be able to fire munitions “as far as 115 miles in a life-saving time of only three minutes.” Such munitions just do not exist, nor could they be quickly developed, tested and fielded within the next few years. The current range of an unguided 16-inch round is only 20 nautical miles ? half the distance the Navy has fired the latest generations of smart rounds for our new naval guns. The notion that super long-range 16-inch gun rounds are within our grasp is illusory.

And given today’s battlefields, particularly the densely populated urban jungles in which our Marines and Soldiers currently fight, it would be folly to assume that a battlefield commander would employ a high-yield “dumb” weapon at long ranges without the utmost confidence that it would not inflict massive collateral damage. Without that confidence, such a weapon would have dubious utility. Developing a hardened guidance and control system that could withstand the punishing muzzle energy of the 16-inch guns, if at all possible, would not be a simple or cheap two-to-three-year effort.

The Navy’s solution is the next-generation destroyer, DD(X), with its two fully automated 155mm guns capable of firing 10 Global Positioning System-guided rounds per minute up to 83 nautical miles from an expandable 920-round magazine. To provide sustained fire for major combat operations, DD(X) can employ imaginative new feature called an unlimited magazine. Because of DD(X)’s design, with its two forward-mounted guns and expansive flight deck aft, the ship can simultaneously conduct fire missions while being resupplied. Pre-loaded pallets are brought aboard and quickly placed directly into the fully automated magazine, much like a clip is used to reload a semi-automatic handgun or rifle. At no point do sailors have to labor with loading or assembling the ammunition, which increases the firing rate, reloading time and safety to the crew.

DD(X) will use a devastating new tactic called “multiple simultaneously round impact” in which the ship fires six to eight rounds at different trajectories depending on the range of the target. Each round steers to precise aim points, landing in a particular pattern at the same time in a no-notice, lethal salvo that catches targets unaware and unprepared from the very first shot. Hostile forces will no longer be able to hunker down in bunkers or flee an area during the time it currently takes our spotters find the proper range, adjust their shots and fire for effect. DD(X) will deliver this powerful firepower at more than four times the range and with more than 20 times the accuracy of a battleship.

The Navy’s current strategy will outfit its current world-class ships with the best weapons possible and develop a long-term solution, DD(X). This approach is designed to spread capability throughout the Fleet, rather than concentrate it in two ships that cannot be everywhere at once. Given the current resource-constrained wartime budget, spending the billions of dollars to reactivate the battleships, develop advanced munitions, and pay the very high costs to operate them would come at the expense of other vital programs.

The mighty ships of the Iowa Class served this nation well in the 20th century. It is now time to build the ships that will do so in the 21st.

Rear Adm. Charles S. Hamilton is the Navy’s Program Executive Officer for Ships.

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