- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 16, 2005

Rear Adm. Charles Hamilton’s June 13 Op-Ed article on battleships left me confused and somewhat angry, not so much because of his bias toward building the DD(X) and against retaining the two venerable battleships (BBs) still in our mothball fleet, but the apparent distortions in the data he presented to make his case, relegating these two ships to permanent museum status.

The 15 years I spent in the Pentagon was providing independent oversight of nearly 100 major Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps systems assessing their lethalities, vulnerabilities and survivabilities. The one thing that we fought hard to achieve was to ensure that competing systems were assessed on a level playing field.

I’m writing because I don’t believe that Adm. Hamilton’s Op-Ed has placed the DD(X) and BB on a level playing field for comparison.

First, the DD(X) features two 155mm guns launching projectiles that contain 24 pounds of explosives each, roughly the amount that a suicide bomber might carry. In contrast, each battleship contains nine 16-inch guns, each capable of launching full caliber projectiles the size of Volkswagens, capable of attacking both surface and buried hard targets or saboted rounds traveling much farther. Furthermore, the battleship’s guns already exist. The DD(X)’s don’t.

Adm. Hamilton claims that the 16-inch rounds couldn’t be given precision guidance, claiming “punishing muzzle energy.” In Project HARP over 30 years ago, delicate instrumentation packages were launched from such guns to altitudes of more than 50 miles. While the admiral claims that “super-long-range 16-inch gun rounds are illusory,” Pratt & Whitney’s design studies, backed by laboratory scramjet experiments, concluded that such shells were feasible, reaching 460 miles in only nine minutes and could be fielded in seven years, well before the first DD(X) joins the fleet in 2014.

Another issue that needs to be addressed is the comparative survivabilities of the battleship and DD(X). I have overseen a number of ship vulnerability programs over the years and, in my opinion, there is no tougher ship than the BB. While I believe that the DD(X)’s focus on hit avoidance is desirable, sometimes you cannot avoid the fight.

When I hear the argument that the “passionate advocates” of battleships are uninformed or just plain nostalgic, I’m reminded of the way that the B-52 has repeatedly been upgraded over the past 50 years with improved fire control, avionics, propulsion, improved munitions and a host of other upgrades that put this workhorse of the Air Force at the center of much of our strategic and tactical defense. Is this nostalgia? No, it’s recognition of the huge benefits and low risks that retrofitting new technologies can bring to a proven platform. In fact, there are 31 B-52 modification programs currently underway allowing this aircraft to contribute to the nation’s defense at least through 2040.

The same can be done for the battleships. The DD(X) continues to be plagued by increasing cost and system complications with cost estimates ranging from $3.3 billion up to $7 billion per ship. Projection Forces Subcommittee Chairman Roscoe Bartlett recently referred to it as a “technology demonstration program.” The admiral claimed that “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.” Is several billion dollars for a destroyer also not a high cost? In fact, the fiscal 2006 defense budget allocates 1.47 billion just to refuel the Vinson carrier. Why would $1.5 billion be to costly to reactivate/modernize a battleship with much more firepower and survivability than the DD(X) and be done in less than half the time at lower risk?

The nation’s two remaining battleships have proven themselves over the years and, as the B-52s aptly demonstrate, were not only effective at their introduction but can be retrofitted with the latest technology to allow them to provide the fire support that the Marine Corps continues to require.

Allowing these ships to become museums in the defense bill will be irreversible and place our Marines at risk for the foreseeable future. My hope is that any decision on the future of the DD(X) and the battleships be based on a solid analytical footing.

James F. O’Bryon is chairman of Mobius Business Solutions and owner of the O’Bryon Group. He is also former director of the Defense Department’s Live Fire Testing.

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