- The Washington Times - Monday, June 20, 2005

This week a critical decision will be made regarding the defense of the United States as the 2006 Defense Authorization bill goes to conference.

The June 6th Op-Ed “Battleships fit for duty”, made the case that our nation needs to have the battleships Wisconsin and Iowa modernized and reactivated. The Nov. 19, 2004 GAO report states “Marine Corps supports the strategic purpose of reactivating two battleships in accordance with the National Defense Authorization Act of 1996…”. The Pombo bill, would turn those ships irretrievably into museums. Irretrievably, because, within days after that bill passes, the Navy will be all over those ships with cutting torches to make sure that they never again can serve.

Should we have to move against threats as North Korea, Iran or China, most of whom have or will have sophisticated air defenses, battleships can provide superior support for landing or air inserted Marines.

The Navy, in the June 13 Op-Ed, “Building a new navy” tried to counter these assertions. However, the Navy’s position supporting the DD(X) destroyer was thoroughly refuted in the June 17 Op-Ed, “Distortions about ships” by James O’Bryon, the official who recently bore the responsibility in the Office of the Secretary of Defense for evaluating the vulnerability and lethality of weapons systems.

O’Bryon also affirmed that development of precision guided extended range projectiles for the battleships 16” guns was a practical near-to-mid-term goal.

On May 19 the House Armed Services Committee abandoned the DD(X), a ship that never could have supplied the necessary fire support.

Now the question is, “Which is more suited to the mission, battleships, more carriers, or an even longer delayed DD(X)-derivative?” They have complementary capabilities, but within the range of targets that will be available to the battleship’s guns, out to 115 miles in the near term, there are some notable differences. Long range shells will reach as far 115 miles in a life-saving time of only 3.2 min, clearly faster than aircraft response. Aircraft could loiter over the battlefield, but that is probably not wise in the face of strong enemy air defenses.

Now that the troubled Joint Standoff Weapon, which would have allowed aircraft to safely stay outside of kill zones, is in danger of being cancelled, another option for the aircraft is about to close. When battleships do the job, there are no lost airplanes, and, of utmost importance, no lost airmen, no Hanoi Hilton.

Another significant advantage for the battleships is the cost in terms of both manpower and dollars for adding additional firepower (measured in pounds of ordnance delivered on target per day) to the fleet in support of the mission.

According to the Navy, a modernized battleship would require a crew of only 1100 men. A carrier, with its aircrew, requires 5500 men. The Navy does not dispute the assertion that a battleship has firepower (weight of ordinance deliverable per day) equivalent to two carriers for targets within the 29 mile range of existing heavy one ton projectiles.

This works out to the battleship (for a given level of firepower) being 10 times as manpower efficient as the carrier. It should be noted that North Korea and the coast of China opposite Taiwan have numerous targets within that 29 mile range.

In terms of adding firepower to the fleet, the cost of modernizing and reactivating a battleship is $1.5B. The cost of building the two carriers with aircraft is about $22B, a cost advantage of fifteen to one in favor of the battleships.

The Marines are also looking for naval surface fire support to protect deep incursions into enemy territory via the V22 “Osprey” tilt rotor aircraft. The battleship’s reach out to 115 miles exceeds the Marine’s 72 mile objective by 60 percent.

Necessarily, the mass of a round that can be delivered to this longer range is markedly less than that of a round that travels 29 miles, but it is still a substantial 525 lb. At this range, the advantage in the number of ships required reverses; one carrier has the firepower of two battleships.

But, battleships retain an advantage in manpower per unit of firepower and cost per unit of additional firepower. The manpower advantage becomes to 2.5 to 1, and the cost advantage becomes to 3.7 to 1, still very significant figures.

In this time of strained defense budgets Senator Warner and Rep. Hunter, respectively Chairmen of the Senate and House Armed Services Committee, should not ignore such economic figures. If uncertainty remains, the issue should be put before the Defense Science Board, but the Pombo Bill should be removed from the 2006 Defense Authorization Bill.

After all, there is no imminent crisis due to a shortage of battleship museums. Then, six months from now, when work on reactivation begins, the Nation can be assured that our Marines will be getting the support that is their due.

Dennis Reilly is a physicist, who serves as science advisor to the United States Naval Fire Support Association.

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