Battleships

From the “see, it isn’t just me” files:

Stealth is one way to keep from getting hit, and the United States leads the way in the development of stealthy destroyers. But stealth defeats the purpose of a FONOP (Freedom of Navigation Operation), which is to be seen. An old-fashioned battleship is a ship to be seen—and in a big way. But there’s no need for the Navy to build an old-fashioned battleship in the twenty-first century when it can build a new-fashioned battleship instead.

A contemporary battleship would combine advanced armor materials with automated damage control to produce a ship that is virtually unsinkable. Its offensive armaments might be mission-specific, but its key attribute would be survivability. It would be a ship that could be put in harm’s way in the reasonable expectation of coming home in one piece.

This “battleship of the future” could solve the challenge posed by China’s emerging anti-access / area denial (A2/AD) strategy for excluding the United States from the western Pacific.

I think we made a bit of a mistake by disposing of the battleship – and, in a real sense, also disposing of what was once called a “heavy cruiser”.

It is completely understandable why we went with a carrier Navy – carriers won the naval war of World War Two. Well, carriers and submarines (little noticed in the American mind is how our submarines successfully carried out the massacre of sea-borne trade in the Pacific that the Germans failed to do in the Atlantic). Battleships in WWII were only really useful for shore bombardment and while the Marines still grumble about the Navy not having a solid short-bombardment weapon, it was decided that the Navy money we spend will be spent on carriers and their attendant ships and equipment. And, to be sure, this is a wise investment – and, in fact, I think we should have 15 active carrier battle groups rather than the 10 or so we have now. But I also think we need very big, massively armed and very survivable ships in addition to carriers. We need battleships.

A modern battleship will not be a mere duplicate of the Iowa class ships – the last battleships we built. In dimensions, they might be similar, or even larger – but I doubt we’ll need 12 inches of armor plate given modern materials. Nor would we need 16 inch guns; eventually we’ll have a railgun or something similar, but meanwhile advances in technology probably would allow us to have an 8 or 10 inch gun and be able to simply clobber whatever needed clobbering with guns. But the main armament of such a ship would be missiles. Anti-ship missiles. Anti-air missiles. Anti-sub missiles. Lots and lots of them. It should be nuclear powered. Capable of well more than 35 knots speed. It should be built with a maximum of automation to keep crew numbers as low as possible. And it should be able to take a punch as well as throw one.

A ship like that, added to a carrier battle group or operating as a battleship force would be a distinct deterrent to anyone wanting to challenge us on the seas. Short of a suicidal nuclear attack, sinking such a force would require so much effort as to be not worth the cost. The bottom line for me is that the United States Navy is the first and last line of defense of the United States. All the other armed forces are important, but only the Navy secures us against invasion and ensures our ability to project power around the globe. A US fleet cruising off the Chinese coast is something to give even the most aggressive pause…and as long as our fleet is supreme, no one really dares engage in cross-ocean military actions.

Let’s build some battleships.