The Iowa Class Battleships

EFFECTIVENESS IN GULF WAR TO BE EVALUATED G.A.O. Assesses The Overall Battleship Program, Safety And Their Planned DecommissioningThe ships of the Iowa class were the last battleships built by the United States. In addition to the U.S.S. Iowa (BB-61), the class includes the U.S.S. New Jersey (BB- 62), the U.S.S. Missouri (BB-63), and the U.S.S. Wisconsin (BB-64).

The ships were originally commissioned between 1943 and 1944, were in active status during both World War II and the Korean conflict, and were decommissioned by 1958.

Except for the New Jersey's short recommissioning during the Vietnam conflict, no battleships were in active status for almost a quarter of a century until the New Jersey, the first of the four to be reactivated, was commissioned in December 1982.

The ships' principal armament, as built, was a main battery of nine 16- inch guns. Three guns are mounted, as illustrated in figure 1.2, in each of the three turrets. The guns, using several types of powder, fire a variety of projectiles that weigh up to 2,700 pounds and that have ranges in excess of 23 miles. The ships also originally carried 20 5-inch guns, which have a range of about 10 miles, in 10 guns mounts, two guns each. However, upon reactivation, four of these mounts were removed from each ship. With their variety of guns and missiles, the battleships provide an imposing array of firepower.

The Tomahawk missiles give the ships a significant capability for attacking land targets and other surface ships at long ranges. The Harpoon missiles contribute to the battleships' capability to attack hostile surface ships.

Of the guns in the Navy's inventory, the 16-inch guns are the best source of naval surface fire support for an amphibious assault and also are useful for attacking other land targets. They are, in fact, the only remaining guns on Navy ships that are larger than 5 inches. According to Navy officials, the 16-inch guns have some advantages over aircraft in attacking shore targets. When compared to air support in an amphibious operation, these guns, within their range limitations, can deliver more firepower under a wider variety of weather conditions. These guns also could have an advantage attacking shore targets in a crisis situation because the danger of losing an aircraft and its crew if it were shot down, as was the case in Lebanon in 1984, would not exist. The Navy considers the battleships to be uniquely qualified for demonstrating U.S. resolve in crisis situations and goodwill and support for U.S.

allies. The Navy believes that a battleship's imposing size and configuration can be a strong deterrent in a third-world conflict. In addition to the 16- and 5-inch guns, the ships are now equipped to carry 32 Tomahawk cruise missiles and 16 Har- poon missiles. Each ship also is now equipped with four Close-In Weapons Systems and the AN/SLQ-32 Electronic Countermeasures equipment for self-defense. The ships are heavily armored with as much as 17 inches of steel armor plate protecting the ships' vital spaces. Because of the armor, the Navy considers the battleships to be the most survivable ships afloat.

In the early 1980s, the Navy viewed reactivation of the battleships as a quick, near-term relief for force structure shortfalls using existing ships. One the the principal missions for the battleships was to provide naval gunfire support for amphibious assaults. The Navy requested initial funding to reactivate the Iowa and the New Jersey in the fiscal year 1981 budget. Funding to reactivate the other two battleships was requested in later budgets. The ships were recommissioned over a 6-year period. The New Jersey was first because it needed less work due to its reactivation during the Vietnam conflict.

The dates the ships were recommissioned were December 28,1982, for the New Jersey; April 28,1984, for the Iowa; May 10, 1986, for the Missouri; and October 22,1988, for the Wisconsin. According to Navy officials, the cost of the reativations averaged about $435 million per ship.

Because of budget constraints, the Secretary of Defense directed that the Navy decommission two battleships during fiscal year 1991. The Navy selected the Iowa and the New Jersey for decommissioning.

The battleships' equipment failure reports disclosed no systemic material problems with the ships in general or the guns. When compared to similar data on other types of Navy ships, the battleship data indicated that the battleships did not present any undue problems from a maintenance or supply aspect.

The planned decommissioning of the Iowa and the New Jersey raises questions about the usefulness and supportability of the Missouri and the Wisconsin in the active fleet and makes them candidates for decommissioning.

While the Missouri and the Wisconsin have deployed to the Persian Gulf, the battleships' contributions cannot be evaluated at this time.

However, reducing the battleship force to two ships does not limit their ability to respond rapidly to crisis situations. Although peacetime operating and personnel tempo restrictions may limit routine deployments, the two remaining battleships, like any Navy ship, can get underway and respond to a crisis within hours. The battleships, with their unique speed (greater than 30 knots) and endurance (unrefueled range of 15,000 miles at 17 knots), can transit quickly to where they are needed. Contrary to the GAO assessment, the assignment of a battleship on each coast allows the Navy to exploit the battleship mobility in responding to crises throughout the world.

In the current security environment, the battleship provides additional flexibility in the structuring of naval forces to meet the full spectrum of requirements.

Other stories from April 1991 issue


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