Thursday, September 08, 2005

US Navy trying to sink our own battleships

Disclaimer: I'm not even military, let alone specifically Navy, so I'm going to defer to someone who is in a moment. For the moment, however, let me bring to your attention an effort by the US Navy to have Congress kill off the last 2 remaining Iowa-class battleships in the US arsenal, both currently on reserve status. The USS Iowa and the USS Wisconsin are both on reserve status being maintained in "suspended animation," as it were, awaiting future recommission if needed. They are the last battleships in the US Fleet.

There is, apparently, a move by the Navy to ask Congress to decommission them permanently in favor of the Navy's new darling, the DD(X) advanced destroyer. As an IT professional, I'm predisposed to liking advanced tech. However, the arguments in favor of keeping these battleships are very compelling. Anyone who has studied our nation's military history knows very well the contributions made by battleships and can understand the contributions to come. This morning's Washington Times has an opinion piece by former Naval officer and NSC member William Stearman and I will now yield the floor to him:

::::::::By denigrating the battleships through a misinformation campaign on Capitol Hill, the Navy has convinced both Armed Services Committee to donate our two reserve battleships, Iowa and Wisconsin, as museums. Should this maneuver succeed, our Marines will have no essential, lifesaving naval surface fire support (NSFS) for the foreseeable future.

This could cost us substantial American lives in inevitable future conflicts in the littorals where most of the world's population lives. As Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Michael W. Hagee once testified, the absence of NSFS places his troops "at considerable risk."

According to the Navy, the annual cost of keeping each battleship in reserve is only $250,000. In other words, there is no valid reason whatsoever for getting rid of these invaluable, unique and irreplaceable ships.

So, why is the Navy trying so hard to effect this? A Nov. 19, 2004, GAO report on NSFS revealed that battleships are, in effect, the only potential sources of NSFS in sight.(This was reinforced by subsequent developments.) Moreover, in the report, following the Navy's arguments against reactivation came the statement: "Marine Corps supports the strategic purpose of reactivating two battleships" in accordance with Public Law 104-106, requiring the Navy to maintain these ships in reserve until it has within the fleet an NSFS capability equaling or exceeding that of the battleships. Since the Navy cannot possibly meet this standard, it is asking Congress to repeal the law.
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The amount of ordnance each of these ships can place on targets as far inland as 100 miles is staggering and it has the advantage of being ordnance that can't be spoofed or confused in flight. (Not true of every type of ammo these ships can launch, nowadays, but still true of a lot of it.) People tend to think of these vessels as useful only in major naval engagements and, since the advent of naval aviation, not much use there, either. The ability to put surface fire support along any coastline you like and provide that support to troops in operations who don't have their own fire support is a huge deal and the further your reach and heavier your punch in those circumstances, the better. Dollar for dollar, I find it hard to believe that a better alternative to these ships exists today. Perhaps when the DD(X) actually goes on-line in 2015, we could have this conversation in earnest but it's just premature today.