Legends’ Last Stand

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Fresh on the heels of last week’s news that the Navy is reevaluating it’s plans to build a new class of surface ships, we hear from Knight Ridder that our last two battleships, the Iowa and Wisconsin, may be permanently retired as well:

Members of Congress soon will decide whether to decommission the two battleships for good as they work out final decisions in the defense authorization and spending bills.

During the second World War, the aircraft carrier replaced the battleship as the centerpiece of naval combat doctrine, but the Iowa-class ships and other surface combatants were instrumental in winning the Pacific theater of that combat. As evidenced by the article, the ships continued to excel at their role of fire support for more than 50 years:

From World War II until the 1991 Persian Gulf War, support for the Marines was provided mostly by the Iowa-class battleships’ 16-inch guns, which can hurl a 2,000-pound projectile 24 nautical miles.

The DD(X) class of destroyers/cruisers look to be capable platforms on paper, but the first will be not commissioned until 2014. Obviously the Navy anticipates a need for shore bombardment capabilities ? that’s why the DD(X) is designed to deliver multiple artillery warheads on a specific target within several seconds.

If we know we’ll need fire support, and our next available support platform will not be ready for almost 10 years, why not reactivate the ships? Combined, the vessels will cost a meager $1.4 million per year to maintain, and their reactivation might take more than two years. If a crisis develops that requires US Marines to hit the beach, we won’t have that long to call up the venerable behemoths.

Existing cruisers and destroyers could provide a stop-gap solution, but why chance it? If we’ve learned nothing from the Iraq debacle, it should be to plan for the unexpected.

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