Sunday, September 17, 2006

The unsinkable topic....

Murdoc is blogging on battleships again. He links to this article. and again poses the question of reactivating the old behemoths.

The DDX program is now cut down to 2 ships and delayed 'till at least 2015.

The BBs are old but in fairly good condition (though Iowas fungus ravaged wooden deck must be replaced). The 16" guns are indeed formidable though with a range of just under 30 miles they are of little use outside the immediate beachhead area. Assuming your BB stays 10 miles offshore (perilously close in an age of supersonic missles) you've got an arc going a maximum of just under 20 miles inland.

There are ways to improve this. Both a 13 inch sabot, 11 inch sabot, and 16 inch Rocket assisted rounds were developed, though it is unclear to me how far along in development they got. One of the sabot shells was intended to have a 100+ mile range and the 13" sabot was tested to around 40nm IIRC, but none are in storage as far as I know.

The BBs are VERY hard to sink but they are not unsinkable. Torpedoes, and mines accounted for most BBs lost historically, and although the Iowas have decent torpedo protection it is not invulnerable. (Indeed, it is inferior to the older North Carolina Class and the now gone French Richielu class) The Iranians or the Chinese would throw EVERYTHING they had at the BBs just because of the propoganda value that sinking a ship widely touted as "unsinkable" would bring.

They do make VERY effective vehicles to show the flag and they can likely stay in action longer than most other ships. If their machinery can be maintained. If their guns can be made useful (read longer ranged and guided) If they can be given a means to defend themselves (quite doable with ESSM) they could act as stopgaps until replacements come along. These are big "Ifs".

The AGS (Advanced Gun System) on the upcoming DD1000 class ships, will have FAR longer range, though it will not be as good at penetrtating bunkers and it is not as destructive in general, one should remember that NATO armies have gotten rid of anything larger than 155mm so it's adequate for most tasks. If it is not then one would call in an airstrike or use a heavy missile like ATACMS

ATCAMS has a 186 mile range and a bigger warhead than a 16 inch shell (the hi- capacity version having a 154pound warhead) so it would seem to make sense to put these in VLS tubes for the occasional need.

Guns of course DO have a few advantages over missles. One minor one is that the 16" shell will likely have better penetration and the kinetic energy of he very dense shell adds some destructive power.However, the # of rounds carried is a big BIG advantage to guns. They can carry more rounds because the shell doesn't have a rocket motor (thats what the gun barrel is for) and they can be stored more efficiently. The Ticonderoga class cruisers, with more missle tubes than any other US ship have 122 tubes. These can carry 1 missile each (except for ESSM which can be quadpacked).And that must be divided between the various types of missles AA, ASW, Surface Fire, that the ship carries.

The IOWA can cary +- 1200 rounds of 16 inch ammunition. She could fire a round a day for over 4 years :)

Modern propellants and new technology give guns good performance. The AGS will fire a 6.1 inch shell a hundred miles or more and be precision guided.

Whatever is done with the BBs if they are activated TODAY they will need replacement in a decade or so. (High pressure steam plants have limited lifespans).

So what do we replace them with? :) If you want more of that glorious sillieness go here and hit the tipjar

In this rambling post I advocated an arsenal ship with an AEGIS style firecontrol system to produce a relatively surviveable BBG at a cost of only 2-3 destroyers in exchange for survivability and perhaps 10 or more times the missles. CGX will likely be a smaller, but stealthier version of this.

This is a true battleship in the old sense, a capital ship that is in no way expendable.It is really a more capable version of the DDGs and CGs we now have. Not what the BBs are being considered for activation for Ie fire support.

Assuming that the gunship with really BIG guns is worthy as a concept what does one do. New BBs are really expensive.

In WW1 the UK needed fire support ships but couldn't spare modern battleships, so they ecomissioned old battlewagons for firesupport duty.....these were largely a stopgap...sound familliar?

They then produced a series of Monitors (some with their excellent 15" guns) to do the task much more economically.

In the 60s and 70s the USN designed some similar vessels. Below are some of these sketches of designs for firesupport ships. Both of these feature a 16" triple turret one has an 8" lightweight gun in addition to its 5" secondaries . Both are taken from Friedman's book on US amphibious warships, which you can buy here. The ships are capable of ~20kts and are diesel powered.

Assuming we still have the physical plant to manufacture 16" rifles it might behoove us to build similar ships with short VLS tubes for ESSM and replace the 5"54 caliber guns with the new 5"62s.

The 16" guns as noted are of limited range, but we might simply relign them to 33cm weapons (13")which would give a 62 caliber barrel just like the AGS gun. It would also make the barrel stronger. With modern propellants it might achieve similar range though we are far outside my paygrade here. I suggest this conservative approach in order to get a saftey margin and avoid having to make new lathes. A vessel with 3x13 inch guns and 2x5 inch guns and perhaps 32-64 VLS tubes for various missles...mostly quadpacked ESSMs...and some helicopters/RPVs would have a good chance of surviving inshore, and might be crewed with as few as 150 men (the big turret would require 75) It'd have no aegis though the new versions of ESSM will have active radar homing and therefore multiple target capability for self defense.

It might get built in 5 years or so if we have the capability to make the guns. Build a couple for every amphibious ready group.

At the lower end of the scale, take something off the shelf like the German MONARC system and put in on a light frigate or Offshore Patrol Vessel with a VLS nest. It won't have the range of the big guns but is not only cheaper, it is an improvement in fire support over our current destroyers.

Either of these are preferable to replacing the two mothballed hulls with 2 super expensive irreplaceable 10 years.

I'm waaaaay out of my area of expertise here, so let me know what I'm missing...

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