Reactivating the Iowa Sisters, or Bringing a Gun To A Missile Fight

On September 16, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gave a speech on the fantail of the USS Iowa in Los Angeles. Without going into either my views on Mr. Trump’s candidacy or the speech itself, I would like to dig into one particular topic Mr. Trump raised, about two and a half minutes into the speech. Betwixt an awful lot of hot air, he suggested recommissioning the battleship USS Iowa and her three sisters, Wisconsin, New Jersey, and Missouri, some of the last battleships ever built, into the fleet of the United States Navy (USN). For a Trump comment, that’s actually fairly mainstream, an idea that is floated with some regularity in defense commentary circles. Such plans usually revolve around upgrading the old ships with modern technology and using them as flagships and support ships for the Navy, and I’m sure Mr. Trump’s would too, if he actually put any detail to so little a thing as a plan. However, such a plan must be understood as what it is, at best foolish and expensive, and at worst an active retardation of the Navy’s global fighting ability.

Let’s go through what the Iowas bring to the table. There are four Iowa-class battleships, Iowa, Missouri (where the Japanese surrender was signed Sept. 2, 1945), New Jersey, and Wisconsin. Built during World War 2, each ship displaces approximately 58,000 tons fully loaded, or just over half a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier and seven times that of an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, the backbone of the modern USN. Each ship is capable of speeds of 32 knots at full tilt, with a range of nearly 15,000 miles at 15 knots. All four ships served in WW2, escorting carrier task groups and bombarding Japanese positions. They continued to serve into the Korean War, providing heavy bombardment support for UN forces engaging North Korean and Chinese forces. All were decommissioned in the early 1960’s, with New Jersey recommissioned for two tours off North Vietnam, destroying Viet Cong positions with incredible efficiency, before being returned to mothballs. All four sisters were reactivated as part of Ronald Reagan’s 600-Ship Navy, updated with (then) state of the art radars, communications, anti-ship missiles and Phalanx Close-In Weapons Systems (CIWS) for point defense.

Should enemy missile fire, the primary weapon in modern ship to ship combat, penetrate the advanced close-in defenses, then there’s the fact that these are battleships, and they are armored like tanks. Their belt armor, the plate along their vertical sides, is twelve inches of solid steel. Bulkheads dividing the hull are over eleven inches thick, with turret and barbette (the central shaft from the turret to the magazine deep inside the ship) armor ranging from eleven inches thick to over nineteen on the forward face of the turret. After all of that, deck armor is seven and a half inches thick, protecting the ship’s vulnerable insides from plunging fire. For ranges over 18,000 yards, Iowa-class battleships’ critical areas, engineering, magazines, main battery, etc., were all but immune to fire from previous generation 16″/45 caliber naval guns. Further armor protected critical areas of the superstructure, including the conn, and the fire control centers. Suffice it to say that should an Iowa-class ship take a hit, or even multiple hits, from modern anti-ship missiles, it is highly likely the ship could shrug them off and continue to steam/fight.

The Iowa‘s have even more utility, built to lead and coordinate fleets of battleships and smaller ships in combat. All four ships have expansive sections for flag officers and their staffs, as well as prodigious command and control suites to coordinate entire battle groups, a load carried in the modern day by aircraft carriers, Ticonderoga-class cruisers, and the aging Blue Ridge-class command ships, each now the flag of the 6th and 7th Fleets, Naval Forces Europe and Naval Forces Pacific respectively. Recommissioned Iowa-class battleships could be forward-deployed as flagships of important fleets, such as 6th and 7th, providing visible power and a fighting flagship for each fleet beyond the aircraft carriers rotated through on patrol. Such visible American naval power could be invaluable for applying pressure in crises where an aircraft carrier is unavailable or further force is called for.

And then there’s the main armament. Nine sixteen-inch fifty caliber naval rifles, each capable of lofting a shell weighing 2700 lbs to a range of 24 miles at a muzzle velocity of over 2600 feet per second, mounted in three groups of three, two forward of the superstructure and one aft. These shells, fired solely or in groups of up to all nine, dealt precision death to any foe unwary enough to enter the range of the main battery. While Mr. Trump’s comment is not technically correct, the largest guns ever fitted to a warship were the nine eighteen inch guns fitted to the Japanese battleships Yamato and Musashi, these naval rifles are the largest and most powerful guns ever fielded by the United States Navy. To be perfectly frank, we have no equivalent of these guns today, either in mass or destructive power, and only recently matched in accuracy thanks to advances in precision guided munitions technologies. (If you want something really cool, look up Iowa‘s mechanical fire control computers, which could multiply and divide.) All four of these ships, two in particular, Iowa and Wisconsin, have been stored in a state such that in a national emergency requiring their services, the ships can be reactivated and recommissioned into the fleet, with stores on shore for needed parts, like gun barrels and shells for the main battery.

There is a reason for ready storage, and not in commission though, several actually. Each turret of three guns required a crew of over 80 men each. An Iowa-class battleship as a whole requires a crew of 1500, 1200 if we in a modern refit removed the six twin five-inch gun mounts in the secondary battery. For a sense of scale, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer only requires a crew of about 300, and the brand-new Zumwalt-class requires 140. It should be noted that the same Congressional fire support mandate that keeps the Iowa‘s in the condition they are is now, in the eyes of the USN, filled by the Zumwalt and her two sisters. The fact of the matter is that the Iowa‘s are expensive to run, requiring thousands of specialty parts from suppliers who longer exist, and oceans of fuel oil to pace modern warships at steam. Powerful or not, they are old, maintenance-heavy, and just generally a drain on the Navy’s limited resources, particularly right now as it faces a projected ship shortfall of approximately 10%.

Now I can hear a lot of you readers right now. Money should be no object to national defense! you cry. Whether or not you are right is a debate I will leave for another time, but there is an even more compelling reason the Iowa‘s should not be recommissioned: they are useless in a stand up fight. Twenty-four miles is a long way for an unaided cannon shell. It’s a relatively short range for a powered one, known as an extended range guided munition, or ERGM, and it’s knife-fighting range for a surface-to-surface missile-armed warship, which I might add make up almost the entirety of warships on the world’s oceans today.

When refitted in the 1980’s, I mentioned the Iowa‘s were given sixteen Harpoon missiles in four four-shot launchers, and thirty-two Tomahawk cruise missiles, in eight box launchers. That sounds like a lot, until you remember a Zumwalt-class destroyer can carry up to eighty of either missile, or other ordnance as appropriate for the mission, while an Arleigh Burke can carry ninety-six missiles. Most modern destroyers and cruisers carry equivalent armament, most with superior range to the 1970’s era Harpoon.

After Iowa‘s ineffectual (relatively speaking) offensive capabilities, one must also consider that the ship, for all intents and purposes, has no defenses. The six remaining dual purpose five-inch turrets are designed to engage WW2 era aircraft, a far cry from the speed and agility of modern anti-ship missiles. The four Phalanx turrets can all individually engage incoming missiles… at ranges under four thousand yards. At such ranges there are literally only a handful of seconds to intervene. (CIWS’ unofficial translation is Crikey* It Won’t Shoot!) None of the Iowa‘s are currently fitted with either surface-to-air missiles to knock down incoming missiles and aircraft or the radars required to aim and guide such weapons. Due to the requirements of the USN’s current Standard Missile (capitalization theirs), it would be extremely difficult and expensive to retrofit such electronics and weaponry to the Iowa‘s, complete overhaul or not. From a defensive standpoint, the battleships are little better than particularly hard to kill targets, without contributing much of anything to battle group air defense.

So refit them, you say. Give them all the latest whiz-bang gadgets and gizmos! While that is a fine idea in theory, it comes with the preceding issue: Money. Refits, especially ones comprehensive enough to provide the Iowa class with an armament to be proud of in the 21st century will cost billions, billions the Navy doesn’t have and needs elsewhere anyway. In order to be effective combatants in a modern naval battle, the Iowa‘s would need drastic overhauls and upgrades. New offensive and defensive missiles and electronics would be paramount, along with programs to develop new ERGMs specifically for the 16″/50 rifles to bring the main battery back to relevance. Such refits will cost dearly in time and treasure, of which we have neither aplenty.

Are there possible scenarios where a large, powerful surface combatant, potentially operating in a Surface Action Group (SAG) independent of aircraft carrier task forces could be very useful to the United States Navy? Certainly. I would argue there are so many that we ought to commission a class of warship, a large surface action combatant to lead Surface Action Groups to such instances, if only to reduce the workload on the over-worked carrier fleet. A ship along the lines of the Soviet Kirov-class battlecruiser could be quite handy, rebuilt to suit American naval doctrine. There are two rubs there however: the USN doesn’t have the resources to furnish escorts for such SAGs, nor the resources to sink into the heavy combatants leading the groups, be they refitted Iowa‘s, or a more modern design.

Were I in charge of the defense budget, rest assured readers finding the money to support SAGs would not be my highest priority. We have other issues in line ahead of such ideas/debates about the nature of naval power projection and the future of surface combatants (and believe me, it’s a hell of a debate). However, in a world where the USN has that funding, those spare ships to provide escort to a modern battleship or battlecruiser, I genuinely believe that ship should not be an Iowa-class battleship, refit or not. The ships are old, out of date, and have done their due diligence. Let the old warriors rest in peace, while creating a new, capable, modern and worthy successor to their tradition to carry it forward into the 21st century. Such a ship could mount heavy naval rifles, or railguns, or lasers, or advanced missile systems, alongside modern ceramic armor and efficient, powerful propulsion systems. Such a ship could proudly carry on the legacy of the Iowa-class, without the expense and the challenge of teaching seventy-year old dogs new tricks.

The Iowa‘s were fantastic warships in their day, formidable expressions of American naval might. A modern attempt to reactivate them however is, in my humble opinion, primarily an exercise in showmanship and nostalgia, draining the USN of resources badly needed elsewhere in the fleet. (Our carrier fleet springs to mind.) It is an exercise of and for the past, without the forward thinking that will be required of the United States and her Navy, both in the immediate future and the rest of the century ahead. Leave the Iowa‘s alone, let them have their blissful retirement. If you want to truly propose a shakeup to the way America approaches her armed forces, why not suggest funding the the Navy and the other services to their requested levels? It might get you a bit farther in the long run than antique ships from a previous war.

For those seeking to watch Mr. Trump’s speech, here is the full speech on Youtube from PBS News Hour. The relevant comment appears around 2:43. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zCZGCR0KCIw

For those wishing to learn more about the Iowa‘s themselves, all four of the sisters maintain websites with information, as well as accurate Wikipedia profiles easily reachable via Google. For those curious about some ideas for updating the Iowas, here is a link to many of the more common, if not necessarily sensible proposals: http://www.g2mil.com/battleships.htm

As always, thanks for reading and feel free to comment below. – GP

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12 comments

  1. “After Iowa’s ineffectual (relatively speaking) offensive capabilities, one must also consider that the ship, for all intents and purposes, has no defenses. The six remaining dual purpose five-inch turrets are designed to engage WW2 era aircraft, a far cry from the speed and agility of modern anti-ship missiles.”

    One could easily replace them with modern 5 inch guns, which would give them 12 times more naval gunfire firepower from its secondary batteries alone than any of our Destroyers

    “None of the Iowa’s are currently fitted with either surface-to-air missiles to knock down incoming missiles and aircraft or the radars required to aim and guide such weapons.”

    Do you really think they would re-modernize them without SEARAM and other defenses?

    in the 1980’s they gave them every available bit of modern weapons tech they could slap on, and they would do the same if reactivated again

    ” it would be extremely difficult and expensive to retrofit such electronics and weaponry to the Iowa’s, complete overhaul or not. From a defensive standpoint, the battleships are little better than particularly hard to kill targets, without contributing much of anything to battle group air defense”

    The cost of fully modernizing 2 iowa class battleships would be around 1 billion dollars, where as the cost of a zumwalt class destroyer is 3 to 5 billion dollars EACH.

    you could literally reactivate 2 Iowa class battleships for the price of one zumwalt class destroyer and have enough money leftover to buy 16 brand spanking new F-22 jets

    “Zumwalt-class destroyer can carry up to eighty of either missile, or other ordnance as appropriate for the mission, while an Arleigh Burke can carry ninety-six missiles. Most modern destroyers and cruisers carry equivalent armament, most with superior range to the 1970’s era Harpoon.”

    lets do some math, what is 16 plus 32?(48) and how many Iowa class Battleships can you modernize for the price of one Zumwalt class destroyer?(all 4 with money left to spare)

    now 48*4= 196 so for the price of one Zumwalt class which offers 80 missiles you can get all 4 Iowa class reactivated with more than double the combined missile count and several thousand 16 inch shells and untold amounts of 5 inch gun ammunition?

    If you really wanted to conserve money you could still only modernize 2 Iowa class battleships which by missile count alone would overcome the Zumwalt and have a few billion left to spare for running cost

    The Iowa class looks like the bargain there and they would get the latest anti ship missiles added to their fold in a modernization

    “the USN doesn’t have the resources to furnish escorts for such SAGs, nor the resources to sink into the heavy combatants leading the groups, be they refitted Iowa’s, or a more modern design.”

    They very much do especially if they have the money to blow into several new 13 billion dollar Gerald ford class aircraft carriers

    “It should be noted that the same Congressional fire support mandate that keeps the Iowa’s in the condition they are is now, in the eyes of the USN, filled by the Zumwalt and her two sisters”

    Not true at all, the Zumwalt class project was a huge failure

    They were supposed to build 32 of these to replace the firepower of the 2 Iowa class battleships they had left on the register but the cost of building these absurdly expensive ships brought down that number from 32 to 16 then to 8….5 and now 3 with 2 being built and the last one in threat of being canceled…not exactly mission accomplished

    “There is a reason for ready storage, and not in commission though, several actually. Each turret of three guns required a crew of over 80 men each. An Iowa-class battleship as a whole requires a crew of 1500, 1200 if we in a modern refit removed the six twin five-inch gun mounts in the secondary battery. For a sense of scale, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer only requires a crew of about 300, and the brand-new Zumwalt-class requires 140.”

    and our aircraft carriers have crews of around 5000…not exactly cheap and more than 3 times the amount of the 1500 crew of the 1990’s and more than 4 times the amount of a refit involving the 5 inch guns being made autoloaded.

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    1. I should like to see some sources for your estimates of cost and combat effectiveness. All estimates I have seen floated by the Navy estimate in excess of $1bn apiece for the Iowas. For the weapons refits, you are essentially suggesting stripping the ships down to their armor, and perhaps farther for anything bigger than a SeaRAM, which adds exceptional expense and complication, as now the refit must account for the lost spaces now devoted to modern weaponry. While I am certain that the Navy would do its level best, it would face crippling compromises from the design of a ship now over seventy years old. Further, beyond simple hardware upgrades, the ships would require intensive refits to engineering systems and to the hulls themselves to be made ready for service again. The time since their last activation means that the ships would require extensive, expensive, rebuilds, which require Navy resources more cost-effectively spent elsewhere.

      I genuinely have no idea what you are discussing with the (16+32)*4 nonsense. If you are referring to the existing Tomahawk and Harpoon batteries, those are older weapons, and the weapon is only as useful as the platform carrying it in this case. An Iowa would have a much harder time bringing such weapons to bear than the stealthy Zumwalt. I would further point out that while the Iowas, should they be reactivated, could only carry Tomahawks or Harpoons as presently fitted, whereas the Mk 57 Vertical Launch System aboard the USS Zumwalt and her sisters can fire other missiles, most notably quad-packed Evolved Sea Sparrow missiles,and the full Standard family of weapons. Flexibility is key in a warship, especially one so prohibitively so to begin with as a battleship.

      The Navy considers the Congressional fire support mandate fulfilled by the Zumwalt class individuals, not the size of the original class plans. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed in the final selected number of Zumwalt class ships, but these are decisions far beyond my pay grade to make. The Advanced Gun System is, if it performs as expected, an exceptional fire support weapon, and while it might not yield the same effect per shell as a Mk 7 16″/50, I’m sure it will be more than sufficient for anything we cannot spare a missile for. I should also note, as the plans currently are, USS Lyndon Johnson is in no danger of cancellation, and may receive the Navy’s experimental railgun systems as a prototype for her sisters instead of the 6″ AGS.

      As to the comments to the resources of the United States Navy, you seem to think that the word “resources” in this context meant money. It did not. It meant warships. In some hypothetical future where the Iowas were reactivated, or a new ship developed, they would require escorts. That means Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, potentially Ticonderoga-class cruisers, and likely supplemented with Littoral Combat ships to fill in where the taxed cruiser and destroyer fleets cannot keep up. Frankly speaking, the Navy is having trouble shuffling all its various requirements on the surface warfare fleet as it is, and each SAG an Iowa would lead would require the same resources as a carrier strike group. Mating SAGs with CSGs isn’t an option either, as while the Iowas were more than quick enough to pace WW2 era aircraft carriers, those ships are incredibly slow by modern standards, and attempting to mate an Iowa with such a formation would either result in incredible speed losses or fuel consumption from the battleship as it did its best to keep up. Further, while an aircraft carrier requires a crew of 5000, an aircraft carrier is a far more effective unit, both in combat and in power projection, than an Iowa-class battleship. Crew requirements per combat effectiveness are better compared to the units I originally selected, the Arleigh Burke and the Zumwalt. While you are welcome to make such false equivalences in your head, do not assume that those of us that know better will stand idly by.

      Thank you for your comments. I am always open for more discussion, but I do believe I’ve covered all of your points the original article did not itself.

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      1. “For the weapons refits, you are essentially suggesting stripping the ships down to their armor, and perhaps farther for anything bigger than a SeaRAM, which adds exceptional expense and complication, as now the refit must account for the lost spaces now devoted to modern weaponry. While I am certain that the Navy would do its level best, it would face crippling compromises from the design of a ship now over seventy years old. Further, beyond simple hardware upgrades, the ships would require intensive refits to engineering systems and to the hulls themselves to be made ready for service again. The time since their last activation means that the ships would require extensive, expensive, rebuilds, which require Navy resources more cost-effectively spent elsewhere.”

        At most it would take around 1 billion to fully modernize 1 Iowa class battleship all things included.

        You try to make it sound like as if this process would be hard yet the Iowa class went through extensive modernization in the 1980 and it all worked out fine in the end without the “crippling compromises” you mentioned(other than removing 4 of the 5 inch guns)

        even at the upper estimate of 1 billion dollars to fully reactivate these ships it would still be far cheaper than the 3 to 5 billion EACH Zumwalt class

        “I genuinely have no idea what you are discussing with the (16+32)*4 nonsense. If you are referring to the existing Tomahawk and Harpoon batteries, those are older weapons, and the weapon is only as useful as the platform carrying it in this case. An Iowa would have a much harder time bringing such weapons to bear than the stealthy Zumwalt. I would further point out that while the Iowas, should they be reactivated, could only carry Tomahawks or Harpoons as presently fitted, whereas the Mk 57 Vertical Launch System aboard the USS Zumwalt and her sisters can fire other missiles, most notably quad-packed Evolved Sea Sparrow missiles,and the full Standard family of weapons. Flexibility is key in a warship, especially one so prohibitively so to begin with as a battleship.”

        lol sorry but adding “stealth” to a ship that is more than 500 feet long is a joke, especially for a ship that is supposed to get close to shore and support naval bombardments for landing troops

        “I genuinely have no idea what you are discussing with the (16+32)*4 nonsense”

        anyone with half a brain would know I was talking about the Tomahawks and Harpoon missile systems…come on man its not that hard to realize this

        ” those are older weapons, and the weapon is only as useful as the platform carrying it in this case”

        “I would further point out that while the Iowas, should they be reactivated, could only carry Tomahawks or Harpoons as presently fitted, whereas the Mk 57 Vertical Launch System aboard the USS Zumwalt and her sisters can fire other missiles, most notably quad-packed Evolved Sea Sparrow missiles,and the full Standard family of weapons. Flexibility is key in a warship, especially one so prohibitively so to begin with as a battleship.”

        did I ever say we would use the same models used in the 1980’s?

        every one of these weapons systems has had upgrades since then, and if there are even better missile platforms out there then swapping them out would not be a big deal.

        If the Navy can the weapons on the Iowa from firing 40mm bofors in WW2/Korean war to Harpoons and tomahawks in the 1980’s then it is not a stretch at all for them to be able to adopt today’s top munitions, it has been done before and it would be done again without the “crippling compromises”

        “USS Lyndon Johnson is in no danger of cancellation, and may receive the Navy’s experimental railgun systems as a prototype for her sisters instead of the 6″ AGS.”

        She very much was until they realized canceling the project might be just as expensive as finishing it

        “The Navy considers the Congressional fire support mandate fulfilled by the Zumwalt class individuals, not the size of the original class plans”

        The navy made a grand show of promising that 32 zumwalt class would replace the firepower of the Iowa class to congress and now that number has fallen down to 3…the whole project has been a terribly expensive failure from its original goal and does not offer anywhere near the needed Naval artillery firepower that the Iowa class offered. so now we are stuck with a 5 billion dollar ship that has a peashooter compared to the Iowa class and has no effective armor protection despite having the need to get close to shore to bombard land targets…by all means the Navy is bought and paid for by the weapons industry who promotes such overpaid projects.

        These are the same clowns who wish to retire the A-10 in favor of the overpriced vulnerable F-35

        “while an aircraft carrier requires a crew of 5000, an aircraft carrier is a far more effective unit, both in combat and in power projection”

        Nothing says power projection like an Iowa class, there is a damn good reason the Vietcong wanted the New Jersey decommissioned during the Vietnam war peace talks, they did not fear the carrier aircraft carriers they feared the Battleship that would rain down shellfire unopposed

        to put it simply 16 inch shells do not get shot down and become prisoners of war

        “and each SAG an Iowa would lead would require the same resources as a carrier strike group. Mating SAGs with CSGs isn’t an option either, as while the Iowas were more than quick enough to pace WW2 era aircraft carriers, those ships are incredibly slow by modern standards, and attempting to mate an Iowa with such a formation would either result in incredible speed losses or fuel consumption from the battleship as it did its best to keep up”

        Ladies and Gentlemen above us we have our most ignorant statement of the day, please stand up and be recognized!

        The Nimitz class and future Gerald ford class aircraft carrier can go 30 knots where as the Iowa class can go up to 33 knots…it would be the Aircraft carrier that would be having trouble keeping up

        ” While you are welcome to make such false equivalences in your head, do not assume that those of us that know better will stand idly by”

        I properly dispelled all the nonsense you came up with, you have only yourself to blame for such outright ignorance concerning the Iowa class.

        you defeated yourself on this one.

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      2. Stealth can be achieved at any size, although I will grant you increased size does make it more difficult, and that the Zumwalt is the largest dedicated stealth ship built by any navy to date. I also share your concerns about its survivability once detected in combat, as you correctly point out it was designed in the ’90’s mindset that stealth rendered worthless armor and survivability concerns. We agree on the F-35 vs A-10 debate (I remain flabbergasted the Air Force was ever able to frame it in those terms), and I will cede you that the North Vietnamese were quite afraid of New Jersey. On the other hand, her main battery had a habit of collapsing the tunnels the Vietcong used to move through battlefields, something alpha strikes from aircraft carriers couldn’t do. On the other hand, New Jersey could never have sailed near Hanoi, whereas carrier air groups regularly overflew and bombed the capital, and mined the Haiphong harbor.

        As to my speed comments, I never claimed that the Iowas couldn’t pace a modern CV (whose top speed is estimated at a range between 30-40, given that the exact figure both varies ship to ship and is highly classified) when they wanted/needed to, but rather that she would be a fuel hog doing it. The Iowas were designed with a 15K mile range, at fifteen knots. A modern CSG cruises at between 20 and 25 knots (again, the exact number varies and is classified to boot), which, even without an expensive engine refit, is within the Iowa’s range, but will shred any hope of fuel efficiency. I am quite certain if the USN decided to, it could convert all four museums back into fighting shape, but I genuinely doubt, between fuel, refit, and ongoing crew costs, that it would be a cost effective endeavor. Among other hiccups, we no longer have the industry or the expertise required to build or repair armor like on board the Iowas, nor construct new barrels for the guns. In the latter case, the Navy had the foresight to stockpile a few spares, but not an incredible number. If we are to insist on a modern large heavy surface combatant, an idea for the record I am quite in favor of, I firmly believe a new warship will be better suited to the challenges of the 21st century than the reactivated Iowas. They’ve earned their laurels, let them rest in peace. I would rather create a new generation, built with the lessons learned in the Zumwalt program, and create a new flagship for the United States Navy. The Iowas just aren’t worth it anymore.

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      3. “Stealth can be achieved at any size, although I will grant you increased size does make it more difficult, and that the Zumwalt is the largest dedicated stealth ship built by any navy to date. I also share your concerns about its survivability once detected in combat, as you correctly point out it was designed in the ’90’s mindset that stealth rendered worthless armor and survivability concerns. We agree on the F-35 vs A-10 debate (I remain flabbergasted the Air Force was ever able to frame it in those terms), and I will cede you that the North Vietnamese were quite afraid of New Jersey. On the other hand, her main battery had a habit of collapsing the tunnels the Vietcong used to move through battlefields, something alpha strikes from aircraft carriers couldn’t do. On the other hand, New Jersey could never have sailed near Hanoi, whereas carrier air groups regularly overflew and bombed the capital, and mined the Haiphong harbor.”

        finally something we can agree on

        “As to my speed comments, I never claimed that the Iowas couldn’t pace a modern CV (whose top speed is estimated at a range between 30-40, given that the exact figure both varies ship to ship and is highly classified) when they wanted/needed to, but rather that she would be a fuel hog doing it. The Iowas were designed with a 15K mile range, at fifteen knots. A modern CSG cruises at between 20 and 25 knots (again, the exact number varies and is classified to boot), which, even without an expensive engine refit, is within the Iowa’s range, but will shred any hope of fuel efficiency. I am quite certain if the USN decided to, it could convert all four museums back into fighting shape, but I genuinely doubt, between fuel, refit, and ongoing crew costs, that it would be a cost effective endeavor.”

        15k miles is not exactly fuel hoggish especially when you factor in refueling was never a problem for the Iowa class both in the past and present, talking about fuel efficiency sounds like you are trying to turn this into some debate on the environment or a nation that lacks fuel resources(which America has plenty of and oil prices are at yearly lows)

        “Among other hiccups, we no longer have the industry or the expertise required to build or repair armor like on board the Iowas, nor construct new barrels for the guns. In the latter case, the Navy had the foresight to stockpile a few spares, but not an incredible number. If we are to insist on a modern large heavy surface combatant, an idea for the record I am quite in favor of, I firmly believe a new warship will be better suited to the challenges of the 21st century than the reactivated Iowas. They’ve earned their laurels, let them rest in peace. I would rather create a new generation, built with the lessons learned in the Zumwalt program, and create a new flagship for the United States Navy. The Iowas just aren’t worth it anymore.”

        I think the Iowas would do just fine if reactivated, although if a new heavy surface type of ship was to be developed then I would be content with letting them stay in place, they are very fortunate ships to have avoided being used as artificial reefs or recycled into scrap like less fortunate warships of past

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    2. Long Beach Naval Shipyard, the lead yard on the re-activation of the Iowa class BB’s had drawn up the next update to the battleships, which involved removing the Tomahawk ABL’s (Armored Box Launchers) and installing two 64 cell Mk 41 VLS launchers. THIS would give them the offensive punch of a Ticonderoga cruiser, if you loaded up all 128 missile cells with TLAM’s (they dont’ do that, since a Tico needs to carry SAM missiles as well as land attack missiles. Those plans were saved by LBNSY personnel and are available still….. (think about it)….

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  2. This is a most interesting if not all rather speculative string. I will only add as a retired senior U.S. Naval Officer who had the privilege of spending short times in Missouri and Iowa that these incredible vessels are without equal in their capacity to provide amphib support, sea control and of primacy to take a punch with a shrug. Modernization of two would be most expensive but both the upstart bear and communist Chinese would shudder in fear!

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    1. Yes I totally agree, they are needed in a time where America is being disrespected and challenged across the globe and nothing projects American power like an Iowa class battleship, this will definitely help to poke a hole in the inflated Egos of Putin and Xi

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  3. The one thing that will come to mind regarding the subject matter is this. An Arleigh Burke or even a Tico can be put out of action with one well placed shotby an asm. Think USS Stark, USS Cole, USS Samuel Roberts, HMS Sheffield, SS Atlantic Conveyor, HMS Glanmorgan, INS Eliat are a few examples of surface combatants that were taken out of thr fight in short order. The iowa class can take multiple hits and provided it is refit with 2 Vertical Launch cells, it can respond accordingly and remain in the fight. I wonder how many exocetd it would take to knock a zumwalt out of the fight.

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  4. Regarding speed, I remember reading that tthe Iowas did 35 knots with a reduced load. I think the biggest problem would be the machinery. It probably would be cheaper to build a Kirov type ship with automation to reduce crew size/running costs.

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  5. I have to agree with the OP…the Iowas are past their prime. Regardless of the refit costs, the crew requirement would still be very high compared to a modern destroyer, and there really is only one thing the Iowas do better than any other vessel (shore bombardment). On top of that, you have to consider that their power plants are 60+ years old. One thing that the movie “Battleship” got right is that you would have to recall the old crew just to figure out how to fire up and run the boilers and engines. And if something from the 1940’s breaks down, your only option is to cannabilze another BB. As far as “shaking off damage” goes, what a lot of people don’t realize is that you don’t have to sink a BB to render it useless; you just have to blind it. In the World War II era, any battleship that lost its targeting systems (South Dakota, for instance) was effectively a sitting duck…you can’t fire the big guns using local control with any real accuracy. Even a modern AA system can’t completely safeguard against missiles, and a couple of hits would be enough to wipe out any ship’s radar and targeting systems…on the Iowas, the gun directors are armored, but their antennas are just as fragile as anything else, and modern electronics are especially vulnerable. True, the Iowas won’t sink from missile hits, but they wouldn’t be able to perform their jobs. Lastly, the 16 inch guns are far more dangerous to operate than modern weapons systems…they are complicated to fire, and the powder bags are especially volatile. Turret explosions like the one that destroyed Iowa’s no-2 turret have happened on other World War II era battleships like the USS Mississippi. As beautiful as these ships are, they simply aren’t viable in the modern era.

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  6. at a refit cost of 1 billion each the Iowas are a bargain in firepower and have the toughness to take on a fight, refit with either gas turbines or nuclear power plants would really fix the only other significant challenges and refitting to either of those types of propulsion would be a huge gain.

    The issue is that, contractors don’t want to make old equipment better, they want to sell new equipment at quadruple the cost

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