December 5, 2005
Losing the Battleships
WASHINGTON -- U.S. Marines, while fighting valiantly in Iraq,
are on the verge of serious defeat on Capitol Hill. A Senate-House
conference on the Armed Services authorization bill convening
this week is considering turning the Navy's last two battleships,
the Iowa and Wisconsin, into museums. Marine officers fear that
deprives them of vital fire support in an uncertain future.
W. Hagee, the current commandant of the Marine Corps, testified
on April 1, 2003, that loss of naval surface fire support from
battleships would place his troops "at considerable risk."
On July 29 this year, Hagee asserted: "Our aviation is really
quite good, but it can, in fact, be weathered." Nevertheless,
Marine leaders have given up a public fight for fear of alienating
high command is determined to get rid of the battleships, relying
for support on an expensive new destroyer at least 10 years in
the future. This is how Washington works. Defense contractors,
Pentagon bureaucrats, congressional staffers and career-minded
officers make this decision that may ultimately be paid for by
Marine and Army infantrymen.
to reactivate the Iowa and Wisconsin runs counter to the DD(X)
destroyer of the future. It will not be ready before 2015, costing
between $4.7 billion and $7 billion. Keeping the battleships in
reserve costs only $250,000 a year, with reactivation estimated
at $500 million (taking six months to a year) and full modernization
more than $1.5 billion (less than two years).
On the modernized
battleships, 18 big (16-inch) guns could fire 460 projectiles
in nine minutes and take out hardened targets in North Korea.
In contrast, the DD(X) will fire only 70 long-range attack projectiles
at $1 million a minute. Therefore, the new destroyer will rely
on conventional 155-millimeter rounds that Marines say cannot
reach the shore. Former longtime National Security Council staffer
William L. Stearman, now executive director of the U.S. Naval
Fire Support Association, told me, "In short, this enormously
expensive ship cannot fulfill its primary mission: provide naval
surface fire support for the Marine Corps."
anti-battleship bias began Dec. 7, 1941, when the Japanese surprise
attack destroyed the U.S. Pacific Fleet's battleships. Although
admirals in 1946 vowed never to bring back battleships, they served
effectively in the Korean, Vietnam and Gulf wars. Congressional
pressure brought the USS New Jersey to Vietnam for six months,
leading the Marine commandant, Gen. Leonard Chapman, to conclude,
"Thousands of American lives were saved." The Marines
calculated that 80 percent of 1,067 U.S. planes lost in Vietnam
could have been saved had battleships fought the entire war.
moved to get rid of battleships forever when Republican Rep. Richard
Pombo proposed sending the USS Iowa to Stockton, Calif., as a
museum. The Navy supports that as well as making the USS Wisconsin
a museum in Norfolk, Va., and repealing the existing requirement
to keep two battleships in reserve.
anti-battleship campaign began March 15 when Adm. Charles Hamilton
briefed the House Armed Forces Committee. It is no coincidence
that Hamilton has been the Navy's point man promoting DD(X).
it been clearer how the military-industrial complex functions.
Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, General Dynamics
and BAE Systems are mobilized behind DD(X) and against battleships.
Congressional staffers, eyeing a future in the Pentagon or the
armaments industry, know the way to future advancement is not
to be pro-battleship.
Marine Corps supports the strategic purpose of reactivating two
battleships," said a Nov. 19, 2004, General Accounting Office
report. Since then, current Marine leaders have adhered to the
naval position and walked away from boosting battleships, but
not retired Marines. Gen. P.X. Kelley, the renowned former commandant,
said in a June statement: "I would hate to see a premature
demise of the battleships . . . without a suitable replacement
on station. In my personal experience in combat, the battleship
is the most effective naval fire support platform in the history
of naval warfare."
is an interested but silent listener to this debate. Its generals
have failed in their fight over stressing tube artillery. If Congress
now turns the last battleships into museums, the losers will be
the grunts who carry rifles.
2005 Creators Syndicate