Will bring back Rail Gun battleships
What a 21st century battleship could look like
President Donald Trump seems to like big, "bold" ideas. Throwing nuclear weapons around? For sure. Are you ripping up the deck of an aircraft carrier to install the "goddamn steam"? Okay good. But what if we brought back one of the greatest military statements America ever had - what if we brought back the battleship?
It's not that the current American tall ship, the aircraft carrier, is out of date. But the the Gerald R. Ford - Class of aircraft carriers are noteworthy, very expensive, and potentially vulnerable to many types of attack. Many of the Navy's other surface ships exist essentially to support and defend the carrier, making a carrier battle group a huge investment in national treasures.
What if another type of ship could take some of that cargo?
The US stopped building battleships in the 1940s. Airplanes, submarines, and missiles that could strike more safely and at greater distances than a battleship's cannons made the type obsolete. Still, over the years, various analysts have suggested a new, large-scale fighter that would play some of the same roles as a classic battleship.
Let's imagine what such a ship could look like. what to do, how it would fight, and how much it might cost.
We'll be our fictional battleship, the USS Montana (BBGN-72). Besides Hawaii, Montana is the only one of the 50 U.S. states that has never successfully named a battleship, and the current USS Hawaii is a Virginia-class nuclear attack submarine. Also, the last class of American battleships to ever make it to the drawing board was supposed to be after a USS Montana to be named .
But our new USS Montana is displaced somewhere north of 30,000 tons, at least twice the size of the newest and largest American destroyer, at a speed of 30 knots, which is similar to that of existing U.S. cruisers, destroyers, and aircraft carriers.
A battleship must have the ability to kill other ships. If it can't, then it's not a battleship; It's a monitor or "arsenal ship". This means that every modern battleship needs a set of sensors necessary to detect enemy ships, as well as weapons and missiles that can sink them. Until recently, the U.S. Navy refused to use surface ships for anti-ship purposes, preferring aircraft and submarines. With the advent of "distributed lethality" or the idea of networking everything that flies or swims in a giant killing chain, surface ships have returned to the job of ship killing.
Attacks on land have also historically played an important, albeit subordinate, role for a battleship. However, even before the end of World War II, battleships were more likely to hit land targets than hit each other. After the war, the land attack became of paramount importance, and the Iowa-class battleships acted mainly as land attack platforms, striking the enemy not only with weapons but also with long-range missiles.
Given the complexity of fighting a modern anti-entry / denial system, the USS Montana a sizeable land attack capability manifested in cannons and missiles.
And finally, a battleship has to defend itself. From iron to dreadnought, battleships wore heavy armor to defend themselves against the heavy shells of enemy battleships and ultimately protect themselves from torpedoes and bombs. Secondary guns faced the threat of torpedo boats and small destroyers.
After the invention of the airplane, battleships carried increasingly heavy anti-aircraft weapons to protect themselves and all accompanying ships. As a result, a battleship cannot rely on other ships to protect it. It has to be able to defeat incoming threats in some way to earn the name. Our USS Montana requires anti-aircraft, missile and anti-submarine defense.
Classic battleships were rated primarily on the size of their cannons. The earliest dreadnoughts carried 305 mm guns, while the last specimens of the type carried 406 mm or 446 mm guns. Battleships used these weapons to penetrate the armor of enemy battleships and destroy the vulnerable innards of their counterparts. This is no longer a priority in naval architecture. Everyone expects ship-to-ship combat to take place at distances longer than heavy weapons can reach.
The destroyer the Arleigh Burke- Class carries a 127mm cannon for Land bombardment and surface protection purposes. The weapon has a range of 15 miles, but doesn't seem to have enough punch for a battleship. The Destroyer's Advanced Gun System Zumwalt- Class is much closer to what we would want in a battleship. With a 155mm cannon, the general assembly can fire a projectile capable of accurately hitting targets at a distance of nearly 70 miles. The navy canceled the procurement of the projectile because it was too expensive. For this exercise, however, we can accept at least two general meetings, each capable of firing ten grenades per minute.
The next step is a rail gun. A rail cannon uses electromagnetic force to fire a solid projectile at extremely high speed and with great destructive power. The Navy wants a Railgun to fire projectiles up to 200 miles from the launcher with a circular error probability of five meters. Like the general meeting, the rail cannon could fire 6 to 10 times per minute, and unlike the general meeting, the projectiles would be inexpensive and easy to store. Considerable engineering challenges remain, but a ship the size of the USS Montana with high energy production capacity is a good choice to act as a platform for at least one rail cannon.
In the end, the USS Montana Have two railguns that can fire tungsten rods at targets 200 miles away and that can wreak havoc with kinetic energy alone.
Every vision of a future battleship involves a large number of missiles. Most large modern surface warships have vertical launch systems that allow them to carry a variety of missiles for a number of different eventualities. The 512 VLS cells proposed for the arsenal ship are a good starting point; They would give our battleship far-reaching clout that could go well beyond the Kirovs or the Iowas, while providing an effective air defense and ballistic missile defense battery.
The VLS system is extremely flexible. Our battleships can carry different rocket charges depending on the threat environment. Action in a permissive setting (blowing up a small land that cannot fire back) would require a heavy emphasis on land attack missiles. In a less revealing environment, the battleship would charge anti-aircraft missiles to ward off incoming threats. In a classic fleet operation, a mixed load of SAMs and anti-ship missiles would make BBGN-72 a formidable enemy.
The specific types of missiles will vary over the life of the battleship. Currently, tomahawks for land and naval attacks, Evolved Sea Sparrows (four of which fit in each VLS cell) for close-range air defense, and standard missiles for naval attacks, long-range air defense, and ballistic missile defense would fill the VLS cells, depending on the type the mission. And the great thing about the VLS system is that as the missiles improve (e.g. with the introduction of the LRSO (Long Range Stand Off) missile), the killing potential of the ship also improves.
The USS Montana could be an arsenal of more than five "normal" Destroy the Arleigh Burke Wear class. With the right sensors it could Montana defend with minimal escort, likely along with a nuclear submarine to form a formidable offensive or defensive unit.
Like all modern surface vessels, the USS Montana Need facilities for helicopters to perform search, transport and anti-submarine tasks. However, the U.S. Navy has become increasingly concerned with the use of surface ships as platforms for deploying aerial, surface and underground drones. With their size, could Montana act as a mother ship for a variety of unmanned vehicles and use them either as sensors or, over time, as independent weapons. With a hanger that is only slightly larger than the one destroyer of Arleigh Burke Flight II, it could carry a combination of helicopters (up to three) and UAVs.
A laser serves primarily as a defensive weapon and aims at incoming cruise and ballistic missiles before they can hit the ship. The laser heats the incoming missile until it cracks or melts, causing it to detonate prematurely. The laser avoids many of the problems associated with hitting a bullet with a bullet and eliminates the need to provide magazine space for defensive weapons. The laser can also target drones and other reconnaissance vehicles that make up the enemy “chain of kills”. the system of systems necessary to effectively target a ship. The Navy is about to test a 150 kW laser. A smaller laser has already been successfully used in the USS Ponce (LPD-15) built in, although this is still experimental.
The economic logic for nuclear-powered warships failed due to persistently low oil prices. The new case for nuclear power focuses on the energy thirst for modern weapon and sensor systems. The rail cannon and laser systems in particular would benefit enormously from high powered reactors.
The A1B nuclear reactors carried by the USS Ford-class each generate 300 MW of electricity, far more than currently required by the ships. Depending on the size of the hull, the USS Montana possibly carry two reactors that provide high speed in addition to the power required for sophisticated weapon systems.
Naval architects effectively abandoned armor in late October 1944 when swarms of American carrier aircraft sank HIJMS Musashi, the largest and most heavily armored battleship ever built. After World War II, the focus shifted to prevention, with ships attempting to defeat incoming planes and missiles with their own missiles or with melee artillery. While this approach has saved a lot of its own weight, it has its own limitations. In the Falklands War, the Royal Navy lost ships to missile attacks, even if the warhead did not explode.
Since the 1970s, modern warships have moved slightly in the other direction, adding lightweight kevlar armor to protect the most critical areas of the ship from gunfire and other types of explosions. Similarly, most designers have turned away from aluminum superstructures in favor of steel, which provides better protection against small arms and small caliber weapons. Modern ships remain extremely vulnerable to large missiles or heavy artillery. That is, a ship the size of it Montanas could easily include a light armored shell (maybe half an inch) to protect its most critical rooms and to mitigate the damage caused by missiles and other deadly weapons.
A return to the heavily armored battleship seems unlikely, however. Heavy armor can protect hulls and turrets, but superstructures have always been vulnerable to shell fire. As a ship's combat strength increasingly relies on its sensors and electronic systems, strong hull protection offers limited returns for the added weight. A WWII battleship could continue fighting even after its upper works were ravaged by weapons. A modern warship cannot.
Sensor technology is evolving rapidly, but we can say that the USS Montana would require a full suite of air and subsurface sensors to adequately perform their multipurpose tasks. The anti-missile and anti-missile radar (AMDR or AN / SPY-6) intended for the destroyers of Flight III Arleigh Burke would Montana allow you to attack hundreds of targets at the same time. The AMDR can detect targets that are half the size of older radars and have twice the range. Best of all, the AN / SPY-6 is scalable, which means that Montana could use a more powerful radar system than even Flight III Arleigh Burkes . Montana would also need a sonar suite that is the latest one Burkes resembles.
We can also get a ship the size of the USS Montana imagine playing a cruiser role and managing the air defense of an entire combat group. This would involve the integration of information received from a variety of different sensors. Indeed, the USS could Montana be the ideal platform for managing the Navy's concept of "distributed lethality".
Estimates of the cost of naval vessels are guesswork at best. As with any project, ships face cost overruns. The Coastal combat ship , the destroyer of Zumwalt- Class and the aircraft carrier of the Ford- Class have all seen serious cost increases. Some classes manage to evade this, but most of the time it does so because the ships fit into a manageable template, with a clean line from previous designs and a range of proven technologies. The submarines of the Virginia- Class and the LHAs of the America- Class fit into this form. The USS Montana certainly wouldn't.
It's best to start with what we already know. Estimates of the cost of the cheapest version of the arsenal ship (without much defensive armament) ranged from $ 500 million to $ 800 million per ship. Estimates of the since-canceled CGX cruiser program were over $ 3 billion per unit, though much would depend on how much technology the ship was using Zumwalt- Class would have to share can . But the Zumwalts self amounted to $ 4 billion per inhabitant, excluding research and development costs. The US has since Connecticut- Class no more than four battleships built for one class over a hundred years ago. Given the pace of technological change and the uncertainty associated with the concept, it is unlikely that Montana a group of ships leads more than four ships.
As a result, we are likely to see a cost between that Zumwalt- Class and the Ford- Class ($ 10 billion). Split the difference and throw in another $ 10 billion in research and development (a touch more than the Zumwalts although this may not be the Case is because the Montanas some of the technologies of the Zumwalt and probably won't use a tumblehome hull), and we have a program that will spawn four battleships worth around $ 38 billion.
On the other side we have the USS Montana doesn't equip with several squadrons of F-35s. A carrier air group costs more than $ 6 billion and needs to be replaced several times over the course of a carrier's career. The USS Gerald R. Ford also requires a crew of over 4,000 men, probably ten times as many Montana . This means that Montana a big advantage over ford in terms of life cycle and cost of ownership, although it is difficult to say exactly how big that benefit could be.
Everyone likes big boats; we can't lie. And the Russians no doubt have their massive battle cruiser Pyotr Velikiy used for good propaganda for the past decade.With China's surface fleet expanding, it would surely be nice if some units could attack both the PLAN's surface vessels and the anti-entry / denial-of-area system that is slowly stretching into the South China Sea. In short, there is a strategic rationale for a modern battleship.
Perhaps more importantly, technology has started to shift towards large-scale fighters. Large ships can carry more VLS cells. You have more space for drones and cannons. and they have the power generating capacity needed to make effective use of lasers, railguns, and advanced sensor equipment. After seventy years in which it made little sense to build a surface fighter of more than 10,000 tons, there is a technological justification for large ships again. We are already seeing the first steps towards this trend in the designs of the Arsenal Ship and the CGX, as well as in the construction of such large destroyers as the Zumwalts , the South Korean Sejong the Greats and the Chinese Type 055.
These ships will be big and expensive. Many of the technologies are not yet mature, and delays and outages will inevitably drive costs up. You won't be invulnerable; Most of the arguments against aircraft carriers also apply to Montana and her sisters.
The USS Montana (BBG-72) is worth a closer look. The U.S. Navy has made room for large-scale combatants in its plans since the 1980s, though generally not pulling the trigger. A class of large, multi-purpose vessels destined for combat operations in the contested sea space could take on some of the duties now reserved for porters and submarines, influencing Chinese and Russian deliberations on building an anti-access / denial-of-territory bubble. These battleships could also serve as test beds for the integration of high-end technologies that are only now beginning to mature.
But “a detailed look” doesn't mean “we should build it now”. The US Navy's limited shipbuilding budget is already grappling with key priorities such as developing a new frigate and the continued rise in transportation costs. If the U.S. Navy is looking to get to 350 ships quickly, battleships can be part of the answer, but they won't be the first part of the answer.
In other words, does the existing strategic and technological environment support the development of a multipurpose surface fighter that is significantly larger than the existing cruisers and destroyers of the US Navy?
The answer is yes; Offensive and defensive weapons have evolved so that size again offers significant potential benefits. In the People’s Army's Liberation Navy, the US Navy is now facing its greatest long-term challenge since the Cold War and possibly World War II. Given other priorities, can the United States adopt the construct of a new fighter with large surface area? Could be; it depends on the commitment the US government wants to make to the US Navy.
The battleship's pull lasted longer than the battleship itself. Most of the survivors of World War II were scrapped shortly after the conflict; Some held on to the US, UK and France, but until 1968 the only stragglers were museum ships and the four battleships of the Iowa- Class used by the US in World War II and the Korean War. But that doesn't mean that the dream of a great surface fighter has ever stalled.
The Soviet Kirovs are the largest surface warriors built in the last seventy years. With a displacement of 24,000 tons, they check out many of the main boxes of what a modern battleship should look like. Pyotr Velikiy , the only one still in use located Battlecruiser the Kirov Class ( Admiral Nakhimov , her sister, has been in purgatory of Russian modernization since 1999, but could be put back into service one day, who knows), carries 2 P-700 shipwreck anti-ship missiles, an S-300 surface-to-air missile system, a number of U -Boat defense weapons and a variety of sensors to detect targets. Pyotr Velikiy will powered by a combination of nuclear reactors and conventional steam turbines and can make 32 knots. The Kirovs however, it lacks any significant land attack capability beyond a 130mm twin cannon.
From the 1950s checked The US Navy made a bewildering array of proposals for upgrading the battleships of the Iowa- Class. Most of these concerned the abolition of part of the main armament in favor of missiles or an extended flight deck. Given the scarcity of enemy battleships to have holes pounded in after World War II, it made little sense to keep all three 16-inch turrets. However, plans for a radical renovation of the Iowas inevitably ran aground on enthusiasm for taxation. When the construction of the Kirovs in the 1980s finally with the modernization of the Iowas began, the changes were quite minor. the addition of anti-ship and land attack missiles and the removal of some five inch cannons. This resulted in an impressive land assault platform, but not a ship that particularly threatened enemy ships or that could defend itself beyond its heavy armor.
But the idea for a giant arsenal ship remained all the rage in the 1990s when it seemed like the United States could solve even the most difficult problems with a volley of cruise missiles. Equipped with a vertical launch system with 512 cells, the arsenal ship would have stationed off the coast of a potential target and saturated the unfortunate victim wave after wave with tomahawks. The largest version of the proposed ship would have displaced around 30,000 tons and included some self-defense systems. However, the arsenal ship died when it was discovered that the U.S. Navy would be able to take out some of the SSBNs Ohio- Class to convert into cruise missiles at a lower cost and with greater survivability.
The Navy went a different way with the CGX. The Navy saw the need to use the cruisers Ticonderoga Class in the not too distant future, envisioning a ship that would displace around 25,000 tons and sporting many of the features that eventually led to the Zumwalt-class destroyer. Compared to the Zumwalt, the CGX would have improved air defense systems, ballistic missile defense capabilities, and a nuclear propulsion system to generate all of the energy required. But in the end, the Navy couldn't force Congress to make enough money spit to get a reasonable number of Zumwalts to buy, let alone the CGX.
Rob Farley teaches national security and defense courses at the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce at the University of Kentucky. He is the author of Grounded: The Case for Abolishing the United States Air Force and literally wrote the Battleship Book. Find him on Twitter @drfarls .
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