Thursday, March 23, 2006

Let us hope... (UPDATED 8:34 PM EST)

That we will not need to kick a door in for the forseeable future. Because as of March 17, we don't have the tools necessary to do so. Talk about backwards logic.

EDIT: Time for some elaboration.

In November, 2004, a GAO report estimated that reactivation of both Iowa-class battleships would cost roughly $610 million ($500 for the ships, $110 million to replace the powder). The United States Naval Fire Support Association estimates that the total cost for modernization and eleven years of operations and maintenance for two Iowa-class ships would be $2.5 billion (see presentation here). The estimates to build a DD(X) range anywhere from $2.5 billion to $7 billion. Cut one hull from DD(X), get two ships - if DD(X) comes in at the low end of the spectrum. If it's on the high end, you might get even more (say, all four Iowa-class battleships and a dozen ships built around the Mk 71 MCLWG). This would be in addition to twenty-two DD(X)s. A total of 38 ships capable of providing various types of fire support from 155mm to the 16-inch guns - with very little changed in financial terms for the budget, versus twenty-four DD(X)s as the Navy wants - which gives only the 155mm shells. Who wouldn't take fourteen extra hulls?

My co-blogger's comment centers primarily on logistics, which is where professionals tend to think. Page 80 of the USNFSA report indicates that while logistics might have some problems, they will not be impossible to deal with. Plenty of barrel liners are still available at Picatinny Arsenal and Dahlgren. As late as 2001, the Navy commissioned the USS Iwo Jima with a steam propulsion plant. The turbines from USS Kentucky (an Iowa-class ship that was partially completed, then scrapped) have served on two of the Navy's fast replenishment ships (Sacramento and Camden) for over 30 years. The Midway and Coral Sea used steam turbines for over 50 years. Keep in mind, the battleships have been mostly sitting around - their turbine plants have at least two decades of service left, possibly three. And there are sailors who can operate them. They can safely steam. Powder is the big issue - and then, not that much of one. New powder can be manufactured - and the GAO estimate came in at $110 million.

The 1989 turret explosion on the Iowa also warrants discussion. After that accident, a great deal of research was done, and the accident is highly unlikely to be repeated if enough training is provided (the accident being apparently due to an inexperienced crew carrying out an overram), and corrective measures were taken on Missouri and Wisconsin. And the chance of an explosion is 1 in 38,000 on a high-speed overram (and virtually impossible on a low-speed overram - one in 1 times 10 to the -47th power).

The logistics and training might be somewhat difficult to set up, but the cost in DOD buidget terms is again pretty small. And setting up the schools for training the gun crews is not so hard when one considers that the schools closed in 1992 (according to the US Navy) after being open for about a decade. Not as hard as getting them reopened after 25 years of inactivity as was done in the 1980s.

In other words, these ships are not done yet - there's a lot of life left in them.


Ken Prescott said...

On the other side of the fence:

First, there is no way in hell that we're willing to pay the butcher's bill for a successful forcible entry in anything less than a matter of national survival. And if it comes to that, it is far more likely that the President will decide that one should not send Marines to do a nuclear weapon's job.

Second, these ships are logistically unsupportable.
Some "low-lights" of the logistics mess:

* The 1980s commissionings went through the last barrel liners. Additionally, the Navy managed to screw up the remaining powder supplies by blending them into one common set--this destroyed accuracy.

* Maintenance or repair to the 1930s-vintage engineering plant was a nightmare, as the shipyard had to cut through a foot of Class A armored plate.

* The company that manufactured the emergency diesels back in 1941-42 has no record of ever having made diesel engines of any sort, and cannot supply drawings or other spare part documentation. Other subcontractors have long since gone out of business.

* The main battery is not usable in combat, as it is one dopey gunner's mate away from a turret conflagration.

* Training for the ship's systems is unavailable, particularly for the engineering plant and main battery. If you cannot safely steam and shoot, there is no point to having a warship in commission.

The great ships have passed; we shall not see their kind again.

Harold C. Hutchison said...

Elaboration forthcoming...

Ken Prescott said...

Further discussion:

Harold, excellent discussion of the logistics questions. I do believe that there are still a significant problem.

The proposed cost ($610M) buys a very marginal capability--namely, the ability to fire support at ranges of 25-30 miles. This would only be useful in a forcible entry assault; again, this is a situation where the casualty cost from a successful landing would be politically intolerable in anything less than a war of national survival.

The problem is that if it's a war of national survival on our side, it's definitely a similar war on the other side, and our likely enemies in such a war are more than willing to use a nuclear strike against an American beachhead. Since that is an obvious countermove, the likelihood of executing such an assault is nil.