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The Unwelcome Return of the Dreadnought

April 3, 2008

Galrahn points to this loaded comment from Rear Admiral Chuck Goddard, on the new Zumwalt super-destroyer:
“DDG 1000 is the Dreadnought of our Navy,” says Rear Adm.
Chuck Goddard, the Program Executive Officer for Ships (PEO Ships), who is
responsible for acquisition of DDG 1000. “For those of you who are
historians Dreadnought is the ship that changed the British navy. It was a
tough decision for them, and when they did it, they made the rest of the ships
obsolete. But it also brought all new technology in terns of hull,
propulsion and combat systems. Dreadnought was the first of the true
battleships.”

Now it is interesting the $5 billion DDG-1000 is compared to the mighty HMS Dreadnought, launched nearly 100 years ago. Though the titanic British battleship was the technical marvel of its day, as comparable to our own B-2 stealth bomber as much as the Zumwalts, it also brought to what was then the world’s largest navy its own set of difficulties.
By 1914 and the dawn of the Great War, the Royal Navy possessed 25 of these magnificent new warships, which individually were more powerful than the first Dreadnought but also more expensive to build. The effect was that to afford such a huge battle fleet, other essential naval priorities were neglected, such as modern and efficient dockyards, and small expendable warships.
Another surprise came when actual combat was required of these maritime monuments. During the expansive Battle of Jutland in 1916, top British Admiral Jellicoe was very reluctant to risk his precious warships to major damage. Jellicoe went to war with the notion he could “lose the war in an afternoon”, thus causing him to think twice when facing a battle of annihilation with the German Navy under Admiral Scheer, who was equally reluctantly to lose his nations own force of dreadnoughts. Though technically Britain won this battle, the German Fleet remained a threat until war’s end, thus forcing the Royal Navy to fight a war on two fronts when the U-boats joined the fray. Lack of efficient dockyards, not to mention the expense to keep the battle fleet constantly in fighting trim, plus the dearth of small anti-submarine ships meant the Navy couldn’t keep up with the losses for several crucial years. The British Empire never recovered. (See the Decisive Battle That Was Never Fought)
Getting back to America’s own new Dreadnought, USS Zumwalt, America’s obsession with ever larger and more expensive sea-going marvels have caused us to neglect the less noticeable but still crucial needs of any maritime power. With our shrinking number of shipyards constructing only a few warships per year, expertise at this vital art is suffering. The Navy continues to discover numerous builder faults in all major new ships of late, such as the Virginia subs, Burke destroyers, new littoral ships (LCS), and LPD-17 amphibious vessels.
The Dreadnought only mindset of the Navy leadership has also delayed the addition of frigate type warships to the fleet, the above mentioned LCS. Such low cost and relatively expendable vessels are essential to ensure adequate numbers within the fleet, that also perform sundry patrol and convoy escort duties that huge carrier escort like missile cruisers and destroyers shouldn’t be wasted on. The complicated new LCS is a prime exaplme of Navy confusion in this area, as the unique hull design suffers from constant cost overruns.
Precious funds wasted on a new class of giant stealth destroyers (which seems to duplicate a far stealthier craft, the submarine) could instead be spent on returning numbers to the US Fleet, while expanding and improving our shipyard capacity. Otherwise, we may find ourselves in the same boat as the British in 1914, with a proud and magnificent new navy, almost useless for the type of warfare facing us today. (Also see The Last Dinosaur)
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