Redefining the Battleship
A commenter from the Ultimate Warship’s group inspired this little discussion, concerning the ANN article titled “Navy May Trade P-8s For Battleship“. The battleship in the story refers to the DDG-1000 Zumwalt, classified as a guided missile destroyer, though at 14,000 tons each might be a close match to the mighty dreadnoughts of the last century. From Merriam-Webster we get a pretty standard definition:
A warship of the largest and most heavily armed and armored class.
From the Free Dictionary, something similar:
Any one of a class of warships of the largest size, carrying the greatest number of weapons and clad with the heaviest armor.
Dictionary.com is more specific:
1794, shortened from line-of-battle ship (1705), one large enough to take part in a main attack (formerly one of 74-plus guns).
HMS Barham-The Battleship Ideal
It appears then that the term battleship is used more as a synonym for warships than an actually specific type. With the last of the Iowa class decommissioned in the 1990s, and European and Asian vessels long since gone to the scrap heap, it may be understandable that the term is used rather loosely these days. Not counting the final definition, we might conclude that the Zumwalt and other large missile ships, whether called cruisers, destroyers, or frigates are today’s battleships as Galrahn contends:
The Navy has already paid for 22 CG-52s, 62 DDG-51s, and 2 DDG-1000s. That is a fleet of 86 battleships, enough already! Take a look around the world and compare conditions to the Navy’s shipbuilding strategy. Japan, the second largest Navy in the world, has 6 battleships. South Korea will soon have 6, Great Britain is building 6, Spain will soon have 6, and no one anywhere on the planet has more than 6 or plans for more than 6, except the United States. I’m counting first-rate through fourth-rate surface combatants, ships armed with 48 or more battle force VLS cells, and/or 48 or more battle force missiles. Japan, South Korea, Great Britain, and Spain are all allies, who exactly are we building more battleships to fight against?
And yours truly wrote something similar in post titled The New Battleships a while back:
Traditionally, a battleship would be a vessel with the most armor and heaviest guns at sea, but we think this archaic terminology a mistake…It is not so much size or function of a vessel which makes it a battleship, but the weapon it carries, in the case of the modern warship, it’s guided missiles.
Japanese Kongo Class Aegis Destroyer
But, to confuse the issue even more, Robert Farley posts on LPD: The New Dreadnought?:
Another interesting article in the April 3 Defense News concerns the increasing focus of the world’s navies on “expeditionary” ships, like LPDs, LHDs, LCCs, LHAS, command ships, and so forth. Broadly, this group includes just about any ship that is designed to manage, project, and protect ground expeditions as a primary mission. These ships are large, expensive, tend to carry helicopters, and usually have the capability to deliver and keep supplied a contingent of ground forces…The amphibious assault ship spree is somewhat reminiscent of the drive, around 1910, of a number of major and minor powers to purchase or build dreadnought battleships.
Seeing the increased emphasis on littoral warfare and navies supporting ground troops ashore, we see where the author might be justified in calling the amphibious ship a “dreadnought”. It certainly is, at least in its own environment.
France’s Mistral Amphibious Assault Ship-The New Dreadnought?
But there are also those who claim the modern battleship is the attack submarine. A perfect stealth vessel in its undersea haunts, the modern nuclear boat rivals its surface cousins in the ability to fire long-range missiles while submerged, but it is less able to influence events in the shallow seas.
And dare we say that the dominant capital ship at least for the US Navy is its fleet of giant supercarriers? Should this vessel which displaced the centuries old reign of the original gun battleship now take up its former rivals sacred moniker? Perhaps instead to avoid the confusion we should relegate the title of Battleship back to the synonyms where it is safe from controversy!