Back to the Battleship Pt 1
Some familiar terms used to describe the DDG-1000 Zumwalt class destroyers was prevalent in the following article by Andrew Rhys Thompson at the ISN Security Watch:
The US Navy is expected to launch the next-generation DDG-1000 Zumwalt class stealth destroyers in 2013 as it seeks to use cutting-edge technology to reintroduce the overwhelming firepower capabilities of a battleship on the much smaller and more agile platform of a destroyer.
While the three vessels of this line are likely to be the most sophisticated warships ever built, their unconventional design and unusual stealth appearance makes them seem more like iron-clad behemoths from the pre-Dreadnought days of the late 19th century.
Indeed, many of the firepower requirements that the US Navy has – coupled with the development and production of the Zumwalt class – are reminiscent of tactical battleship parameters from the first half of the 20th century, which later went out of fashion after World War II.
Note that in each paragraph reference is made to the most powerful gun armed and armored warship ever to sail the seas, the dreadnought battleship of the 20th Century. The attraction such giant and awe inspiring surface vessels made on a generation can be glimpsed in these words, as they continue to fascinate years after the last one plied the waves.
What defines a Battleship?
Regular readers may also notice an unrestrained use of the term “battleship” here at New Wars, and we have received much critique for this practice. The reason behind our free reference to modern warships in this manner, is to take our eyes off the enchantment of Big Ships and a return to practicality in warfare. For example, the might and the power of the dreadnoughts are often recalled, despite the ease these vessels were sunk from what seemed minor threats at the time. In 1914, the 24,000 ton HMS Audacious is sunk by a single mine. In 1918, the 20,000 ton Austro Hungarian Szent István is struck by two torpedos from a single Italian torpedo boat, capsizing soon as recored in some historic video footage. HMS Barham is hit by 3 torpedos in the Mediterranean from a U-boat, going down with the loss of 800+ of her crew. All tremendous and important vessels, but with weak spots just as any warship, and usually taking many lives with them when they did sink.
There is nothing wrong with admiring a grand ship which symbolized an entire era of nautical engineering, but neither should we try to fit outdated techniques into a new era of warfare. So we would hope that the idea of a navy’s capital ship would be that of the most important vessel in the fleet, one most useful, one deemed a clear threat to an enemy, rather than a misplaced faith in visible power and might. To some small fleet, a frigate, corvette, or even a submarine might be a battleship, if it performs that duty of deterrence in peacetime, and a warship during conflict. Such a naval weapon is still crucial to that nation and may yet determine the fate of the future, regardless of its size.
Who Needs Them?
Before we decide which vessel today holds the title of honor, there is a need to expose the threats to modern vessels at sea, and act accordingly. First there must be a need which would induce a country’s shipbuilding resources to respond. The question is, should we continue to plan for the type of sea battles that typified the World Wars and the Cold War, or might we be in a different environment, where Big Ships have little place, and more is expected from smaller ships than the norm? From UPI Asia, here is a report on how “Low-tech terror tactics challenge high-tech armies“, within which it also discusses the challenges facing modern fleets:
Sea warfare changed radically after the U.S. warship USS Cole was attacked and crippled in Aden harbor on Oct. 12, 2000 by a simple fishing boat packed with explosives. The boat, guided by two suicide bombers, cost a few thousand dollars but disabled a US$300-million destroyer for over three years.
Sea pirates operating in and off the Somalia coast also employ jihad-style tactics. They can use simple contact and antenna-moored mines to cause extensive damage to expensive surface and subsurface sea combatants.
The captains of SSBN and SSN ballistic nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers give mined areas a wide berth. The damage caused to the U.S. Navy’s missile-guided frigate, the USS Samuel B. Roberts, in 1989 by a floating mine had the embarrassing consequence that warships entering the Gulf began taking cover behind tankers and ships that they should have been protecting.
U.S. amphibious operations planned during Operation Desert Storm in the Gulf in 1991 were nullified as mines laid by Iraqi forces hit landing ships.
The end of the Cold War changed the naval emphasis to littoral warfare, or operations in coastal waters. However, ships built for mid-ocean combat are seriously hampered in coastal waters and a complete revamp is occurring in major navies. Littoral combat ships are now under production to meet the requirements of the 21st century navies.
From this report we can get a glimpse of the threats which we face today. While admirals might prefer the old style conventional conflicts at sea using New Battleships such as aircraft carriers escorted by large missiles ships, there might be greater likelihood the enemy will use low tech asymmetrical warfare against us, in the form of cheap but effective mines, torpedoes, missiles, and suicide boats. This is not new since the same type warfare defeated the gun-minded battleship strategists of the World Wars, with aircraft, torpedo boats and a determination simply to not fight fair!
After the World Wars and the clear demise of the all-gun battleship, many naval platforms took over the functions once expected from the single massive warship. Today we have aircraft carriers, cruisers, destroyers, frigates, and nuclear attack submarines working in concert to control the sealanes and deploy firepower against land targets. Due to uncontrollable costs that have dramatically reduced the legacy warships in number, we think we are geared for yet another sea change in the type and form of ships we currently deploy to sea.
Tomorrow-Russia’s Search for a New Battleship.