Back to the Battleship Pt 2
Russia’s Battleship Search
Today we see rising concern in the Black Sea, over a planned Franco-Russian deal for a 20,000 ton amphibious ship based on the Mistral. While the vessel has all the appearance of an aircraft carrier, navalists will insist vehemently it is not, pointing out its inability to launch fixed wing aircraft, though it does carry 14 helicopters and probably could load a Harrier V/STOL plane in a pinch. Still, this presumed inability hasn’t dampened the fears of Russia’s neighbors and historical antagonists, as we see the headlines below:
- Estonia alarmed over Russia’s intention to buy French warship.
- Georgia Worried over Possible Russia-French Mistral Deal.
- Lithuania questions France-Russia warship deal.
The overwhelming firepower of a US Navy supercarrier has been best served in major crisis or war, though the Navy will argue that they are unmatched in peacetime for gunboat diplomacy and disaster relief. Despite the prohibitive costs of a 100,000 ton “gunboat”, we might offer up another candidate in the guided missile destroyer, typified by the Arleigh Burke class. Such vessels are as important as the carrier in major conflicts, able to perform many of the same roles such as land attack with cruise missiles, and air defense of the fleet with its Aegis Combat radar and missiles. Even more crucial of late in the minds of politicians has been the Ballistic Missile Defense role, which these vessels have been able to perform in a series of dramatic tests, surpassing the decades long quest to perfect the same type system on land.
The renewed importance of the non-aviation surface combatant in modern warfare can be also glimpsed in Russian plans to reactivate two ex-Soviet “battlewagons”, according to Jane’s:
The Russian Federation Navy (RFN) is to reactivate two laid-up Kirov-class (Project 1144) battle cruisers, according to statements attributed by Russian media to the country’s deputy defence minister…The 24,300-ton ships were commissioned into the Soviet Navy in 1984 and 1988, the second and third vessels in a class that eventually numbered four.
Israel’s Submersible Dreadnoughts
An apt description for the word “dreadnought” would also apply to the modern nuclear attack submarine. Referring to its ability to stay underwater for many months, dive deeper, and travel faster than most surface warships, it has very little to fear in this age where anti-submarine planes and ships are far fewer than the giant fleets that finally destroyed Hitler’s U-boat arm in the last great war at sea. Now its less capable conventional cousin has become a force to be reckoned with, as production of the Russian Kilos, Chinese Songs, Scorpenes, Type 212s, and Type 214s, ect is ongoing for numerous fleets, easily outdistancing in quantity the harder to build and more costly nuclear boats. The international press seems very interested in 1600 ton German-built submarines for Israel, for instance:
It has three German-made Dolphin submarines and is buying two more. They can be equipped with nuclear-tipped missiles which analysts say could be stationed off the coast of Iran. Israel says Iran, despite its denials, is trying to acquire atomic weapons. It has never confirmed its Dolphin fleet has nuclear capabilities, but senior officials acknowledge that commanders are fast at work devising a strike plan in case diplomacy fails.
With new weapons, the new U-boats are yet a force to be reckoned with, and even Third World navies so armed must not be ignored by superpowers, only to their peril.
The New Battleships
Finally, we see the return of the corvette in the designs of naval planners. The American Littoral combat ship (LCS) is an attempt at this concept, however overweight and underarmed. European and Asian corvettes showcase a better balance of armament on a low cost hull platform, along with adequate seakeeping important for ocean travel. Such craft displace the older fast attack missile craft (FAC) seen vulnerable to airpower, as well as conventional frigates which themselves are approaching cruiser/destroyer status in armament and costs. These small but highly capable warcraft might be the antidote to shrinking Western fleets which are grasping with numerous threats and aging force structures.
Ultimately a true battleship is one which performs a set series of functions which is adequate for a Navy’s needs. With Russia, it may be a small multi-purpose carrier, with Israel a submarine. With the US Navy, a cruise missile firing Aegis warship can be seen as its capital vessel. For global navies, many small corvettes can guard chokepoints and commercial sea ports against the many small lethal threats still out there, allowing the Big Ships a choice of more urgent targets.
We see a trend with modern threats with many enemies of the warship, such as precision MIRV warheads on anti-ship ballistic missiles, supersonic cruise missiles, stealthy aircraft, naval mines, supercavitating torpedoes, even suicide boats. So there is a need for varied number of counter-measures, hence the requirement for many new vessels that carry the mantle of “battleship”, rather than a single armored behemoth of the same title and description.