Monday, December 14, 2009
I once had the pleasure of serving as First Lieutenant Afloat when my cruiser refueled from the battleship New Jersey. It is my hope to one day meet a woman who looks that good. She had guns and guns are good. The work both psychologically and they are cost effective at delivering ordnance on target. Missiles use most of their mass in their guidance and propulsion systems. For their cost they deliver a small very expensive conventional warhead. With a gun the bullet that leaves the tube is almost all explosive. Guns are divided into 3 classes, small medium and large, depending on their bullet sizes.
Small caliber guns are 20, 30, 40 or 76 mm, the 76ers are the same as 3". While they have some capability against a small boat attack and most are called DP for dual purpose, meaning they can be used for air defense, they have limited use against a modern stand off airborne attack. For defense against an anti-ship missile specialized guns like the Phalanx can turn 500 pounds of incoming missile into 500 pounds of shrapnel, that still hits your ship. Hopefully though it explodes offboard which limits the damage. Remember modern ships have almost no armor protection. When the brand spanking new USS New York visited for Fleet Week I took a look at her and was shocked to discover that she had no gun larger than 40mm. That means that she can give no Naval Gun Fire Support to the marines. All she can do is launch the LCAC, a big hovercraft, from over the horizon. Fire support would have to come from either an aircraft carrier based FA-18/F-35, (there are exactly how many of those CVs available now?) or an LHD based Harrier, an old platform.
Medium class guns are in the 4" to 6" range. The UK uses 100 mm (4") guns and the US uses 5". While a 5'/54 mark 45 is a good gun, made more reliable by having a slower fire rate than earlier models, it lacks the firepower to destroy a hardened shore target. Special ammunition may give it some capacity against a modern tank but most old HE shells would just ruin the paint job. As was pointed out above by Subotai Bahadur the Navy has no guns larger than 5" and the numbers of those are declining. In a role similar to that of the horse holder mentioned on an earlier thread when my ship fired it's 5" guns in training I did the safety checks and then I was stationed outside by the gun turret as the safety observer. That made me the man inserted into the loop of the theoretically unmanned gun turret. That was needed because the Filipinos would come out in their bonka boats to catch the falling brass shell casings. For over 30 years there have been plans to deploy 6" (155mm) systems, such as the Vertical Load Gun, that would use the common ammunition used by all US land forces artillery. The Army and Marine Corps no longer field guns larger than the 155. BTW I heard the BBs referred to as "Shooting Volkswagens."
Anything larger than a 6" gun is a Major Caliber gun. The Navy no longer has any major caliber gun systems since the retirement of the BBs. 30 years ago a Major Caliber Light Weight Gun System (MCLWGS) was installed on the USS Hull for testing. I saw the ship after the gun was removed and she was decommissioned and she sure looked like she was ridden hard and put away wet. One officer told me the test was sabotaged by putting the gun on to small a platform so that the vibration would be excessive. There are powerful interests opposed to naval gunnery. Over 80% of humanity would live within range of modern large caliber NGFS but we refuse to build them. The Arsenal Ship never happened and with current budget climate projections we could easily end up with a Navy about the size and functionality of what the British have now. What the British have is rapidly becoming a less significant naval presence than the US Coast Guard.
No weapon is better than the Command system behind it. When I was on the USS England, which was a double ended Terrier shooter Cruiser with no guns, we learned that a Naval ship had accidentally launched a Harpoon missile and destroyed a truck in Denmark. That was a non-career enhancing move for the CO of the responsible ship. My Commanding Officer responded to this information by ordering the power supplies to our Harpoon missiles disconnected while the ship transited the South China Sea past the coast of a hostile Vietnam.
(who commented knowledgeably about the shore based threat to the Navy)
In fairness there is some risk from shore based systems in restricted waters. Specifically the Straits of Hormuz are a nightmare with potentially a layered series of surface, subsurface and ground based threats. Clearing it in the event of hostilities will mean placing boots on the ground along the littoral and seizing the islands. Fortunately it is in a distant corner of the country with desert regions between it and the populated interior. That reduces the logistical disadvantage that we will face, once the initial threats from prepositioned forces and systems are destroyed. No sea based platform should get close enough to be hit by an ATGW but in a target rich environment for the Iranians, like a Naval Task Force in the Gulf would offer, something will get hit by the shore based missiles.
The mine threat will stop merchant commerce, again. Clearing mines is a slow unglamorous process and the limited number of minesweepers are vulnerable to shore based attack in a place as narrow as the Straits. This would be a case where Proper Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance.
Of course the BBs had armor that no current ship can equal. You have I am sure heard the story of the eager Ensign off Vietnam who saw a large vessel on his radar repeater. He grabbed his crypto key and issued his challenge, "Unidentified ship off my starboard bow this is the United States warship Umptysquat, authenticate Whiskey Tango (or some such.)" After a short pause a voice came back in the clear, "Umptysquat this is the Battleship New Jersey. You may fire when ready." The slopped hull proposed for the Arsenal Ship and follow on designs may offer some greater protection than current designs.
Dec 14, 2009 - 1:36 pm